Wow, Miss Echinacea, that seems like funny name, up to four syllables I counted” questioned the little girl, whilst staring at her beautiful pink gown. “Well, my inquisitive little girl, I may have a funny name, but if people knew what I can do, they would be dancing in the streets” answered Miss Echinacea, “Really! So can I dance with you” squealed the girl, “Yes, lets dance” offered Miss Echinacea.
So where did Echinacea get its name, it comes from the Greek word, “Echinos” meaning hedgehog, referring to the centre of the flower, which becomes harder and dryer as the flower moves to maturing seed.
All Echinacea species are native to the North American prairies and woods, but these days it is just about grown anywhere with very little care.
I find the original discovery of the benefits of Echinacea very fascinating, let me tell you about it. Originally written by J.H. Henley MD.
“Many years ago American Indians observed that by tantalising the rattlesnake it would in its wrath bite itself. The creature was seen to become immediately restless and sought to retreat. On following the snake it was observed that it went straight to a certain shrub and there became a veritable ‘sucker’. When it finished sucking the plant it would seek a hole in which to hide, but not to die. It would recover. This led to the discovery of plant, Echinacea. It was from the medicine-men of the Mohawk and Cherokee Indians we obtained our first knowledge of this remarkable herbal remedy.”
From here the First Nation peoples used it for a range of ailments such as:
Infections, toothaches, many skin issues, sore throats, wounds and snake bite.
The Weed File
There are three main varieties of Echinacea that need to be considered, when using herbal remedies, and the two most common ones are Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea. They are very similar in appearance, but with a few differences:
Main Herbal varieties:
- Grows to about 60 to 100cm / 2 to 3′ tall
- Leaves have a smooth margin but are hairy and rough and lanceolate in shape
- Grows to about 1.5m / 5′ tall
- Leaves are more ovate and wider with course margins
Both have the same looking flowers, which range from pink to purple, found on terminal stems.
Then there is the Pale purple coneflower.
- Grows to about 60 to 100cm / 2 to 3′ tall
- Flowers are generally more pale – pallida, have very thin and reflexed rays (drooping)
- Leaves are also course and hairy, lanceolate and have no teeth
Of course, there are many other lesser known varieties with red, orange, yellow and white flowers, and here are a few.
- Yellow coneflower – Echinacea paradoxa
- Sanguine purple coneflower – Echinacea sanguinea
- Topeka purple coneflower – Echinacea atrorubens
- Narrow-leaved purple coneflower – Echinacea serotina
- Tennessee coneflower – Echinacea tennesseensis
- Wavyleaf purple coneflower – Echinacea simulata
- smooth purple coneflower – Echinacea laevigata
How To Use Echinacea
The principle way of using Echinacea, is medicinally, and this is easy to prove just by typing the word into the search bar, and rightly so, because it really is a gift to mankind. But it can easily be added to cosmetics and various personal body care and hygiene products.
When one considers all the many and powerful benefits of Echinacea, you see the value of adding this to toothpastes, soaps, hand cleaners, shampoos, facial and shaving creams, make-up, lipstick, lip gloss and lip balms, body washes, moisturisers, and sunscreens.
Therefore, with a bit of experimentation, anyone can make their own medicating body care products and cosmetics.
So apart from the direct medicinal use in tinctures, syrups, lozenges, liniments and powders, the most popular use is making your own herbal tea.
This is one of the most easiest and simplest way to get Echinacea into you.
Sometimes when you drink Echinacea tea you will get a real tingling sensation in your mouth, this is only for a little while and is of no concern, in fact, it is actually a sign of good quality herb, but just be aware, some folks are allergic to the Asteraceae family.
Simple Echinacea Tea
The simplest for the home user, is to pick a couple fresh leaves and flower petals about 1 to 2 teaspoons worth, finely chop them up, put them into a cup, pour in boiling hot water, cover, and allow to steep for 5 minutes.
If necessary, add a little natural sweetener, as it can be a sort of bittersweet.
To jazz things up a bit or for the adventurous, you can add a little lemon juice or even apple cider vinegar, as this adds to the extraction process making to more efficacious.
If you make a tea from the dried root, you will need to simmer it for at least 5 to 10 minutes (longer is stronger) then add your sweetener.
Even though you can use the whole plant and all of it has health benefits, its the root which is the most powerful.
Customised Echinacea Teas
Many other herbs can be added to make it more interesting and flavoursome, but if you want to really add more power to your herbal tea, then adding some Golden seal will work amazingly, but with this one, I would sip it throughout the day, don’t just drink it in one go, it’ll have more affect.
It is rare, but sometimes people can have a nauseous feeling, and if you do, try adding some liquorice root with it as it seems to keep things calm.
Culinary Uses of Echinacea
Now this will probably be a short list of ideas, because really, the idea of using Echinacea in cooking isn’t very high on anybodies list.
Because you can buy Echinacea in powder form, you can make super healthy foods by adding this special ingredient. So, you could add the powder to pancakes, pikelets and fritters, blended into smoothies and juice drinks, sprinkled on the oatmeal or breakfast cereal. Also, for those who are a little more adventurous, you add it to your home made pasta or vegetable dishes. With the flower petals, add them to jams or jellies for interest, plus they could be used as decorations, floating on drinks and desserts. And finally you can juice the leaves and add that to juice shots.
