Echinacea is a fabulous immune system stimulant and infection fighter used for colds, flu, wounds, acne, boils, etc. It is endemic to North America and of the known nine species, E. purpurea, E. pallida and E. angustifolia are most often used medicinally.
Asteraceae (Aster family)
E. purpurea: Purple coneflower, Missouri coneflower, black Sampson
E. pallida: Pale narrow-leaf coneflower
E. angustifolia: Narrow-leaf purple coneflower
Flowers, roots and seeds
E. purpurea: Native to eastern North America
E. pallida: Native to the central regions of the United States
E. angustifolia: Native to the Great Plains of central Canada and the central United States
E. purpurea: With a height of 90 cm (3 feet) and majestic bright pink-purple flowers, purple coneflower adds drama to any garden. Surrounding a gorgeous raised orange center disk are 7 cm (3 inches) long purple petals. It’s this spiny orange disk that inspired botanists to call it echinacea; Echinus (ekhînos orἐχῖνος) is the Ancient Greek word for hedgehog. The whole flower head is up to 15 cm (6 inches) wide. The leaves are arranged alternately. The fruit is brown and the seeds are papery. The roots are long, fibrous and grouped together. They are white inside and have a dark skin.
E. angustifollia: Known as Narrow-leaf purple coneflower, this echinacea grows up to 60 cm (2 feet) tall. The flower has a beautiful raised center disc surrounded by purple petals. It grows several branches with lanceolate and entire-margined leaves. It’s the slightly aromatic reddish brown, cylindrical and longitudinally wrinkled roots and rhizomes that are used in folk medicine. These roots have an interesting taste. At first it is slightly sweet, then bitter. Soon after, the alkamides cause a tingling, anesthetic sensation on the tongue.
E. pallida: The Pale narrow-leaf coneflower grows unbranched to 100 cm (40 inches) tall. Its leaves are lanceolate and entire-margined. Connected to the raised orange center disc are 4-9 cm (2-3 inches) drooping, lingulate, white, pink or purple petals. The roots look identical to the E. angustifolia. You can tell them apart though when you taste them. E. pallida tastes sweet and the bitter. It never causes a tingling, numbing sensation on the tongue since it doesn’t have alkamides.
Perennial and sun-loving, all varieties of echinacea grow well in normal garden soil and don’t need much care. Just sow directly in the garden and it’ll reward you with lovely flowers the following year and roots three years later.
Hardiness: USDA zone 3
Propagation: Seeds, crown division (plants older than 2 years)
Germination: 10-20 days, needs light to germinate. Stratify for 4 weeks in the refrigerator for best results.
Spacing: 45-60 cm (1.5-2 feet)
Soil: Dry, poor and well-drained
Exposure: Full sun (light shade in very hot climates)
Garden Design: informal gardens, back of the border, herb garden
Harvest the flowers in full bloom when the seed head develops its characteristic cone shape. Harvest the roots when the plant is at least three years old in the spring before it leafs out or, even better, in the fall after the stems have died back. You want all the energy of the plant to be concentrated in the roots, therefore, always harvest the roots when the aerial parts aren’t present. Make your preparations immediately because echinacea is best when used fresh.
Echinacea should be used fresh because a lot of the medicinal value is lost in the drying process.
E. purpurea: chicoric acid, caftaric acid, polysaccharides (arabinogalactan), polyacetylene, flavonoids, essential oils, alkamides
E. angustifollia: alkamides, caffeic acid derivatives (echinacoside, caftaric acid, chicoric acid, chlorogenic acid, dicaffeoylquinic), cynarin, polysaccharides, glycoproteins, arabinose (64-84%), galactose (2-5%) and glucosamine (6%).
E. pallida: echinolone, ketoalkenes, ketoalkenynes, echinacoside (1%), polysaccharides, glycoproteins.
Immunostimulant, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory,anxyolitic, vulnerary, lymphagogue, sialagogue, anti-allergenic, detoxicant, sudorific, alterative, anti-pyretic
MEDICINAL USE OF ECHINACEA
Echinacea is a fabulous herb for fighting all sorts of infections and stimulating the immune system. It is an excellent cold and flu fighter. If you take it at the onset of a cold or flu every half an hour, it’ll inhibit the growth of opportunistic bacteria that cause infections such as sore throat, sinus and ear infections.
You can also use it for wounds, acne, boils, slow or bad healing wounds and every infection related skin ailment.
Echinacea (E. purpurea) flowers, leaves and roots are used internally:
- to stimulate the immune system (immunostimulant)
- to combat common cold, coryza and sinus infection
- for septicemia. (Since septicemia is no joke and must be taken very seriously, I’d recommend taking echinacea with the antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.)
- to cool and soothe skin inflammations (poultice of leaves and flowers)
Echinacea roots (E. pallida, E. angustifolia) are used internally:
- to stimulate the immune system (immunostimulant)
- for teething
Topic application for:
- slow healing wounds
- venomous bites
Recommended daily dosage:
Expressed juice: 6-9 ml
Tincture: 30-60 drops every hour at the onset of a cold or flu
- infusion (fresh flowers)
- decoction (roots)
- mouth wash
To err on the side of caution, pregnant women should avoid echinacea. People with multiple sclerosis, auto-immune diseases, HIV, tuberculosis, leukemia, connective tissue disease or who are allergic to plants in the aster family should also avoid echinacea.
Bühring, U. 2015. Alles über Heilpflanzen. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: Ulmer.
Wichtl M. 2004. Herbal drugs and phytopharmaceuticals – A handbook for practice on a scientific basis. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: medpharm Scientific Publishers
Learn how to grow a gorgeous medicinal and culinary garden with Giovanna Becker
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