Native to the Plains and meadows of America, Echinacea was well known and perhaps the most used herb by the native peoples for hundreds of years and for a vast array of conditions before its adoption by settlers and introduction to Europe.
Traditionally used to prevent and treat infections, inflammation and common illnesses, Echinacea has been proven effective in boosting the immune system, and through its mild antibiotic action,preventing and treating some viral and bacterial infections. Interestingly, it is also useful for treating wounds as it has antiseptic and tissue stimulating properties.
Echinacea is rugged,long-blooming, perennial plant commonly grown in home and public gardens. Many ornamental cultivars exist, but it’s the native Echinacea purpurea that’s used for medicine. The pink, daisy-flowered perennial grows about 3′ tall and 2′ wide. It blooms in summer and attracts butterflies. Finches enjoy the seeds if flowers are left in the garden.
Start seeds indoors about 8 to 12 weeks before the last frost date or sow directly in the garden after your last frost. Transplant to 16″ apart in the garden. Echinacea needs full sun and well-drained soil. It tolerates hot, dry sites after it’s well established, but produces more medicinal roots if kept watered. Fertilize once in the spring, but otherwise avoid fertilizer. Echinacea may not bloom until the second season after planting from seed.
Harvest & Keeping
The flowers, buds and roots contain the most concentrated sources of Echinacea’s medicinal properties.
Harvest the flowers just as the buds begin to open by snipping them off just behind the bud. To harvest leaves, cut off stems and strip the leaves. Dry flower buds and leaves on screens in a warm, airy, dark place for about a week. Store in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.
To harvest the roots, dig up plants in the fall after the tops have turned brown. Wash off all the soil and dry the roots on screens in well-ventilated, dimly lit area for up to a week. Test them for brittleness and store in airtight containers when thoroughly dry. Note that roots will be larger on plants that are at least two years old.
Some studies have shown that echinacea may worsen some auto-immune disorders and should be avoided by those suffering from such ailments.