The Magical Powers of Echinacea
Echinacea is a potent medicinal herb that I have used for a long time mainly when dealing with colds and flus. It was one of the first herbs I used medicinally. I would buy the Traditional Medicinals brand at the grocery store every time I got sick. After drinking this tea for a few days my symptoms either went away or became less severe. This was the first time I ever experienced the magic of medicinal plants.
What Kind of Plant Is Echinacea?
Echinacea is typically a purple coneflower that you see in most gardens. The root word, Echinos derives from Greek and means hedgehog or sea urchin. To me it kind of looks like a picture of bacteria or a virus.
This flower is part of the Asteraceae family. The genus Echinacea consists of 9 different species that are found in the United States and south central Canada. There are three species that are widely distributed that have a long tradition of being used medicinally. Echinacea purpurea grows through out eastern North America. Echinacea pallida grows in the midwest. And Echinacea angustifolia grows all over the western Great Plains. The root of Echinacea is the most common part used medicinally.
Echinacea angustifolia was one of the plants used most for medicinal purposes by native tribes located among the Great Plains. The Cheyenne used agustifolia for toothaches, sores, neck pain, and sore throat. The Dakota used it for burns, headache, poison antidote, enlarged glands, and snake bites. The Lakota used it for stomachaches, thirst, sweating, and tonsillitis. Many other tribes had additional uses too.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this same species was used by American physicians to treat severe illnesses like typhoid fever, smallpox, anthrax, blood poisoning, and rattlesnake bites.
It grows wild from Texas to Canada, through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas. This particular variety is hard to cultivate in a garden so most of it on the marketplace is wild harvested.
*E. angustifolia is your best option when the root is fresh.
Echinacea purpurea is the tallest variety with the largest leaves, sometimes reaching five feet. This is the most common garden species and is the easiest to grow. The few recorded uses by native Americans is coughs, indigestion, and gonorrhea. Physicians typically did not favor E. purpurea because some would try to sell them look a like roots of other plants. But today it is used more often because it has very similar properties with E. angustifolia.
A lot of research has gone into the flowers and leaves. Various constituents have been found with immune system stimulating properties. Since the 1930’s the flowering tops have been used so that they have blooms growing back year after year. Germans prepared a juice with the flowering tops in 22% of alcohol. This was the first use of the species medicinally by physicians. And it was used to treat various kinds of infections and inflammation.
*E. purpurea is best fresh when dry it does not store as well as angustifolia.
This flower is similar to E. angustifolia but it is taller and the petals droop downwards. Its main habitat is found in eastern Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Native Americans in these areas used this variety to treat infectious diseases and snake bites. But other tribes believed that E. angustifolia was stronger medicine. E. pallida roots are larger so they are commonly found on the market. Many books and physicians often failed to differentiate between the two species. That made a lot of confusion when it came to the study of the effectiveness of Echinacea, leaving us with data that was variable due to the confusion between the species. Most herbalist believe that E. pallida is an inferior species for medicinal use.
How To Use Echinacea as Medicine
Root- sweet, pungent, aromatic.
Energetics: Cooling, drying, stimulating
Constituents: High molecular weight polysaccarides, alkylamides, chlorogenic and cicoric acid, ketoalkenes, caffeic acid derivatives, glycoproteins, and echinacoside that act as the immunomodulators with anti-inflammatory properties.
Cynarin and inulin.
The polysaccharides are not soluble in alcohol. Polyprpenoids are in medium strength etoh. And the alkyl amides are soluble in very strong etoh. Tea contains polysaccharides (water soluble) which are immune enhancing properties. But we do not know if or how they are absorbed or digested. However it is found in the gut lymph tissue. The constituents that you desire will determine the method in which you make the medicine if its either tea, tincture or medicinal tablets. Fresh root tinctures of E. purpurea and E. angusutifolia both work equally.
The root is the most reliable source of medicine. The seed, flower, and leaves are also useful but they are not as strong as the root. However some herbalists have found that the leaves can cause nausea and only use them for external signs of inflammation as a poultice.
