My next subject for the Alp-herb-et is most definitely not a British native, in fact it’s not even a European native. Echinacea however does grow in my garden, and it’s a herb I make great use of especially during the winter months for reasons which will become clear.
Growth and Cultivation
Echinacea purpurea, also known as purple Coneflower is a member of the aster family (Asteraceae) and is the most common form. Since its introduction into our flowerbeds more interesting varieties have been bred for the gardener and I grow both purpurea and a white form (E. pallida) with smaller less ‘cone’ like flowers.
E. purpurea is native to North America especially in the hotter arid states but grows well here in dryer parts Southern Britain on our chalk and sand in full fun or even partial shade in warmer climes. Echinacea are pretty drought tolerant and have a herbaceous habit, flowering late summer, dying back completely and then remerging in late spring / early summer. I grow Echinacea amongst Yarrow, the flowering heads of Echinacea growing almost as tall as the Yarrow stalks (around 2-4 foot) and together they look great and grow pretty well together side by side.
Propagation is by seed and seeds germinate better when subject to cold / wet stratification. Admittedly this is something I have not yet successfully managed but to be honest, plants are easy to come by in nurseries around these parts and a well-established plant can be obtained for just a few pounds which is all I need for my tiny garden…perhaps I’ll try again next year!
So now we come onto the main reason I wanted to include Echinacea in the Alp-Herb-et series. Echinacea has to be amongst my top 5 herbs which I always keep supply of in my home apothecary.
When I was about 18 I was diagnosed with Glandular fever. I suffered terribly, having constant sore throats and tonsillitis, extreme fatigue and there were weeks where I physically couldn’t get out of bed and eating and drinking was painful beyond all knowing. It was hell on earth. Doctors prescribed antibiotics for the tonsillitis and pain killers which cured the symptoms of the glandular fever but within a month symptoms would return and I would be back to square one. This went on for over a year. It was only when someone recommended Echinacea and I bought a bottle of tincture from a local health food store that the Glandular fever went, and the pain of reoccurring tonsillitis never returned. I have never suffered since.
This was probably a defining moment for me, it was when I first truly understood the importance and magic of herbs. Now almost 15 years later, Echinacea is still my go to when feeling run down and in need of a bit of support!
I use E. purpurea root, although all parts of the plant contain active ingredients the root seems to be most effective. The dried root is ground into a fine powder and made into a strong tincture (1 part root to 2 parts 40% Vodka) which is left in a cool dark place for a month, shaking daily. The tincture is then strained.
As soon as I feel the symptoms of a cold or anything I start hitting my body hard with Echinacea. About 3 squirts of tincture (approximately 2-3 mls) into a glass of water at least 4 times a day. Colds rarely turn into nothing more than a sniffle at worse. If I miss the boat, and a cold or something does sneak up on me I still go for the Echinacea, a cold will still likely emerge but I have found the symptoms to be less severe and last only a couple of days before I am feeling almost 100% again.
I also discovered (completely by accident) that Echinacea tincture taken as above seems to reduce eczema symptoms. As a result I also include Echinacea in my Eczema salve.
Studies have shown Echinacea to be an incredible immune booster potentially reducing the risk of catching the ‘common cold’ by up to 60% (For more information take a look at this article from ‘New Scientist’ Magazine)
During cold and flu season people with supressed or low immunity my find it beneficial to take Echinacea as a daily supplement, others who are generally healthy and robust need only turn to Echinacea’s awesome immune boosting properties as the need arises.
Trust me….it works. As I have stated previously, I am not a trained Herbalist. I use herbs for home use only and any information I have given above if strictly for information only, based on personal experience. Always consult with a medical professional or a trained qualified herbalist before considering introducing Echinacea.
One thing early use of Echinacea did teach me, Western medicine and herbal medicine do not need to be at odds, both have a valid and important role to play in our healthcare system, however my experience with Echinacea has taught me the value of treating root cause…not just the symptoms!
Admittedly I grow Echinacea for its medicinal properties only and in my years of study I have yet to come across any specific lore regarding the magical uses of Echinacea in Europe or Britain, hardly surprising considering the plant isn’t native to Europe.
However, this doesn’t mean we should disregard a plant’s magical applications just because there is little written…we can be experimental, and we can draw upon what information we do have.
We know that Echinacea is a potent immune booster, and our immune system is the body’s natural defence mechanism. It’s possible then that Echinacea could be useful in magical operations involving personal protection or to ‘boost’ the power of other ingredients.
Echinacea’s name comes from the latin ‘echinos’ meaning hedgehog owing to the flower’s central cone being spiky and rough. The same root can be found in the latin name for other spiky creatures such as sea urchins (Echinoida). The spiky nature of the cone flower again is suggestive of prickly defensiveness.
The absence of written information regarding a plants magical uses should never deter us from trying. The best way to discover a plants characteristics is to grow it, get to know it…and more importantly communicate with it!