Please let me know if you have heard of any culinary dishes using Echinacea in some way, as I would love to here from you.
Health Uses of Echinacea
When it comes to Echinacea, there isn’t much it can’t help you with, such that if you’re sick, just take echinacea, and at least something good should happen. No, its not a complete panacea, but I will tell you what, it is one of my back stops for many issues, as it will help in ways you may not have thought of.
The main reason for Echinacea’s great success, is that it is both immune stimulating and modulating, and this knowledge of it resisting infection has been known for over a hundred years by the west. So if you think about it, many problems we face in life come from bad diet, and bad ‘bugs’. And when it comes to especially bad bugs, Echinacea, can help with viruses, bacteria, fungi and even parasites.
So, if you keep thinking about it, how many conditions could involve these baddies.
In the world of herbs, quite often, slightly different varieties do contain different amounts of different constituents, therefore, taking just one variety may not actually be the best solution, unless you know that that variety is specific for that condition. Where it’s easy to come unstuck, is that most books just don’t tell you which variety is best for what, So an easy method to deal with this is simply to take a ‘blend’, that is, mixing together both E. angustifolia and E. purpurea. So, if you purchase some capsules for example, and you read that it has at least these two varieties, then you are generally safe.
A very simple tip on how to use Echinacea, is to slowly suck on or chew a small piece of the root (1 to 2grams) as it can have as much efficacy on your system as many of the fancy tinctures. (Remember the rattle snake story above?)
Indications for Echinacea
For a general list of suggestions for using Echinacea:
- All infections: bacterial, viral and parasitic (topical and internal)
- Skin disorders: wounds, boils, abscess and acne
- Respiratory conditions: colds, flu, fever, pertussis, sinusitis, bronchial, tonsillitis
- Gastrointestinal: diarrhoea, dysentery, IBS, ulcers, gingivitis, candidiasis
- Urinary: cystitis, urethritis
- Immune deficiency and post viral
- Inflammation and also in the connective tissue
- Reducing the effects of Chemotherapy
Areas of caution
One of its benefits is that it stimulates or boosts your immune system, and this is normally a very good thing, but, there are a few people who should completely avoid this herb, and these are especially those who are going to or have recently had an organ transplant. I would definitely speak to your health care professional if you have ever had a transplant, before taking this herb.
Also, if you do have a serious disorder such as, AIDS, HIV, MS, leukosis, auto-immune and collagenosis, for example, please speak to you health care professional, before taking Echinacea.
Oil of Echinacea
Although not as famous as many of the essential oils, Echinacea essential oil has basically the same benefits of the herb itself. Essential oils should always be applied topically and with a carrier oil, say Jojoba or coconut oils for example.
Gardening Uses of Echinacea
Echinacea is actually a very easy plant to grow. It is a plant suitable for borders or filling in small holes that can do with a splash of colour.
Some folks just don’t want a flowing green lawn but actually want more of a meadow, which actually can save water, fuel and time, so Echinacea can provide an interesting addition to your ‘field’.
It attracts butterflies, bees and other pollinators and some birds for either the nectar or the seed, and this is generally a good thing as a natural form a pest control.
Echinacea does have a fragrant flower that unless you have lots of them will not dominate the garden, and it flowers for about 3 months, depending on your climate.
Other Uses of Echinacea
The flowers are quite long lasting and therefore, can be used as cut and dried flowers to pop into your favourite vase.
How to Grow Echinacea
Echinacea is a herbaceous perennial that dies down in winter, but will spring back up in spring. I encourage every and anyone to grow their own, as people and especially companies find it of tremendous value that it may become endangered.
Echinacea is a very low maintenance plant, that is easy to grow, perfect for those who do not wish to be too busy in the garden, and it is good for those who do not have much water, or frankly forget to water, as it is suitable for drought or hot conditions, tolerates humidity and can grow in poor clay, dry, shallow or rocky soils.
Echinacea is also an excellent plant for putting into pots, and putting on your balcony, and if it’s cold, wet and damp, just bring it inside, as they don’t like being cold, wet and damp.
Echinacea does re-bloom, but does not drop its dead flowers, but with a quick snip of the secateurs will soon fix that.
Echinacea does self seed, so once established in the garden, or even in a pot it will come back year after year. Or, you can collect the seeds and plant these in pots or spread them throughout the garden or meadow.
Although germination can be rather slow, it is definitely worth a try. Cold Stratifying the seed is highly advisable. So place the seed into moist sand and for about 3 to 4 weeks keep them at 0C / 32F, then take them out and wait for them to germinate. Once they start coming up and have at least four leaves, gently transplant them into bigger pots, and when ready, transplant them into much larger pots, at least 20cm / 8″ or into the garden.
Remember don’t over water them as they don’t like it.
Echinacea naturally forms clumps, and from these, you can create divisions and propagate from them. The biggest issue with division is that most varieties have tap roots, except E. purpurea, and most plants with tap roots just don’t do so well once it is damaged. So care needs to be taken.