Tea infusion: 1/2-1 tsp of root per cup of water. 1:1 fresh and dry liquid tincture; 10-20 drops 1-4 times/ per day. Higher doses can be taken depending on the situation.
Echinacea is specifally used before a illness progresses, the root helps boost your immune system to prevent illness. Or it is indicated when youare sick and feeling sympoms of exhaustion, chilliness, offensive discharge, lymphatic congestion, swollen glands, mental confusion, dizziness, low grade and continuous fevers or high grade fevers. Typically associated with bacterial infections.
Indications: Antimicrobial, anti inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, stimulates adrenal cortex, white blood cells, inhibits hyaluronidase, enhances phagocytosis, sialagogue, lymphagogue, antioxidant.
Used for treating respiratory, gastrointestinal, and urinary tract infections both viral and bacterial. Also for tonsillitis, wounds vaginal infections, candida, herpes, UTI, respiratory tract infections, cellulitis, and gum disease. Inhibits cancer cells and can be used as a antidepressant. Infections of the upper and lower respiratory tract. And protects the gut from harmful organisms that cause inflammatory allergic reactions.
Echinnacea tincture or topical use in high doses has been able to treat rattlesnake or spider bites. It is good to keep in a first aid kit in case of an emergency but you should immediately seek medical help.
Fermenting Echinacea has also been shown to enhance its beneficial qualities. The root in 5% distilled water with 0.4 % yeast extract with Lactobcilluus plantarum. The fermented Echinacea has a stronger antimicrobial activity with double the effectiveness of scavenging for free radicals.
***There are several contraindications with Echinacea. Consult your doctor before using. It should be carefully considered by a doctor especially for immunocompromised people because of its nature to produce white blood cells.
***Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. The information is not a substitute for medical treatment.
How To Grow Echinacea
Now that you understand how to use Echinacea and which varieties are used medicinally let’s talk about how to successfully grow this powerful medicine in your garden. Strictly Medicinal Seeds is a great place to find different varieties of Echinacea and other wonderful medicinal seeds.
Which Echinacea Should You Grow?
Echinacea purperea is a perennial that is hardy in zones in 3 to 8 and is drought tolerant. The roots of E. purperea grow in a spreading, multi root mass and the E. angustifolia and other Echinnacea species have more of a tap root. They begin to flower in midsummer and continues flowering for many weeks. This plant is a great addition to a pollinator friendly garden too.
Growing conditions for echinacea is best in full sun and well drained loamy soil. The plants can benefit from top dressing with fertilizer. And a consistent water supply will increase growth. Direct seed in early fall or spring. Stratification can increase germination rates. It takes about 4 weeks for the seeds to germinate. Plant seed directly on top of soil then lightly cover.
Leaves and flowers can be harvested the first year when in full blossom, if planted early enough. But make sure to leave enough areal growth to feed the root system and stick to harvesting only 10-20 percent of tops. Heavier harvests can be done on more mature plants. Then the roots are ready in the fall of the third or fourth year. Use a spade fork for easy harvest or a potato digger or bed lifter. Seeds can be harvested the second year. To have true seeds that haven’t cross pollinated with other echinacea plants. They are easy to harvest once the heads turn brown and easily shatter.
To process flowers after harvesting run them through a chipper or maybe even a vitamix then dry on screens that have good airflow and temps around 90 to 100 degrees. Hang dry the leaves and stalks or in a single layer on a drying rack with 100 to 110 degrees. To process the roots you will need to quarter them to thoroughly wash. Then they can be easily chopped up with a knife. You can then mill the roots after they dry. They will be fully dried after 3 or 4 days.
Now your all set to use and grow Echinacea. It is such a powerful plant ally to have in your back pocket. I hope this posts makes this plant more approachable and encourages you to give it a try when you feel a cold coming on.
If you liked this post check out more of my herbal blog posts here.
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