Thursday, April 14, 2011

Echinacea purpurea - Purple Coneflower

Echinacea purpurea -  Purple Coneflower -  also know as Purple Coneflower, Kansas Snakeroot, Black Sampson, Coneflower, American Coneflower, Eastern purple coneflower  The name is derived from the Greek word echino, meaning "hedgehog," and relates to the appearance of the prickly looking seedhead. Some species are used in herbal medicines and some are cultivated in gardens for their showy flowers.

Echinacea is endemic to eastern and central North America, and is a stately herbaceous, drought-tolerant perennial that grows up to 4' in height.  Twelve to 20 purple petals are arranged around a central cone of bronze-hued color which itself is made up of tubular florets.

The leaves are 3 to 6 inches long, narrow, pointed, and very hairy.  Its individual flowers within the flower head are hermaphroditic, having both male and female organs on each flower. It is pollinated by butterflies and bees. Its habitats include dry open woods, prairies and barrens, as well as cultivated beds.

Although several Echinaceas have been used historically for medicinal purposes, E. purpurea is the species of choice.  Products available in the United States include tinctures, tablets, capsules, chewable gel tablets, and more. Some are made from Echinacea root, while others are derived from the whole plant, including the flowers. Most products are made from E. purpurea or E. angustifolia, or both.

Echinacea is considered to be the most effective detoxicant in Western herbal medicine for the circulatory, lymphatic and respiratory systems. There is some doubt that the body can absorb the active ingredients orally (only intravenous injections are considered effective), but recent research demonstrates significant absorption from orally administered applications.

Echinacea is popularly believed to stimulate the body's immune system, warding off infections and also being utilized as a laxative.  A review based on 13 European studies concluded that echinacea, when taken at first sign of a cold, reduced cold symptoms or shortened their duration.

The whole plant is considered beneficial for treating sores, wounds, and burns, possessing antibacterial and cortisone-like activity. The plant was used by Native Americans as a universal application to treat snakebite and the bites and stings of all types of insects.  The root is adaptogen, alterative, antiseptic, aphrodisiac, depurative, diaphoretic, digestive, sialagogue.  It is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use.  Echinacea is likely to lose its effectiveness if taken daily. Begin taking it at the onset of cold or flu symptoms, and continue for no more than two weeks.

CAUTION: Echinacea should not be used for more than 10 days. Children should not use it because of theoretically undesirable effects on the immature immune system.  Pregnant and lactating women should not use it.  

Reported adverse effects of Echinacea are primarily allergic in nature and also include anaphylaxis, asthma attacks, thrombocytopenic purpura, leucopenia, abdominal pain, nausea, dysuria, arthralgia, myalgia, and dizziness.  These tend to be infrequent, mild, and transient.  Echinacea should not be taken by persons with progressive systemic and auto-immune disorders, connective tissue disorders, or related diseases.  It should not be used with immunosuppressants or hepatotoxic drugs, and has the potential to interfere with anesthesia.

Echinacea was one of the basic antimicrobial herbs of eclectic medicine from the mid 19th century through the early 20th century, and its use was documented for snakebite, anthrax, and for relief of pain. In the 1930s echinacea became popular in both Europe and America as a herbal medicine.  Its modern day use as a treatment for the common cold began when a Swiss herbal supplement maker was "erroneously told" that echinacea was used for cold prevention by Native American tribes who lived in the area of South Dakota

Although Native American tribes didn't use Echinacea to prevent the common cold, some Plains tribes did use echinacea to treat some of the symptoms caused by the common cold,  The Kiowa used it for coughs and sore throats, the Cheyenne for sore throats, the Pawnee for headaches, and many tribes including the Lakotah used it as an analgesic.

Echinacea prefers loamy or sandy, well-drained soils, but it is not affected much by the soil's pH. Unable to grow in the shade, E. purpurea thrives in either dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought, once established.

It's large flowers are 4" in diameter and attract all types of butterflies and bees.  It blooms from June through August with some later blooms possible.  Let flowers go to seed and you will find finches and other songbirds visiting the plants for seed.  Old flower stems will remain erect and interesting in the garden through winter.

Echinacea  purpurea can be propagated by seed, division, root cuttings, and basal cuttings. Clumps can be divided, or broken into smaller bunches in the spring or autumn.  Cuttings made from roots that are "pencil-sized" will develop into plants when started in late autumn or early winter.  Cuttings of basal shoots in the spring may be rooted when treated with rooting hormones.

Seed germination occurs best when daily temperatures fluctuate or after stratification, which help to end dormancy.  Seeds may be started indoors in advance of the growing season or outdoors after the growing season has started.

Resourses include:  

Natural Medicinal Herbs Net:
The Backyard Herbalist:
The Herb Companion:


No comments: