Echinacea, also known as coneflower, is a down to earth all american wildflower. It’s natural habitat is the midwest plains, the open meadows and prairies of the United States, but now it’s such a popular perennial you can find it dotting the landscape in many gardens.
My own family has grown it for years, not for it’s medicinal qualities, but because it is hardy, drought resistant, comes back every year and most importantly, the deer that bed down in our yard won’t eat it. In fact most of the herbs featured in this series are deer resistant, unless of course the deer are very very hungry. We have also found (through sheer laziness-from not pruning back the dead summer growth) that the dried out summer flowers are a delight for the winter birds which are marvelously thankful for these pods of seeds left for them during the scarcity of winter.
There are several different colors of echinacea cultivated today, but the traditional coneflower is a beautiful pinkish purple petaled flower with cone shaped spiny seed podded head in the center.
The root, flowers and leaves of echinacea were introduced to European settlers by the American Indians, who used it to treat more illnesses than any other plant. Today, it is one of the most common herbs for immune system health and has been widely researched in that capacity, in more than 300 studies.
Echinacea is best known for the following qualities:
Treatment of the common cold. This is one of the most popular uses of echinacea. Studies have shown that treatment with echinacea at the on set of a cold results in a significant reduction of symptoms. In trials, the length of time between infections was 60% greater for those receiving echinacea than those given a placebo. When infections did occur, the symptoms were less severe for those receiving the echinacea. Patients having a weakened immune system benefitted the most from the echinacea.
Echinacea not only shortens the duration and lessens the severity of colds, but it can actually stop a cold that is just starting. That is because echinacea has antibacterial and antiviral qualities, and in this way resists infections.
It is very supportive of lymphatic health. The lymphatic system is part of your immune system consisting of a series of fluids and glands that sweep away toxins and byproducts of inflammation in order to keep you healthy. In this way, echinacea aids in reducing congestion, swelling and also keeping your lymph moving.
In tincture form, the juice of the aerial portion has been shown to possess antiviral activity.
If you grow echinacea and want to harvest it, here are a few tips:
- The leaves can be harvested the spring, when they are still growing.
- The flowers can be harvested when they start to open but for maximum potency, harvest the cone whenit is mounding.
- Dig up the root in the fall of the third or fourth year.
Echinacea is excellent in tinctures designed to boost both the immune and lymphatic health. Herbalists favor tinctures because the most potent active compounds are likely more stable and preserved in an alcoholic solution. Tinctures generally have a shelf life of at least 2-3 years, provided they are stored in a dark container our of direct sunlight or heat.
You can buy tinctures at most health food stores, or online. Or you can venture to make your own. Here are some simple recipes from normal folks, like you and me : Making Echinacea Tincture from Fresh Root, Homemade Tinctures 101 and How to Make Echinacea Tincture. If you are using fresh echinacea, you’ll want to make sure that you have all of the plant is submerged below the alcohol.
Mother Earth News recommends the following recipe for fresh echinacea tincture.
1 cup fresh echinacea buds, flowers, leaves and stems rinsed chopped and pounded
1 cup 190 proof ethanol alcohol – that’s Everclear
1 cup distilled water.
Place herb in clean jar and cover with the alcohol and distilled water. Store in a cool dark place and shake twice daily for 48 hours. Filter the tincture through a food grade screen and pour tincture into a brown glass bottle and label with contents and date. As an immune stimulant at the onset of a cold and during infection, take two dropperfuls of tincture three to four times daily in cycles of two weeks on and off.
Dried echinacea works well in teas, a great recipe can be found at How to Make Your Own Echinacea Tea. Quality echinacea can be found here. And ready made echinacea teas abound in the market, but Traditional Medicinals is a quality product and many stores carry it.
Anti-Inflammatory & Vitamin C Echinacea Tea
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1 teaspoon dried echinacea fresh edible flower (or roots)
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon honey (or more to taste)
In a teapot, pour the boiling water over the echinacea and chopped ginger.
Cover and steep for 10-15 minutes.
Add lemon juice and honey and stir to mix. Strain and pour into 2 mugs.
Serve warm and enjoy!
Joseph E Pizzorno and Michael T Murray : Textbook of Natural Medicine