Echinacea

echinacea bloom
echinacea loves the sunshine!

Botanical: Echinacea spp

Family: Asteraceae

parts used: whole plant, leaves, flowers, roots

energetics: cool, dry

properties: alterative, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antimicrobial, antipyretic, antiviral, immunostimulator, lymphagogue, sialagogue, vulnerary

plant preparations: tea, decoction, mouthwash, poultice (mix with clay), tincture

other names: Purple Cone Flower, Black Sampson, Black Susans, Fleur à Hérisson, Hedgehog, Igelkopfwurzel, Indian Head, Kansas Snakeroot, Red Sunflower, Rock-Up-Hat, Roter Sonnenhut, Rudbeckie Pourpre, Scurvy Root, Snakeroot, and many others.

Echinacea has become one of the world’s most popular herbs. Echinacea comes from the Greek echinos, meaning hedgehog or sea-urchin, because of its conical spiny seed heads. A single flower forms on each of the tall stems. Plants grow several un-branched stems each. Both the stems and leaves are rough and significantly hairy. The leaves are ovate-lanceolate with serrate edges and are slightly heart-shaped at the base.

Echinacea plants form long, tapering slightly spiraling fibrous taproots. They have a faint aromatic smell and a sweetish taste that leaves a tingling sensation in the mouth.

The seedhead at the center of the flowers rises in a prickly cone, tipped in orange, earning it one common name of “Hedgehog”. The seeds are four-sided achenes.

Echinacea is a clumping plant. A single plant tends to get larger, but it will not overtake a garden via roots or rhizomes. In nature, it prefers damp sites with semi-shade such as forest edges and embankments. It grows from lowlands to elevations of about 5,000 feet. It can be found growing on wild prairies and open woodlands. Its native habitat extends eastward through the Great Plains from northeast Texas to Missouri and Michigan. Its wild populations are dwindling due to loss of habitat and over harvesting and it is considered endangered. Responsible herbalists grow their own and fortunately, Echinacea is well adapted to the garden.

Echinacea prefers to grow in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. It needs well-drained soil, and once established, normally does fine with only natural rainfall for its watering needs. Until it is established, it may need some protection from extreme winds and hot direct sunlight. Keep weeded and space appropriately to ensure good air movement between plants. Echinacea looks striking when grown in masses.

Insects and deer do not bother Echinacea. Gophers and moles, however, like to eat the roots. Goldfinches love the seed and can clear out all of the seed heads in a few days.

This herb was a traditional remedy of the Native American Indians in the Great Plains, where it grows wild. The Cheyenne, Comanche, and other tribes used it for many ailments, including snake bite, toothaches, sore throats, tonsillitis, coughs, and blood and lymphatic diseases.

A lay doctor, H. C. F. Meyer, “re-discovered” it in the 1870s, and within 20 years it became the most popular herb of the era. Dr. Meyer was so confident in his claims that he offered to “allow himself to be bitten by several rattlesnakes” to prove the truth of his claims. Meyer claimed to know of over 600 cases in which his remedy had not failed to cure rattlesnake bites.” [1]

How to Use Echinacea

United Plant Saver Recommendations
It poses some special conservation concerns.

  • Use only cultivated resources.
  • Possible alternatives include marshmallow, boneset, and astragalus. Spilanthes nicely replaces the herb’s antibacterial, antiviral, immune-stimulating, and anti-fungal effects. Burdock is antibacterial for bacteria classified as gram-positive, and thyme has antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties; both of these herbs are also good alternatives. ~Steven Foster, Planting the Future, pg. 94-95, 97-98 [2]

Culinary

It makes a delightful tea.
Echinacea is not considered a culinary herb, though it is edible. It can be added to your winter wellness tea.
Use the beautiful cone flowers in salad or as garnish.
Echinacea has an earthy taste accompanied by a tingling sensation. The tingling effect is caused by compounds it contains called alkamides.

Cosmetic

Use a strong infusion in a bath to help sooth the skin.

Using Echinacea for Wellness

There is a reason that echinacea was used by Native Americans for snakebite. It works. There is more information on snakebites at NCBI – “Do Herbal Medicines Have Potential for Managing Snake Bite Envenomation?”

If you would like to read about personal experiences people have had using this herb for snake bite, here is one to get you started at the Permies forum on medicinal herbs

The complex sugars of the herb are its immune stimulants. Polysaccharides and Echinaceoside.

Gaia herbs states in their “CONCLUSIONS ON THE USE OF ECHINACEA”

After reviewing the research and seeing the volume of studies that continue to be performed on Echinacea in varying stages of the immune cycle, it seems we are just beginning to understand the complexities and multiple uses of this botanical. A few negative studies does not mean that Echinacea does not work, but seems to indicate that we are finally beginning to understand that each part of Echinacea has unique phyto-chemistries that can benefit the immune system in many ways.

The root fraction, naturally rich in alkylamides, is anti-inflammatory and is likely beneficial in the acute stages of a cold or flu. It may also be more effective when used in conjunction with other immune-supportive herbs such as Black Elderberry, Gingerroot, and Andrographis. During this time, Echinacea root must be taken in high dose and frequency to be effective as soon as symptoms begin to appear.

On the other hand, the aerial portion of Echinacea is best taken to stimulate and strengthen the immune system throughout the season. In this form is thought to enhance the immune system and should be taken in a lower dose long term. The fresh-pressed juice of Echinacea aerial parts is also best taken with other immune-stimulating herbs that are also rich in immune polysaccharides such as Astragalus root, Larch gum, Maitake mushroom extract, Echinacea pallida flower, Black Elderberries, and Gingerroot. [3]

echinacea bloom
Not only is echinacea mighty, it is also adorable!

Note: Clinical information for E. angustifolia and E. purpurea species is basically interchangeable in most circumstances. In vitro and in vivo studies show that E. purpurea stimulates the immune system in a non-specific way by activating macrophages, enhancing phagocytes and stimulating the secretion of TNF and interleukins 1 and 6. Echinacea protects the gut from harmful micro-organisms due to its enhancement of phagocytosis.

It also decreases inflammatory allergic reactions in mild food allergies and stimulates gastric healing. The constituent, echinacin, has been shown to be useful in treatment of tonsillitis in pediatric practices. Due to its specificity for infectious conditions, it is used for colds, influenza, wounds, infections, allergies, bacterial and viral disease, swollen glands and gum disease.

I prefer angustifolia for long term storage of dry root. It stores better than purpurea. I tend to use purpurea fresh more than angustifolia as it grows best where I live and is very active. I have no need to use angustifolia unless I want long term storage. Echinacea angustifolia is becoming endangered so if using Echinacea angustifolia only organic should be used and find cultivated sources. [6]

Dosage: Infusion: 1/2 – 1 teaspoon per cup of water; or 1:1.5 fresh + dry liquid extract: 10-120 drops 1-4 times per day. If using for an acute infection can use 120 drops as much as every 2 hours for first 24-48 hours. *

According to Strictly Medicinal Seeds

“The roots are pretty stable after washing and may be cold-stored or shipped over a period of several days without molding. However, it makes sense to make the fresh root tincture as soon as possible after washing, which will minimize oxidation.” [7]

Safety:

  • Persons who are allergic to the pollen of other members of the aster family, such as ragweed, may also be allergic to echinacea.
  • The German government recommends that nonspecific immune-stimulants, including echinacea, should not be used in cases of impaired immune response (involving diseases of the immune system itself) including tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, and HIV infection.
echinacea spp blooming
An echinacea canopy at FarmHomestead. YES, they are THAT beautiful! 🙂

Works Cited:

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"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease" ~ Thomas Jefferson