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Growing and Using Echinacea

Posted December 9th, 2016 by Donna Brown in

Echinacea Facts

As a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae), Echinacea, (Scientifically Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifoliia or Echinacea pallida) is known by several common names like Kansas snakeroot, black Sampson and Sampson root. But it is most commonly referred to as purple cone flower. It is grown in the eastern two thirds of North America and Europe. They grow in moist to dry prairies and open wooded areas. It can be taken orally as an herbal tea, or in tincture form. It can also be used as an herbal salve. Echinacea purpurea is the type primarily used for research and treatment, however, any of these types of this herb can be used. Long-term use has been linked with side effects and could interfere with anesthesia and certain medications.

Growing Purple Coneflower

This herb makes a beautiful addition to a perennial herb or flower garden. It is a drought resistant perennial herb that grows up to 4 foot in height (140 cm). A healthy stand of coneflower will attract goldfinches and butterflies to your garden. It thrives in USDA plant hardiness zones 3-9. These purple pedaled flowers with cone-shaped centers bloom in late summer and attract butterflies and then finches when the seed head develops.

This herb can be started from plants or it can be started from seed. When starting from seed, it will germinate better if the seeds are cold stratified. Mix the seeds in a small amount of sponge damp sawdust, peat moss, or vermiculite. Put them inside a small plastic bag or jar so the seeds remain moist during the stratification process. Put the bag or jar into the refrigerator to keep them at a consistent temperature or 32-34 degrees F for 30 days. If temperatures outside are likely to remain below 59 degrees during the 30 days, the stratification can occur outdoors rather than in the refrigerator. Prepackaged pre-stratified seed will not need to be chilled in order to germinate.

After the stratification process is complete, plant them at a depth of ¼ inch. The seeds will germinate in 10 to 30 days at 65 to 70 F and should be ready to transplant in 30 days. The higher the temperature for both the seed and the seedling, the faster the seeds will germinate and the faster the seedlings will grow. Plant the Echinacea in its permanent outdoor location, only after the last predicted frost in the spring. Stems may be stronger and develop more flower buds when they experience cool temperatures of about 40 F after being planted.

This herbaceous plant will grow best in full sun to partial shade, with some shade being ideal. Like most plants, Echinacea grows best in pH neutral, well-drained soil. Place each plant at least 15 inches apart so air can circulate between them, but no more than 24 inches apart to avoid spindly growth. They are drought resistant once established, but will need to be watered regularly throughout their first season. After the first year, avoid excessive watering to help produce better plants and prettier blooms. Echinacea will not need fertilizing, but will benefit from small amounts of organic compost during the early seasonal growth. Removing spent flowers, also known as deadheading, keeps the plant blooming and prevents self-seeding. Once established, the plant requires minimal care and readily self-seeds in place if deadheading is not done.

Medicinal Uses

This herb is often used as a treatment for colds, the flu and as well as other respiratory infections. It helps boost the body’s immune system by stimulating immune system cells called macrophages. These cells attack and consume invading organisms including cancer cells. Some people believe that Echinacea promotes the anti-cancer activity of natural killer cells making it a useful supplement for individuals receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Echinacea can be taken in capsule or liquid form and can be used as a fresh or dried herb in tea. Most practitioners recommend milligrams per day, but you should not take it for more than eight consecutive weeks. Echinacea can also be applied to the skin. Native Americans used Echinacea before the white men arrived in America. In the 1800s, Echinacea was commonly used as a natural remedy against infections and inflammation. As a topical salve it can be used to treat infections, bites, stings, eczema, psoriasis and other skin problems.

Although a few laboratory studies suggest that some chemicals found in Echinacea might increase the activity of certain immune system cells, human studies have generally concluded that Echinacea does not prevent, shorten, or relieve the symptoms of these infections.

