Echinacea: Purple Cone Flower
This pretty daisy-like flower, with its delicate pink or purple petals, packs quite a punch. Echinacea Angustifolia and its cousin Echinacea Purpurea are among the most powerful herbs for strengthening the immune system. Amazingly, this herb is surprisingly gentle, stimulating the body’s defense against disease, without toxicity. It has antibiotic and antiviral properties, and has been shown to restore inflamed connective tissue.
Native to the great plains of North America, echinacea enjoyed a multitude of uses by the First American tribes in that region. They used the plant to treat snake bites, as well as bites from poisonous insects. The roots were juiced and added to water that was sprinkled on hot coals during purification rituals. It was often used to aid in healing of wounds as well. This is likely due to the caffeic acid glycoside content in the roots, a substance that reacts within the body’s cells to facilitate the wound healing process.
Echinacea was adopted for use by early settlers and became popular in folk medicine. It has been used to treat rheumatism, streptococcus infections, bee stings, dyspepsia, tumors, syphilis, gangrene, eczema, hemorrhoids, and many other ailments and wounds. To this day, many herbalists regard echinacea as an effective blood purifier. According to naturopathic physician Michael Tierra, echinacea neutralizes acid conditions in the blood, characteristic of lymphatic stagnation.
Echinacea is easy to cultivate in one’s own backyard. It can be started from seed, and does best when planted in soil that has been treated with compost and rock phosphate. It is also important to wait to plant outdoors until the air temperature is around 70 degrees. Space the seedlings one and a half to two feet apart. The plants do not need excessive watering and thrive in the heat. It will flower in the summer. In the winter, mulch plants with some straw or evergreens to prevent root damage, and the plant will return the following spring. Every five years or so, dig up the Echinacea roots, divide them, and replant them in fertilized soil for a thriving crop. It is best to wait a few years before harvesting the roots, after the plant has endured several hard frosts. The roots should be cleaned and dried fully before storing. It can then be ground for use in tinctures, teas and capsules.
Though Echinacea is not known to be toxic, it is best to consult with a health practitioner who is well versed in herbs before ingesting this plant for the purposes of healing.
1. Kowalchik, Claire and William H Hylton. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Rodale Press. Pennsylvania, 1987.
2. Bremness, Lesley. Dorling Kindersley Handbooks: Herbs. Dorling Kindersley. London, 1994.
3. Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women. Fireside Books. New York, 1993.