Echinacea is an herbaceous, drought tolerant perennial flowering plant in the Asteracea family found in Central and Eastern North America in open wooded areas, the great plains, and prairies, both dry and wet. It has a prominent taproot and typically erect, branchless stems with basal leaves at the base. The basal leaves and the lower stem leaves have petioles, and as the leaves progress up the stem the petioles often decrease in length. It has a distinctive, composite flower shape, with purple (rarely yellow or white) florets arranged in a prominent, somewhat cone-shaped head. The plants are generally long lived and grows easily from cuttings or seeds, reaching up to 5 feet in height. It can tolerate poor, rocky, and acidic soils, but does best in rich soils in full sun. It takes about 3 years for a plant to get large enough to harvest, and it should be done after the flowers have gone to seed. If they are on the larger side, the roots should be chopped before they are dried. There are several varieties of Echinacea, but Echinacea purpurea is the primary variety used in medicine making.
Although there is dispute on it’s effectiveness in Western medicine, Echinacea is known for it’s immune boosting qualities, stimulating the body’s defense system. It’s shown to be an anti-microbial, alterative, anti-viral, anti-biotic, and anti-inflammatory, and can reduce fever, coughs, and allergies. It cleanses the blood, amps up the actions of white blood cells, and helps stop the formation of pus. Combined with yarrow and barberry, it can help with cystitis and urinary tract infections. It can also help with laryngitis and upper respiratory tract infections and irritations when combined with elecampane, and is often combines with lemon, cayenne, licorice, and ginger in a tea for colds and a general immune boost. The root is the major part used in herbal decoctions and tinctures, but some recipes call for the whole plant, which are shown to be less potent. Echinacea’s properties are also currently being studied in AIDS research. Externally, echinacea can be added to salves and lotions to help heal septic wounds and sores. The root should be used within about six months of harvesting or it tends to lose potency, which is why some prefer to store it in tincture form.
Echinacea gained notoriety in the 1800s as a medicine show folk-cure for snakebite, and was commonly used by several Native American tribes from the great plains as an analgesic, treatment for coughs, headache, and sore throats.
As a root decoction, 1-2 teaspoons of the root per cup of water, brought slowly to a boil and simmered for 10-15 minutes, drunk three times daily. As a tincture, 1-4ml of the tincture three times a day.
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