Synonyms and Common names: Brauneria pallida (Nutt.), B. angustifolia, purple coneflower, Kansas snakeroot, rudbeckia, American narrow-leaved coneflower, spider flower.
Description and Habitat: Echinacea is a perennial herb, up to a metre in height, with simple rough stems, hollow near the base and thickening slightly close to the flower head.
The flowers are a rich purple and the florets are seated around a high cone; seeds, four-sided achenes.
The tapering root is greyish-brown flecked with white and the rhizome has a circular pith. It has a faint aromatic smell, with a sweetish taste, leaving a tingling sensation in the mouth, not unlike Aconitum napellus, but without its lasting numbing effect. Echinacea is a native of the prairies of the Western USA but is easily cultivated from seed in Europe.
Parts used: Coneflower, Root and rhizome
Harvesting: The flower is best gathered when it is in full flower, best in the morning before the sun has reached its height, and when the flower has the greatest concentration of constituents.
The root or rhizome is best if harvested at 3 years after propagation when the herb has experienced some hard frosts; harvest in autumn when the tops have gone to seed.
Use a sharp knife to cut off no more than half the root, leaving the rest to grow on for future use. Cut the root into small pieces and wash thoroughly and pat them dry. Either hang the roots or layout in a well-ventilated area which is dark so the pieces don’t touch each other (otherwise they may go musty), the drying may take several weeks. When completely dry store them in a dark jar or container in a cool dark place until required.
Constituents: volatile oil (including humulene and caryophylene), glycoside (echinacoside), polysaccharides, polyacetylenes, isobutylalkamines, echinaceine, phenolics, inulin, betain, resins, sesquiterpene.
Actions: immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, vulnerary, antiseptic, peripheral vasodilator, anti-microbial, antibiotic, anti-allergenic, lymphatic tonic, warming alterative, anti-infective, stimulating, inhibits hyaluronidase activity and reduces eosinophil levels
Indications: boils, septicaemia, naso-pharyngeal catarrh, pyorrhoea, tonsillitis,
Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Echinacea is one of the world's most important medicinal herbs. Research shows that it has the ability to raise the body's resistance to bacterial and viral infections by stimulating the immune system. It is also antibiotic and helps to relieve allergies.
The Herb has a general stimulatory effect on the immune system and is widely used in modern herbal treatments.
The roots are considered particularly beneficial in the treatment of sores, wounds, burns etc, and possessing cortisone-like and antibacterial activity.
The Herb was used by North American Indians as a universal application to treat bites and stings of all types of insects. An infusion of the plant was also used to treat snakebites, and the plant has been used as a diaphoretic.
Recent research is promoting Echinacea as the much searched for a remedy for the common cold, although it must be seen more as a preventative rather than a treatment, there is no doubt at all that its aid to the immune system has much to recommend it.
Echinacea increases bodily resistance to infection and is used for boils, erysipelas, septicaemia, cancer, syphilis and other impurities of the blood, its action being antiseptic. It has also useful properties as a strong alterative and aphrodisiac. As an injection, the extract has been used for haemorrhoids and a tincture of the root has been found beneficial in diphtheria and fevers.
Contraindications: High doses can occasionally cause nausea and dizziness.
Preparation and Dosage: 1 to 2 teaspoonful’s of the root in one cup of water and bring it slowly to the boil, let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, drink 3 times a day. It is considered that the tincture or fresh extract is more effective than the dried root.
Tincture – 1 to 4ml of the tincture taken 3 times a day
Additional Comments & Folklore: Echinacea has a long-known association with the Native American Indian nations, who used the herb long before it became known in Europe. They used Echinacea to treat toothaches, sore throat, mumps, smallpox, and measles. Poultices containing Echinacea were applied to insect bites and wounds, and even poisonous snake bites. The plant was used in many different ways. The Blackfoot Indians, for example, chewed the roots to relieve toothache. The Cheyenne used infusions made from the roots and leaves externally on painful necks. The Dakota Sioux used juice from the fresh plant to relieve the pain from burns and smoked the dried leaves to relieve headaches.
Unfortunately, demand for the species - propped up by the folklore that the plant is a miracle cure - has accelerated depletion in its original wild places. Many Echinacea species are endangered as a result, but the good news is that as the herb is now becoming a part of the European healer's toolbox the species is now found in many herb gardens and acclimatised to a more Northern climate.
Its best use lays in fighting the virus that is the common cold, and only now are drug companies beginning to realise its potential as such. Many people take Echinacea every day as a preventative; however, this method will result in the gradual resistance of the body to the herb. Instead, try taking Echinacea for a week, then stopping for a week, then taking it again for a week. By alternating weeks, you can boost the immune system, yet still, allow the body the chance to rest.
There isn't a great deal of British Folklore surrounding the Echinacea as it was a Herb brought to these islands from the USA, most of its Folklore rest with the Native American Indian, who considered the Herb to be a 'cure-all' for most illnesses.