There is hardly a place in the world, where people know nothing and never heard of Echinacea – a plant, traditionally recognized as a valuable medicinal herb.
Echinacea belongs to the aster family (Asteraceae). Though there are as many as nine species of the plant, only three of them are used medicinally (Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea purpurea). Out of these Echinacea purpurea is the most popular and best studied. It happened due to the mistake of Dr. Gerhard Madaus, a leading German herbal medicine manufacturer of the last century. He went to the United States in search of Echinacea angustifolia, but brought the seeds of Echinacea purpurea.
The result of Madaus’ studies on the plant became the development of a product called Echinacin, which is still available today. Moreover, it is the most frequently prescribed Echinacea preparation in the world.
The given plant is native to the open woods and prairies of the USA: it can be found growing wildly in Ohio and Iowa, Louisiana and Georgia. Indians used it for ages to cure flu and colds, to heal cuts and burns. However, the majority of the studies on Echinacea were conducted in Europe, mainly in Germany, since the remedy went into disuse in America with the invention of antibiotics.
Echinacea is a perennial, long-lived plant with quite large (4-6 inches in diameter) wonderful pink or purple flowers. The flower-head has a stiff cone-shaped center, which is, actually, composed of tiny brownish-red individual flowers, with seeds being formed inside. Each flower-head is placed on a separate long, strong, erect stem, which reaches the height of about 4 feet.
The plant prefers dry soils, being afraid of too much moisture. Sunny locations are the best for Echinacea. However, the herb is strong enough to stand harsher conditions.
It is quite easy to grow Echinacea in the garden. The only thing a gardener should remember is timely weeding, since the plant cannot compete well with weeds. Diseases are not likely to strike Echinacea, except for the so-called “yellow” disease. One more note: protect the plant from rabbits and hedgehogs, which like eating its new shoots.
This medicinal herb can be propagated either by sowing seeds or by dividing older plants. Professionals confirm that planting the seeds in autumn is more beneficial for the further bloom period (Echinacea blooms from June to October).
Herbalists use roots and flower tops for medicinal purposes. Roots are harvested in autumn when the plant is three years old. The tops are the most valuable just when the flowers begin to open. The plant has the best medicinal properties during the first year of storage.
Finally, even if a gardener does not plan to use Echinacea for improving health, it is also worthy to grow it, since the beautiful large bright flowers will definitely decorate any garden.