When people talk about herbal remedies for treatment and prevention of colds and flu, echinacea will often be suggested. This herb is a flowering daisy-family plant, also known as coneflowers. They grow in central and eastern North America and bloom throughout the summer. There are ten different species of echinacea. The ones most commonly used in remedies are Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia, and E. pallida. All parts of the plant, from flower to root, are used in supplements.
Health Benefits and Side Effects
The Sioux tribes of Native Americans used echinacea as a remedy for infections, colic, and even snakebites. It has been used for centuries to support wellness and fight colds and respiratory ailments. It is believed to support a healthy immune system and it has been shown to aid in resisting colds.
While many studies have been done, scientifically they have been inconclusive. However, many people have discovered that it helps them. Because of the way echinacea works, and because people are different, it will obviously be more effective for some people than for others.
Other benefits include:
- Inflammation reduction – redness and swelling can be lessened with echinacea applied to the affected area or taken internally.
- Healthy cell growth – protective cells are encouraged to grow by the compounds found in echinacea.
- Oxygen Transport – its effect on bone marrow can encourage production of red blood cells which increases the ability to move oxygen.
- Reduce Halitosis – when combined with lavender and sage, echinacea helps to lessen bad breath.
- Eases aches and pains – studies have shown it may be helpful after surgery to relieve discomfort.
- Supports upper respiratory heath – studies have shown greater resistance to respiratory issues after taking echinacea.
- Antioxidant action – because echinacea is a source of beta-carotene, flavonoids, selenium, vitamin C, and zinc, it has excellent antioxidant benefits.
- Anti-cancer – some research indicates a possibility that the antioxidant actions can aid in preventing cancer, though more research is necessary.
- Skin care – echinacea has been used to treat eczema, psoriasis, and sunburn; topical application generally has rapid effect.
- Even blood sugar levels – taken in tea, it can prevent spikes in blood sugar levels.
- Mental health – some research shows a potential to reduce anxiety.
Consuming an excess of echinacea can result in nausea and vomiting, dizziness, insomnia, headaches and disorientation, diarrhea, and achiness. Some may be allergic to it and this may cause rash and itchiness. If taken with other painkillers, it can negatively affect the liver. People with Hashimoto’s should be careful with echinacea, as it stimulates the Th 1 system.
Food and Nutrition
Echinacea can be made into a floral flavored tea. Mixing with other herbs will affect the flavor, so the taste can be adjusted that way. Adding elderberry can boost immune response and adding mint can help ease a sore throat and clear sinuses. Citrus additions, like lemongrass, can boost vitamin content and antioxidants while brightening the flavor.
While dried echinacea leaves can be ground and added into recipes, it is not commonly done.
Echinacea is a perennial. It prefers sunshine and good fertile soil. If the soil in the yard is not sufficient, fertilizer can be added to increase nutrient content. The soil must be able to drain well; a raised bed may be desirable. They are drought-resistant, and only need to be watered when starting or after division; once growth is established, rain should be enough to keep it happy unless the area is very dry. The flowers will attract butterflies and bees.
While young plants can be purchased, they tend to be rather expensive. However, they grow easily from seeds. Plant seeds outside before the last frost, about a quarter inch deep and around two inches apart. When they are grown to about an inch, thin to about a foot and a half apart. The removed seedlings can be planted in another area of the garden, if prepared, or into pots, if desired. If the area is prone to rabbits and hedgehogs, a protective barrier may be needed around the seedlings. Be sure to remove weeds since they will choke out the weaker coneflowers.
Echinacea generally blooms from June to October, pretty much everywhere. Remove blooms regularly to promote more flowering. Adding flower fertilizer will also aid in this.
Some garden pests particularly like echinacea, including aphids, Japanese beetles, and leaf hoppers. Organic pesticides can limit these creatures, but if they infest a plant, it may help to remove and discard the entire plant. They also can be attacked by plant diseases such as anthracnose, aster yellows, and powdery mildew. Keeping good air circulation and watering the roots rather than the leaves can help reduce the possibility of these diseases.
They will self-seed, if a few flowers are allowed to stay on the plant until they are dry and empty. However, seeds can also be saved by harvesting ripe flowers and hanging them upside down to try, with the flower enclosed in a paper bag to catch the seeds. These should be dried for another couple weeks before storing in an airtight jar in the refrigerator where they will last for up to a year.
Plants can also be divided in the spring (anywhere) or fall (in locations where it stays warm).