BLOG 28: How many of you have Purple Coneflowers gracing your garden? Coneflowers are an indigenous species to Canada and consequently an easy to grow perennial. Coneflowers are hardy in Canadian gardening zones of 3-5. I have seen them growing in colder zones when placed beside a warm wall or fence. They are also heat and drought resistant and are flourishing in my garden right now despite the long drought we have been experiencing this season. I have several Purple Coneflower species scattered in my summer garden and they are a gorgeous beneficial addition.
Did you know choosing to plant indigenous species on your property is a responsible act and critical to the survival of the wildlife around you? If you love your Highland landscape you better heed my advice and buy indigenous plants to grace your garden. Planting invasive species is hard to control and they always manage to escape and cause detrimental havoc to your neighboring ecological environment and beyond. You don’t want to be that person, right?
Coneflowers supply an endless amount of fresh cut flowers for the house and their violet to pink coloured flowers create a calming and relaxing atmosphere. Coneflower ‘fences’ surrounding vegetable gardens attracts pollinators to it and also keeps hungry rabbits out! In fact this sturdy stemmed plant is suitable for formal borders and is a lovely unassuming way to separate yards in city centres. Coneflowers are very entertaining in the garden too. Migrating birds are fuelled by their seeds in the fall and are key to their survival when returning to a snow-covered spring. I actually use my seeded coneflower stems to gauge the accumulation of snowfall during the long winter months. In the long hazy days of summer Coneflowers attract multiple pollinators like the Monarch Butterfly and several Bumble bee species. Did you know Bumble bees are some of the only few expert pollinators that are the secret to better bigger berries. I grow raspberries, strawberries and blackberries and need these guys around to get me a bigger fruit yield.
The Purple Coneflower are also a very useful addition to our medicine cabinets and first aid kits. There are many coloured hybrids entertaining us and about seven species of Coneflowers existing in the wild. Three are used commercially for their medicinal properties... Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida and Echinacea purpurea. All Echinacea species are indigenous only to Central North America. It’s our baby. It didn’t jump a ride over the Atlantic in an grandmothers pocket or stowaway on a merchant ship like many other herbs have in the past. We should be proud to call this medicinal plant our own. In Canada Echinacea angustifolia is indigenous to the Great Plains of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. E.Pallida is indigenous to Manitoba and Saskatchewan prairies and E. Purpurea is from southern Ontario fields and open lands.many species also come from the Great Plains of the USA too.
The Purple coneflower root is very special and according to many empirical studies It is antimicrobial, immunoregulator, lymphatic, anti-inflammatory, anticatarral, vulnerary, carminative, stimulant, alterative, tonic and anti-fungal. The leaves and flowers have the same properties but in a much weaker concentration. It’s honestly a superstar for Herbalists to administer to their patients. Sold in health food stores and almost exclusively marketed as a prevention remedy to the common cold or flu, this herb in my option is under-utilized by the masses. This is why I detest media marketing...it always creates a narrow view that is detrimental to the multiple uses that each herb miraculously has within them. Did you know fresh or dried Echinacea can be poulticed and used externally for inflamed infections and wound healing? Or that the tincture can be used as an antiseptic wash for wounds and even acne inflammation? Have you ever dabbed the tincture on bug bites like mosquitos, for example and quickly stop that itchy inflamed area? Or rubbed Echinacea cream on a scrape or burn and instantly get pain relief? Well step aside or get with the program.
