Now that autumn is here and winter will soon follow, it is a perfect time to harvest some handy and useful herbs like Echinacea. If you prepare them now, they will be ready for you to take when the cold weather illnesses start threatening the health of you and your family.
Once you start incorporating Echinacea in your wellness regime, you’ll eventually learn that your preparation for winter will never be complete without stocking this wonderful herb in your home.
Considered as one of the original “snake oils”, Echinacea was believed to be a cure for many types of health conditions.
In fact, during the 1870s, Dr. H.C.F. Meyer, asserted that the herb can cure almost any type of illness, including snake bites. To prove his claims, he suggested subjecting himself to an experiment which involved letting a snake bite him right before the eyes of a panel of known doctors during that time. To cure himself, he’d use an Echinacea formula which he personally concocted.
However, the doctors refused to allow him to go through with this plan. Though one of the doctors, Dr. King, was sufficiently convinced to conduct further in-depth study of the herb. Dr. King realised that Echinacea could be used in treating a wide range of illnesses common at the time.
Also called Kansas snake-root, the Native Americans shared the wonders and benefits of this herb with the European settlers. Keep reading to find some of the best uses of this herb.
Growing Echinacea in Your Backyard
Also called purple coneflower or just coneflower, Echinacea is a perennial herb that grows from mid to late summer.
For medicinal purposes, there are three species of Echinacea that are commonly used – the Echinacea Pallida, Echinacea Purpurea, and Echinacea Augustifolia. The latter is believed to contain the strongest properties of the three.
Since Echinacea is considered an endangered plant, it is best to purchase and grow your own herb instead of harvesting from the wild.
If you are living in an area that doesn’t have consistently cold winter, artificial stratification of the seeds is essential if you want to grow your own Echinacea. But if you have consistently cold winters, you can start planting the seeds in the early spring or late autumn.
Make sure the seeds are placed at least 12 inches apart. The quality of soil and amount of water needed varies depending on the type of Echinacea. Richer soil and moderate watering is needed for the Echinacea Pallida and Echinacea Purpurea varieties. On the other hand, Echinacea Augustifolia can thrive even with light watering and poor soil.
Full sun is needed for all types, and medicinal properties are best acquired when the soil is well-drained and not boggy.
Where does Echinacea grow?
This prairie wildflower comes with a cone of seeds surrounded by purple to pink florets. Echinacea Pallida and Echinacea Purpurea are commonly grown in the East, while Echinacea Augustifolia are found in open meadows and prairies in North America. But they can just be found anywhere! In Australia, they grow better in the southern states, due to their preference for cold winters.
How to Harvest Echinacea
The roots and aerial parts (i.e. leaves and flowers) are the most commonly used parts of the Echinacea plant. The aerial parts are most often used for herbal teas, while the roots hold the plant’s most powerful medicinal properties.
To harvest the aerial parts, you need to cut the stem just above the lowest pair of the plant’s leaves. Next, you should remove the flower buds and the leaves, and lay them flat for drying. This is best done during the plant’s growing season. You can start harvesting the aerial parts on the plant’s second year of growth.
When the plant is about 2-3 years old, you can start harvesting its roots. The Echinacea Purpurea type has taproots while the Echinacea Augustifolia has fibrous roots.
Using a large garden fork or shovel, you’ll be able to lift the whole root ball of the herb. You may opt to remove each piece of the root from the ball, or you can remove the stems and leaves in order to get the roots.
When you decide to remove just a portion of the roots from that ball, you can return the remaining roots back to the ground to replant the herb.
Tips on Preserving Echinacea
Preserving Echinacea only takes a few steps. When the buds and leaves are dried out, you can place them in an airtight container and store them in a dark room until you’re ready to make a tea out of it.
Meanwhile, dried roots may be used for decoction or tincture. In most cases, I prefer making an Echinacea tincture because they come really handy at all times, are potent, and have a long shelf life.
When you harvest the roots, make sure that all the dirt has been removed. Rinse the roots in cold water then pat to dry. You may use a hose spray to remove the dirt, then place the roots in a bucket of water to completely remove the remaining dirt.
Once cleared and cleaned, you can start chopping and cutting the roots into pieces using a pair of kitchen scissors. Then put them out on a screen in an area with proper ventilation. Make sure the roots are out of direct sunlight.
One dry enough, you can put them in an airtight jar or container, but make sure that the container is still out of the sunlight. When done, you’re ready to tincture them.
How to Harvest and Gather Echinacea Seeds
If you want to gather the seeds, it is best to do this in autumn. Otherwise, they’d just fall to the ground and be carried over by some animals or wind.
Perfect timing is needed when gathering the seeds. Make sure that the plant is at least two years old. Since the plant can resist drought, you should stop watering it in late summer. Otherwise, the moisture will ruin all the good seeds you can get.
When autumn comes, the flowers and the buds will wither, and you should watch out for the seed heads that are starting to plump up. You can only harvest the ones that are plump, not the flat ones.
In order to get the seeds, take a pair of scissors, and clip the top of the flower. Make sure you have a bowl or a brown paper bag to catch all the seeds when they are removed. Put all the seeds on a baking tray or shallow box for at least a month, and shake them occasionally to make sure they are really dry.
When completely dry, the outer layer must be removed in order to get the actual seeds. You may use a scrub or you can remove it using your hands.
To make sure the seeds are really dry, get a few and try to pinch them. If they crack, then you will know that they are dry. If they don’t crack, they will need to be given more drying time.
To store the seeds, you can put them in a paper envelope and make sure to label it. You may also scatter them in your garden and let winter stratify them.
How to Buy Echinacea
Echinacea is easily accessible online. There are online sellers of dried roots for tinctures and aerial parts for teas. You may also get it at some local greenhouses in spring. Additionally, dried echinacea which can be made into a tea is available from most health food shops.
The Healing Wonders of Echinacea
Echinacea is not used for cooking, but you can definitely use it to make your wellness tea during winter. Though it can help boost the immune system, daily intake is not really recommended.
You can take the tea upon the onset of infection or illness, but you should only continue to take it for 5 to 10 days straight. It is then recommended to have a break of at least a week before taking the herb again.
Echinacea promotes the formation of antibodies, strengthens the lymph nodes, and stimulates the body’s white blood cells. These are crucial mechanisms in fighting different types of illnesses. However, when you use the herb daily, its medicinal properties diminish, as the body adapts to it.
It is worth noting that those who have allergies with plants that belong to the aster family may also be allergic to this herb. But generally speaking, Echinacea is safe for users of all ages.
This wonder herb comes with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, immunomodulator, anti-viral, and anti-catarrhal properties. That’s why it is useful for tonsillitis, abscesses, ulcer, boils, upper respiratory infection, laryngitis, strep throat, and other viral and bacterial infections.
It can address some mouth issues such as gum disease and gingivitis when used as a mouthwash. When used externally, an Echinacea decoction may be useful for sore throat, athlete’s foot, and ulcers.
To make an Echinacea tea, a tablespoon of dried roots should be simmered in a pint of water for 10 minutes. The Echinacea tincture may be added to your tea, made into a throat spray, or taken alone. However, when it comes in contact with the skin, you may experience a tingling effect, especially when used as a throat spray.
Echinacea is one of the best herbs for keeping you and your family well, particularly in the cold months when illnesses are all around. Though there are some important things to know about cultivating and taking this herb, it is a must-have for any herbal first aid kit!
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