Echinacea purpure(Eastern purple coneflower) is a flower recognizable by its purple cone-shaped flowers. It is native to eastern North America and grows in the wild in much of the eastern, southeastern and Midwest United States. Most people know this wildflower as the purple coneflower.
Echinaceais popularly believed to be an immunostimulator, stimulating the body’s non-specific immune system and warding off infections. Although there have been many studies and trials surrounding the medicinal uses of Echinacea, the safety of long-term use is unknown. On the reverse side of the coin, there have also been studies showing Echinacea does not benefit in the treatment or prevention of colds.
Not just a medicinal plant, some species of Echinacea are grown as ornamental plants in gardens. They tolerate a wide variety of conditions, maintain attractive foliage throughout the season, and multiply rapidly. Appropriate species are used in prairie restorations.
History: Although American Indians used Echinacea for decades, it was not introduced as a basic herb until the mid-19th century. Although Native American tribes didn’t useEchinacea to prevent the common cold, many of the tribes did use it to treat some of the symptoms that could be caused by the common cold. It was also used for coughs and sore throats, headaches, and as an analgesic. It was commonly used for snakebite, anthrax, and for relief of pain. It reached its height of popularity in the 1930s in both Europe and America as an herbal medicine.
Habitat: Echinacea seeds may be sown outside in late fall or stored, stratified (introduced to cold temperatures) and sown in the spring. Plants can be multiplied by making root divisions in early spring however division seems to stimulate the development of too many stems and too few flowers. Echinacea grows in most garden soils and is fairly drought-tolerant.
Seed Collection:Collect mature seed heads in the fall and break them open to extract seeds. Cold-moist stratification for two months improves germination; place seeds into a baggie with some sand and store in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
Harvesting Echinacea: For medicinal purposes, you’ll want to harvest some roots and some flower tops. For best quality, wait until your plants are 3 years old.
Harvesting Roots:Using a sharp knife cut off a portion of the root, but leave plenty for the plant to grow on. Cut any pieces larger than 1 inch into smaller pieces to avoid mold growth during the drying process. Wash thoroughly and pat dry. Hang the root pieces or lay them out on screens in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight. If the pieces are large it may take several weeks for them to dry. When completely dry, store in a tightly covered glass jar in cool, dark place.
Harvesting Flower Top:Using a sharp knife, cut the plant at the point where the first healthy leaves are growing. Lay the tops on a screen or hang them upside down in bundles out of direct sunlight. Make sure they aren’t crowded so that air can’t circulate around them. When completely dry, the leaves will crumble when touched. Store them in glass jars with tight fitting lids in a cool, dry place.