Echinacea is a medicine cabinet favourite. For hundreds of years the Plains First Nation Peoples have used Echinacea as an analgesic and antiseptic. In the 1700’s it was used in the States for the sores horses got from their rubbing saddles. Europeans and Germans began using and conducting studies on the root in 1895. Over 400 empirical studies have been conducted on Echinacea since the 1930’s and the majority favour the efficacy of the plant. A word of caution, when reading negative articles on Echinacea (or other plant remedies with similar back and forth good and bad studies) I have found that pharmaceutical or other competitors are usually funding the opposing article and oftentimes are purposely using the wrong dose, the wrong species, the wrong active ingredient or the wrong part of the plant in their study. GRR is the acronym for greedy research results. I’ll never forget in my early days as a practicing herbalist out of my home and I read a very believable negative article with the headline ‘Echinacea tincture proven not to work!’ Touting results from a long term study with children and the common cold. I was crushed. I loved this remedy and used it many times successfully with my kids. ‘Was it a placebo, then?’ I was thinking as I neared the end of the article. Well dammit, at the very end of the article the study was conducted on children with the flower petals and not the root! I thought about how many people today just read the headlines for their source of information and believe it! I thought the journalist should be ashamed of his choice of attention getting titles. It was an irresponsible title in that it turned away many from using a safe and natural remedy for children as opposed to chemical pharmaceuticals. Sure Echinacea flowers and leaves have similar properties of the root but such a tiny amount that herbalists make sure the root is a constant in their remedies. Buyer beware too... make sure you are buying the right thing too. Lots of crap out there claiming to be ‘natural’ too. If you want to buy trustful Echinacea remedies in this area I recommend St.Francis (NE Ontario), Clef de Champ (Near Mont Tremblant) or Natural Factors with their own giant beautiful crop fields of Echinacea in beautiful British Columbia.
On the other hand, why don’t you make your own easy remedies? If you grow one of the three purple coneflowers I mentioned earlier (E. angustifolia is the strongest but E. purpurea is the species used commercially but all three are sufficient choices) then you are ready to make your own this fall. The tincture recipe is too simple to refuse. To begin, coneflowers are perennial and every 3-5 years echinacea colonies need to be split in half and transplanted elsewhere to keep them healthy. If you want to transplant elsewhere in the garden split them in the spring so the transplanted root will be strong enough to handle the winter months ahead. This is great news as these flowers look great in large numbers. If you want to make a tincture separated the roots in the fall to use for your remedy. Collecting roots in the fall is optimal after the flowering season to produce highly energetic roots. Make sure you harvest before the ground freezes and shuts the energy off. Cut the root away from the arial parts and wash all the dirt off them. (The leaves and flowers can be dried and stored for use as a pleasant ‘under the weather’ tea or face wash) once the roots are clean they can be chopped up and dried on a drying rack or dehydrator. When thoroughly dried you can lightly grind the root with some aerial parts (optional if you subscribe to the ‘holistic approach) and put the pieces in a mason jar. Fill with brandy or vodka so that the liquid is at least two inches above the dried roots. Sit the jar in a cool dark place within view and shake for a minute or two daily for six weeks. While shaking don’t be shy to call out or think of your intention, for example ‘This tincture is going to heal my family’ as your implied intention positivity gets charged into your remedy as an added bonus. Like chef Thomas Keller has said “A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.” After six weeks or more strain out the plant and squeeze every bit of liquid out of the root/plant dredge. Bottle. A dark bottle (blue, brown or green glass) is necessary to protect it from sunlight. This tincture lasts for many years unrefrigerated. Use it as often as needed.
The Germans studies recommend pulsing (taking breaks) the remedies and other studies say its a tonic (safe for daily use). I pulse most remedies so my body will respond quicker to help as needed. I believe consuming a variety of foods is the first defense key to warding off disease. Use Coneflower remedies externally or internally for any of the medicinal actions mentioned above as needed. Dosage? 30 drops or 1 tsp five times a day as soon as you feel under the weather or hear the ‘*€#@!!’ is going around to nip it in the bud. Poultice: use three times a day. Antiseptic wash: daily for acne or just before administering bandages or poultices. How to make a poultice you ask? Use fresh arial plant tops or dried. Pour into a blender/grinder and powder it. Add a small amount of unpasteurized raw honey to make a paste consistency. (Hint: good raw honey comes from a wonderful old beekeeper from the highlands near Fort Coulonge). Wrap the paste in a gauze or clean thin cloth and press on the wound for several minutes. Repeat three times daily remembering to wash with echinacea tincture or tea before applying the poultice. Using the cloth instead of directly applying to the skin keeps the wound clean but applying a thin layer directly is okay too.
This article is just a tip of iceberg of uses of Echinacea. Please do more research but with reputable authorities like the German E. Commission or the American Botanical Society because there are hundreds of studies out there to sift from and their herb monographs are used worldwide. I hope I have encouraged you enough to grow some Coneflowers on your property and if you already do grow them to harvest them this fall. Use your older roots, flowers and leaves to make a big batch of tincture or dried loose tea to distribute and gift to those you love in time for the cold and flu season at Christmas. Please share this article with a child.