What it looks like
Rich purple to pink florets set upon a cone of seeds on tall stems. Leaves are generally narrow, oval shaped and dark green. Can grow up to 2 feet tall and blooms mid to late summer.
Where and when to find
Echinacea is a prairie wildflower. E. Augustifolia is native to North American prairies and open meadows. E. Purpurea and E. Pallida are more common in the east. All kinds can be found in gardens everywhere! It is often found in dry open prairies and meadows but will adapt to a moist soil. It is a very drought resistant plant. Echinacea is an endangered plant so growing or buying your own echinacea is preferred to harvesting from the wild. You can read more about endangered plants through United Plant Savers.
Echinacea, also known as coneflower or purple coneflower, is a perennial herb that grows in zone 3-9 and blooms mid to late summer. There are three common types of Echinacea used medicinally, E. Augustifolia, E. Pallida, E. Purpurea. E. Augustifolia has the strongest properties of the three.
To grow echinacea from seeds you'll need to artificially stratify them unless you have consistently cold winter. If you have consistently cold winters you can plant seeds in the late fall or early spring. Space them about 12 inches apart. E. Augustifolia can do well in poor soil with light watering. E. Purpurea and E. Pallida prefer a richer soil with moderate watering. Full sun is best for all. A well drained soil will make a better medicinal plant. They will grow in boggy soil but the properties will be reduced. Once established Echinacea will spread quite nicely. You can also propagate through root division.
How to Harvest Echinacea
Roots and aerial parts are used from the Echinacea plant. The aerial parts are most often used for herbal teas and the roots hold the most powerful medicine from the plant.
Harvesting the aerial parts can be done in the second year of growth. Harvesting the aerial parts is as simple as cutting the stem above the lowest pair of leaves. Strip the leaves and the flower buds from the stem and lay them flat to dry. This can be done any time during the growing season. A good time to do it is when you're cutting back the Echinacea in the fall.
Harvest the roots of a 2-3 year old plant in the spring or the fall. E. Augustifolia has fibrous roots and E. Purpurea has a tap root. To harvest Echinacea, using a shovel or a garden fork, lift the roots out of the ground around the Echinacea plant. I use a large shovel and basically dig up the whole root ball of the plant. Now you can take pieces of the root from the root ball to harvest or you can remove the whole plant to harvest all the roots. Removing the whole plant can allow you to thin out your Echinacea patch. If you choose to just harvest parts of the root ball, you can place the remaining roots back in the ground to replant.
How to preserve or process Echinacea
To preserve your leaves and buds simply take the dried parts and store them in a dark area in an airtight container until you are ready to make some tea.
To preserve your roots you can dry them to use in decoctions later, or you can start an Echinacea tincture. I personally love having Echinacea tincture on hand at all times so that is where most of my roots go to. Drying roots is best done in a dehydrator or in an oven on very low heat.
Once you have your roots harvested you'll want to shake the dirt off the roots. Next rinse them in cold water and pat them dry. I use a hose with a spray head to really get the dirt off outside, then I put them in a bucket of water to get the rest of the dirt off.
After you have cleaned the dirt off the roots you can dry them or you can tincture them. Both options will require you to cut or chop the roots into pieces. Kitchen scissors work great!
How to save seeds from Echinacea
Fall is also a great time to collect seeds from your Echinacea plant. If you don't collect the seeds they will follow the natural process, falling to the ground and be spread by wind and animals. No harm in that!
If you would like to collect your seeds you'll need to wait until the time is right. Harvest seeds from a two year old plant. Stop watering the plants in late summer, Echinacea is a drought resistant plant and too much moisture may ruin the seeds. As the blooms wilt in the fall, watch the seed heads, they will begin to plump up.Harvest the seeds when they are plump, not flat.
When the seeds are ready gather your supplies. Grab a pair of scissors and something to catch the seeds, a bowl will work but a brown paper bag works best. You can easily clip the tops of the flower into the bag, not losing any seeds. Grab the stems after they are clipped and shake the seeds off into the bag or bowl. After you've removed all the seeds, place them in a shallow box or on a cookie tray in a single layer. Shaking occasionally to make sure they dry evenly, leave them to dry for a month or so.
After they are dry, remove the dry outer layer to reveal the actual seed. You can do this by hand or by using a screen to rub the seeds on for friction. Make sure the seeds are completely dry by testing a few. If they crack when you pinch them they are dry. If they are still soft and do not crack, they are not dried completely. You can now store the seeds for a later season in a paper envelope, don't forget to label it. Or you can spread the seeds in the garden allowing them to stratify naturally over the winter.
Echinacea is an antimicrobial, antiviral, immunomodulator, anti-inflammatory, anti-catarrhal, diaphoretic, antiseptic, anti-venomous, immunostimulant, lymphatic, antifungal, vulnerary and alterative.
Different constituents in Echinacea work to make these actions possible. Echinacea aids in the formation of antibodies and stimulates white blood cell production. These two things help the body to fight off both bacterial and viral infections. It also strengthens and clears lymph nodes.
Echinacea is hailed as a strong immune booster but it should not be taken daily to boost the immune system. It is wonderful at shortening the duration of an illness or infection but using it as a daily immune booster may make it less effective when you really need it. It may not make you free from symptoms but it will make you feel better sooner. Echinacea is best started at the beginning of an illness or infection, taking a break from it after 5-10 days.
It works well for upper respiratory infections, strep throat, tonsillitis and laryngitis.
Echinacea is good for issues of the mouth and can be used as a mouthwash for things such as gingivitis and gum disease. Toothaches and canker sores are also aided by the use of echinacea. Sore throats can be soothed by a spray of echinacea tincture.
Other uses: Septicemia (blood poisoning,) septic sores and cuts, catarrhal conditions of nose and sinus. Bites, cold, flu, fever, herpes, inflammation, yeast infections, athlete's foot, and old sores.
Taking Echinacea internally can help battle boils, ulcers and abscesses on the inside, while using the decoction topically on the outside.
Research has shown echinacea to have mild activity against streptococcus and staphylococcus aureus. The tincture reduced the rate of growth and reproduction of Trichomonas Vaginialis and showed it to be effective at halting the recurrence of candida albicus.
For Echinacea to be effective you should start taking it at the first signs of an illness or infection. It is not a cure all but instead it helps to boost the body's systems that fight off infections.
Take 15-30 drops of a tincture every 2-3 hours. You can take it more often if needed. Other sources say a teaspoon or more per hour for the first few hours reducing the amount to 4 teaspoons a day on the second day and the days following until the symptoms are gone. Don’t take more than 5 days in a row. Take at least a 2 day break and resume if needed.
Take a decoction internally one tablespoon frequently.
Externally the decoction can be used as a wash or a fomentation, no real dose to this. Leave it in place as long as it is warm. Change it out as often as needed.
Echinacea can be used safely in all ages, those with a rare allergy to the aster family may be allergic to Echinacea.
Remedies to try
To create your own Echinacea remedies you'll need to start with roots. You can harvest your own or you can purchase dried roots through Mountain Rose Herbs or Bulk Herb Store.
Echinacea is most often used as a tincture or a decoction. A decoction is a tea made with roots. About a tablespoon of dried roots boiled in a pint of water for 10-15 minutes is a good starting point.
The tincture of Echinacea can be placed in a tea, used as a throat spray or taken alone. It has a tingling effect on contact. This tingling effect works wonders on a sore throat, especially when using it as a throat spray.