In the garden, growing like crazy are beautiful Coneflowers. A relative of the Daisy family, Echinacea is widely used in herbal medicine. Chances are, you have had some during a cold or flu to help you get over your illness. These days, Echinacea is mixed in with even traditional medicines.
I cannot imagine a garden without Coneflowers, with their distinctive prickly dome shaped centre and purple tinged petals. Coneflower is one of our absolute favourite perennial flowers. Not only do you get them coming back every year but they are incredibly low maintenance, resistance to insects, drought tolerant, sun seeking and naturally attract butterflies and bees. Even during our very hot Ontario summers, when all the other plants are wilting, the Coneflower stands tall making them the best cut flowers for the table.
The Coneflower’s beauty and heartiness isn’t its only highlight. They are full of healing properties as well. This resilient wildflower, native to North America, has been used by indigenous people for hundreds of years, long before European settlers arrived. Plant roots were used to dull toothaches, sooth sore gums/throats, fight colds, coughs, colic and treat snake bites. In the late 1800’s, physicians were noted to have prescribed Echinacea for respiratory and skin conditions.
In the 1930’s, Echinacea became very popular in Germany and various European countries. It was used to shorten the duration of colds/flus, minimize cough, and ease sore throats and fever.
Echinacea is one of the most studied medicinal herbs. Research has identified the active compounds in Echinacea: polysaccharides, glycoproteins and alkylamides, which are all fancy names for substances that boost the body’s immune response; antibodies, elevated interferon levels to fight viruses and boost white blood cells.
Growing your own Echinacea not only adds some beautiful flowers to your garden but you can make your own tinctures with the roots and flowers.
- Simply dig up a section of your established plant and remove the roots.
- Cut the flower heads off of the stems and wash the flowers and roots until all of the dirt is removed. Discard the leaves and stems.
- Pat the flowers and roots until most of the water is removed.
- Cut the flowers and roots into very small pieces (smaller than a pea).
- Pack them into glass jars until 3/4 full. Pour vodka over the plants until covered…you heard right…we said Vodka.
- Place wax paper over the mouth of the jar, then seal tightly.
- Label the jar with the date clearly marked.
- Place in a cool, dark place for 3-4 weeks, shaking the jar daily.
- After 3 or 4 weeks strain through a fine mesh strainer.
- Pour the tincture into sterilized dark glass bottles and store away from light and heat.
The tincture will keep for at least a year.
Once you have your tincture, you can do so much with it! A little really does go a very long way.
Echinacea extracts taken at the first sign of a cold or flu, can reduce the length of the symptoms by 2 days and significantly reduce the severity of all the nasty symptoms from the cold/flu.
Take 1 teaspoon of Echinacea tincture and mix with 2 tbsp of water and gargle for 1 minute before swallowing, repeat 3 x per day. Alternatively, take 2 ml of straight tincture every two hours. You can purchase Echinacea capsules, tincture and teas from health food stores and health food sections at the grocery store. Follow the directions on the label, as potency varies with each Echinacea product.
If you have inflamed gum tissue, gargling with 30 ml of Echinacea tincture will ease sore and swollen gums.
Echinacea can also be used in a tea form by drying the root. For a homemade tea for colds and flu combine 2 tbsp dried Echinacea root, 1 tbsp dried peppermint leaves, and 1 tbsp dried thyme. Mix together and take steep 2 tbsp of the above mixture with 2 cups of boiling water for 15 minutes, strain and drink. Drink 2-3 cups per day to ease cold/flu symptoms.
Echinacea tea provides benefits to those of you who are working out or doing daily physical labour. Heavy training can tax the body and a large batch of Echinacea tea, even cold tea throughout the workout, will help prevent overtraining syndrome, which can supress your immune system. For every 1 cup of water, use 1 tbsp dried herb. Steep for 10 minutes, cool and strain through a fine sieve. If using fresh herbs use 1/2 cup of the flowers and roots.
This herb is very safe when ingested and has very few side effects. However, caution is advised for anyone with autoimmune illness, has an allergy to flowers from the daisy family, or has multiple sclerosis or tuberculosis to avoid this plant.
So how do you dry the fresh flowers without them rotting? There are several ways to dry fresh flowers and roots but my favourite is to air-dry in small bunches.
- Begin by harvesting the fresh flowers after the morning dew has evaporated then remove any dead plant material and if there is any dirt on the plants and rinse well with cold running water.
- Pat dry with cotton towels, spread the plants on a dry surface and allow the water to completely evaporate.
- Loosely tie small bunches of plant material with twine, and hang them in a dark, dry location such as a cupboard, barn, garage, shed or attic.
Another option is to lay the plant material on screens in a single layer being careful not to crowd the plants. Keep the trays away from direct light and ensure the room is dry and warm. Allow 2-3 weeks to ensure all the water has evaporated and the plant feels ‘brittle’ to the touch. Make sure that the flower heads and roots are dried separately.
Store in airtight containers in a cool dark place until ready to use.
We grow both white and purple coneflowers in our garden. The white ones are more rare than the purple, but have the same therapeutic potency that the purple ones have.
We hope that this fall/winter is filled with abundant health and that if you should run into a virus, we hope that we have inspired you to stock and brew up some soul soothing Echinacea tea to help you back to feeling your best.