Echinacea is one of the most well-known herbal medicines today. Its characteristic cone-like flower has graced gardens and medicine cabinets for centuries as a trusted plant in our wellness toolkit.
It is a member of the Asteraceae or Compositae family (commonly referred to as the aster, daisy, or sunflower family) and a hardy perennial flower which is native to North America, although much of what is available out there today is cultivated. The name “Echinacea” comes from the Greek word ekhinos and the Latin prefix echino-, both of which describe something prickly (these words are also the origin of the echinoderm “spiny skin” family of marine animals, which includes starfish and sea urchins.) Echinacea is commonly called purple coneflower because the rich, bright purple flowers gradually form into a hardened cone. The most commonly used medicinal varieties are Echinacea purpurea and angustifolia. In the northeast where our growing season is much shorter compared with other temperate places, the plant takes two years to flower and become large and potent enough to harvest for medicinal qualities. With Echinacea, the whole plant can be used, and often the most well-rounded Echinacea tincture is made from the root, leaf, and flower.
The fresh root is slightly sweet and pungent and has a characteristic tingle that lingers on the tongue. The tingling sensation is due to the alkylamides, which are especially concentrated in the roots. This is a good way to determine the quality of your medicine; potent Echinacea is strong and tingly.
Echinacea’s energetic qualities are cooling, drying and stimulating, and the plant has been traditionally used for added immune support. Our bodies often bear the brunt of seasonal changes or busy periods in life. There are naturally-occurring processes in our bodies that are designed to keep our systems active and strong, but extra support from herbs and from lifestyle decisions can aid our bodies’ natural processes of being well.
There is historic textual evidence from a group of early American physicians called the Eclectics that indicates extensive use of this plant during the early 18th century. The Eclectics were introduced to the plant by various Native American peoples, whose usage of the plant included chewing the root and applying it topically as a poultice, and making a tea use internally.
Today, modern research on the chemical compounds of Echinacea has shown that the plant can play a supporting role for our immune cells. Our immune system is the protective shield of our body, and immune cells or white blood cells are the system’s worker bees.
A relatively large dose, alongside other synergizing plants, keeps our immune system doing its best work. To encourage healthy immunity, the extract is taken at doses of 1 teaspoon up to 5 times a day. At these dose ranges, Echinacea is a safe herb for short-term use.
While we have many excellent tools in our kit, Echinacea carries with it a long history of use and has become one of our true “Elder” herbs. The plant has deep roots in North American herbal tradition and