(Echinacea angustifolia, E. pallida, E. purpurea)
Since the 1990’s, this herb has seen a tremendous popularity as an immune stimulant. This same popularity has reduced the native populations to an all-time low, earning a placement on the United Plant Saver’s At-Risk list. Educating individuals and corporations to not wildcraft or harvest wild species is a beginning. Teaching about sustainability, how to grow your own plants, and where to purchase this herb are important as well. I will touch on all of these points in the following paragraphs. Native Americans introduced this natural healer to the settlers, and it was considered an important herb for wounds, infections, blood poisoning, and poisonous bites and stings. Echinacea was included in the first edition of King’s American Dispensatory in the 1850’s, and many subsequent herbals, or materia medica since then. (1)
Sustainability means using methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources. Once a resource is mentioned to the public as being endangered, or at-risk, it is up to us as a society to ensure the survival of that natural resource for future generations. Being listed as an endangered species, Echinacea should be included in sustainable practices. There are nine native species of Echinacea, but three species are used medicinally. There are differences in the amount of chemical constituents; however, they are used interchangeably. The Echinacea species are herbaceous perennials with alternate leaves that are rough. They are part of the Aster or Sunflower family, which consist of a composite head of many florets (disk) with colored ray flowers surrounding the disk giving the appearance of a single flower. The ray flowers can be different colors ranging in varying shades of purple, or pink. Many hybrid and cultivated species are different colors, but are not considered for medicinal purposes. Bloom time is anywhere from June – September. Echinacea species grow easily in average, well-drained soil; and are adaptable to heat, humidity, drought, and poor soil conditions. They prefer full sun, and average watering. Echinacea angustifolia is considered a native of the Great Plains, and is sometimes called Narrow- leaf coneflower. It usually grows up to 2 feet tall with lanceolate-shaped leaves, and light purple or pink composite heads which measure about 3 inches. This plant is hard to grow from seed, but with the right conditions, it will germinate. Echinacea purpurea is native to the Eastern U.S through the Midlands, and is sometimes referred to as Eastern purple coneflower. I have both of these species in my garden, and find that the E. purpurea self-seeds easier in our area. It grows up to 3 feet tall, and has oval leaves that are coarsely toothed. The bristle tips of the flower disks are orange, and the ray flowers range in color to a deeper purple, pink, or magenta. Echinacea pallida is larger (up to 40”) with drooping, spindly rays of pale purple which gives it the common name of Pale Purple Coneflower. I personally love to grow Echinacea in my gardens, and leave the flower disks for the winter. Finches love to feast on the seeds. If you prefer to cut the flowers to bring in the house, be sure to leave some to go to seed; thus, ensuring future plants for harvesting.
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