Some products that name Echinacea on their label do not contain any Echinacea, and some may actual contain harmful contaminants, so it makes sense to grow your own. D not use Echinacea for more than eight weeks and do not use it if you are taking medications like anabolic steroids, amindarone and chemotherapy drugs methotrexate and ketoconazole. It may also interact with other medications. Individuals with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis or HIV should not take Echinacea, nor should women who are pregnant or nursing.

Side effects from Echinacea are rare; however, some side effects have been noted such as headache, nausea, dizziness, abdominal pain and constipation. Rashes may occur in children. Severe allergies can also occur, but rarely do. These include anaphylactic reactions including itching, swelling of the face or throat, wheezing and rash. Anyone with allergies to chamomile, ragweed, mug wort, sunflowers, chrysanthemums, asters, dandelions, zinnias, yarrow, sagebrush, tansy or other members of the Asteraceae family should be careful when taking Echinacea. You should report to your physician and pharmacist if you are using Echinacea or any herbal supplements.

Echinacea Tea

After Echinacea has bloomed during the second year, you can begin harvesting it for tea. Locate the topmost leaves that do not have any brown spots, insect bites or other blemishes. Then choose flowers from the newest blooms and remove stems completely. Spread out the leaves and flowers on a cookie sheet. Place on a cookie sheet and put on the lowest temperature in the oven to dry. You can also use a dehydrator. If you do not want to use electricity and it is hot outside, you can also dehydrate your herbs in your car. Just be sure to protect the plants from the sunlight. After the Echinacea has dried, place it into a tin or glass jar. Store the herbal tea in a dark location so that the Echinacea does not lose its potency.

Echinacea Tincture

In a glass pint jar, place 1/4 cup dried or ½-cup fresh finely chopped or crushed Echinacea flowers and leaves. Fresh Echinacea makes better tincture than dry, so if you have fresh leaves and flowers available, use them instead of dried. Add one cut vodka (60% with dried Echinacea and 80-100% alcohol with fresh Echinacea).

Instead of making tincture with leaves or flowers, you can use Echinacea roots. Grind one-cup of fresh roots with two cups of alcohol to create a pulpy mush. Continue, as you would do with leaves and flowers. Fill a jar completely to keep out air and tightly screw on the lid. Label the jar with the herb name, the date you made it and the date you expect the tincture to be ready. Store it in a cool dark cabinet for 4-6 weeks.

Make sure shake the contents of the jar for the next 30 days. The longer this solution steeps, the stronger the tincture will be. A dark brown color is desirable because it indicates that the alcohol is absorbing the essential oils. After the 4-6 weeks, strain the vodka from the Echinacea by placing a layer of cheesecloth over a glass bowl. Allow it to drain for a few minutes then squeeze the excess liquid from the cheesecloth. Pour the tincture into dark glass jars, label and store them in dark location.

Use the tincture at the first sign of a cold or flu symptoms. Take ½ to ¾ teaspoons 3-4 times per day. Echinacea will not prevent a cold or the flu. Do not take it for more than 8 weeks during a cold season.

Echinacea Salve

To make a salve for use in the treatment of insect bites, grind Echinacea root into a coarse powder until you have a cup of powder. Add enough 70% ethanol to dampen the powder and leave it to sit overnight. Blend in three parts of fat to one part root powder. If you use olive oil, you can simply add it. If you add a fat that is solid at room temperature such as coconut oil, lard or ghee, melt it first at a low heat then add it to the powder in the blender. Blend for ten minutes at a high speed and transfer the mixture to a double boiler. Heat it at a low temperature until the alcohol dissipates. This may take 1-2 hours. Removing all of the alcohol is not critical; a small amount left will act as a preservative.

Once the alcohol is removed, filter the mixture though cheesecloth and press the Echinacea infused oil from the Echinacea root powder. Discard the Echinacea root powder. Reheat the oil and add grated bees wax to create the desired consistency.

Disclaimer

This article is not meant as medical advice. Any medical issues should be addressed by qualified medical personnel.

Donna Brown is the author of the gardening book Simply Vegetable Gardening which is available on her website: Cygnetbrow.com. She can be contacted at cygnetbrown@gmail.com.

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