So, if you do wish to propagate via division, every 4 years, and in spring, divide the clump as they do become overcrowded, this is especially so in pots, and it isn’t a bad idea in the garden as well.
Actually, Echinacea is a very low maintenance plant, easy for those lazy gardeners, who forget to water and fertilise, and don’t care for sprays and poisons, so if that’s you, here is your plant.
The only pruning that may want to do, but its not really necessary, is to remove the dead heads, as they don’t look real nice, but from these it does self seed. So if you want, you can either chop up the dead heads and leave them on the ground or collect the seeds and keep them for next year or just let them be.
Pest and Diseases
It is rarely affected by pests and diseases so don’t get too concerned, but, I have complied a list of possible baddies: Japanese beetle, vine weevils, leaf miners, slugs and snails, plus, powdery mildew, leaf spot, bacterial spots, grey mould, and a virus-like disease called ‘aster yellow’.
Soil and Fertiliser
Due to the tough hardiness of the plant, frankly you don’t need to fertilise much at all, but if you do, just give it a little organic fertiliser at the beginning of its growing season, as it seems to do better with neglect than good-loving.
Climate and water
Echinacea will just about grow in any climate, except for extremes such as wet and damp, and in most situations this is easily fixed by carefully placing the potted plant indoors or suitably designed structures.
Regular watering is fine, but don’t be excessive, and at times you can let it dry out some, remember it does naturally grow out in the prairies and woodlands, and we should copy its original habitat.
The time of the year to pick the flowers and leaves is just as the flowers are starting to bloom, and before they are fully formed, or harvest the roots during full bloom.
Collect the seed after the flowers have died back, and then fully dry them out by cutting up the seed heads into smaller parts.
When harvesting the arial parts, always wait until the dew has dried off, checking for any damage, insects and their eggs and any foreign matter.
The roots are best collected from at least 4 year old plants, as this is when they are most medicinal.
To dry the leaves and the flower petals, spread them out on dry paper or dry towelling keeping the parts from touching each other, or at least keep turning them over keeping them well ventilated.
They should retain their colours and fragrances, but just be dry and brittle.
Store all dried components in dark coloured glass jars or bottles that seal air tight and kept out of sunlight. If there is no foreign matter, bugs etc., and everything is thoroughly dry, it should keep up to 1 to 2 years.
The information below is for informational and education purposes only. So please do not “self-treat”. When seeking any ‘therapeutic’ advice always see a Qualified Health Care Professional first.
Cone flower, Black Sampson, Rudbeckia, E. purpurea (Purple cone flower), Missouri coneflower
Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea, E. pallida
Root or aerial parts or whole plant
Daily minimum to maximum dosage: 2.5 – 5.0 grams
Immune enhancing, immune modulating, antioxidant, prophylactic, depurative/alterative, lymphatic, anti-inflammatory, blood cleanser, detoxicant, vulnerary, sialogogue, antiseptic, deodorant, tonic, antibiotic, analgesic, antifungal, antibacterial, antiscrofulus, parasiticide/anthelmintic, vasodilator, diaphoretic, antiallergenic
Acute infections: viral, bacterial, parasitic (all acute doses, chronic infections, swollen lymph glands, splenic enlargement, infection prevention, slows immunological ageing, upper an lower respiratory conditions: common cold, influenza, conjunctivitis, sinusitis, nasopharyngeal catarrh, infections otitis media, pneumonia, pleurisy, bronchiectasis, acute bronchitis, bronchial asthma, pertussis, skin conditions: boils/ furunculosis, abscesses, ulcers and varicose ulcers, dermatitis, psoriasis, cellulitis, herpes, shingles, Gastrointestinal conditions: infection candidiasis, peptic ulcer dysentery, cholecystitis, infectious hepatitis, UTI’s: cystitis, urethritis, kidney infections, dental caries – prevention, pharyngitis, tonsillitis, mouth ulcers – liquid better, Systemic infections: glandular fever, Ross River virus, mastitis, measles, mumps, and insect stings.
Plus, Autoimmune disease (caution), adjunct to cancer therapy – chemotherapy, radiotherapy, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, lymphoma, promotes healing, venomous bites, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and post-viral syndromes
Flavonoids, alkaloids, essential oil, polysaccharides, inulin, Inuloid, alkylamides – isobutylamide – echinacein, phenolic acid derivatives – cichoric acid; echinocoside. Check for levels of alkylamide content, phyto-oestrogen, phytosterols, betaine, resin, vulose, sucrose, fatty acids,
Much of the concerns brought up about Echinacea really don’t have any bases, but taking a few precautions, should greatly protect your well being.
- Some people may be allergic to it, think ragweed or sunflowers
- Immunosuppressive drugs and organ transplants
Sometimes they are adulterated with another variety of the same species, or adulterated with Parthenium integrifolium.
Please remember, this blog cannot and should not replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment, and no cure is implied in any way. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.
Russell a.k.a Herbal Panda
“Being healthy is not a free gift, it is earned”Herbal Panda