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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Echinacea: 3 Reasons to Grow This Medicinal Flower


Echinacea Purpurea...aka "Purple Coneflower."  This multi-talented plant has been involved in herbal medicine and enjoyed for it's bold purple blooms for decades.  What's so great about this North American native wildflower?  Why should you include it in your landscape? Keep reading because we're going to look at three reasons why you will want to consider planting this valuable and beautiful flower.

1. Echinacea is a great attractor for butterflies and pollinating insects.

It really is.  I am speaking from experience here too.  This flower is covered with pollinators when in full bloom.  And it's no wonder why either when you look at the giant cone center with the drooping petals which provides an easy resting spot for butterflies and lots of nectar and pollen for other insects.  My stand of echinacea is always a highway of activity and a great butterfly spotting station mid summer.  If you leave the seed heads of the flowers alone in the fall, you'll also attract goldfinches which love their seeds.  This flower is one of the best plants I've seen to bring nature right into your own backyard. 


2.  Echinacea is an easy-care and drought resistant perennial.

 That's right; very easy to plant and take care of.  Once sown, either by seed or by plants, echinacea will establish itself very easily.  A native to Texas and out west, it's used to living on less than ideal water which means this plant is tough. It being tough means that it's easier on your budget as well. Hardy in zones 3-8, this plant is able to grow in many locations. Echinacea likes fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny location.  With rich soil, it should grow about 3-4 feet high and produce flowers 4-6 inches across and it makes a nice addition to the back of your flower or herb bed. 

It's beautiful purple works well in most flower beds, but don't worry if you're not into purple...there are now many varieties of echinacea that come in an array of colors.

Echinacea will also self sow freely, so if you don't want to weed plants the next year, be sure to dead head them to prevent this.  They can take over a flower bed if left to themselves.  I alternate dead-heading every year as I like to let the goldfinches have at the seeds.  Even though it is a perennial, I find that the plants don't necessarily live too many years, they just tend to replace themselves through self-sowing in the flower beds.  So, if you're growing a different colored variety, check to see how hardy that particular echinacea is in your zone.



3. Echinacea is an immune system builder and the leaves, flowers and roots are all medicinal.

Native Americans long valued this plant for it's immune system help and reputation as a help with fevers.  It's come in and out of fashion in the herbal world; but really should be in every established herb or flower garden.  Be aware that this basic variety and not the newer colored varieties are the most medicinal.  So if you're growing it with this use in mind, make sure to purchase echinacea purpurea.

Even though echinacea augustifolia is the more well-known medicinal flower of the two varieties, purpurea is easier to grow and much hardier.  Typically the roots are used in herbal preparations of tinctures, decoctions and teas, but the leaves and flowers have some medicinal value as well, especially in teas.  I don't want to sacrifice my plant by digging up the roots; plus, let's face it, it's hard work to dig it up and dry them for decoctions so I harvest the topmost leaves and newest flowers for my tea blend.

 I made a tea for my kids when they were toddlers from the leaves and flowers as a supplement for them when they were fighting a cold or getting over an ear infection.  Using this milder form still seemed to help them along in their recovery.  You can grow plants and harvest your own roots, or you can order them online to make your own teas or tinctures.  At least I have the plant available if I did need the roots for stronger medicine.  You typically want to harvest roots from 3 year old plants and during the fall once they are done flowering.


Echinacea Tea
1 part echinacea parts, leaves, flowers, roots
1/4 part lemon grass
1/4 part spearmint leaves (or to taste)
Stevia leaves to taste

Mix and brew at the first sign of cold or flu.  Based on the Traditional Medicinal recipe.

 
Hopefully after reading this, you'll understand the immense value of this versatile and wonderful plant.  To me, it's the first plant going into any new flower bed because of wonderful attributes.  So, if you haven't planted one yet, now is the perfect time to find a start from a friend in early spring (transplant when really young for the best start) or start your own seeds...you won't regret this one!

Do you grow echinacea?  How do you use your plants?

Blessings!

References:

1. http://www.gardenguides.com/499-coneflower-echinacea-purpurea-garden-basics-flower-perennial.html

2. http://www.naturalmedicinesofnc.org/Growers%20Guides/Ech.purp-gg.pdf
 

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19 comments:

  1. I am getting ready to start an indoor herb garden...I have brightly lit windows and with it being spring I should have them open lots! I really want to grow echinacea but I'm not sure if it would do well indoors or not since it is a flower...

    Visiting you from Waste Not Want Not Wednesday!

    Helen
    Blue Eyed Beauty Blog
    Exercise Encouragement Group Blog

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    1. Thanks for reading. That would be nice having some herbs indoors. I have 3 basil plants that have been growing all winter that I started in the fall from clippings. I don't know if echinacea would work indoors either as it's usually a large plant. Hope it all works out for you! :)

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  2. I have already planted Echinacea. I love the look of the flowers!

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    1. Me too...so glad you have some planted some, they are so valuable!!

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  3. I have echinacea growing in my yard. Once you have a couple plants it is easy to encourage more by scattering the seeds produced. I didn't know that the leaves and flowers could be used in tea.

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    1. Yes Carol, how true! I usually weed the new plants from my flower bed every year (on the years I don't deadhead them). Yes, the leaves and flowers are medicinal too...but the root is much stronger. (This is according to my herbal reference books.) :)

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  4. Now you've got me wanting to plant some echinacea! I didn't know that you could use the leaves, flowers, and root for tea and other medicinal purposes, so that is really good to know! I think it is really pretty as well :) And the fact that it attracts pollinators is wonderful!

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    1. Oh I hope so! It's such a great flower all around and it's a native too which is always a bonus. Hope you like it if you get one! :)

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  5. Great post. And I love flowers that self seed. Thanks for the tea recipe and for posting on Wildcrafting Wednesday.

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  6. I love this plant, and your photographs are really very beautiful! Thank you for sharing your post with us and I hope to welcome you over at Seasonal Celebration again this Wednesday! Rebecca @Natural Mothers Network x

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  7. I love growing Echinacea. It's such a versatile plant, and your photos are beautiful.

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    1. I agree...such a valuable herb! Thank you!! :)

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  8. We do have echinacea in our flowerbeds, but it never speads.. only grows a ver fewflowers.. wonder what we are doing wrong? I'd like to invite you to share your post with us at Eco-Kids!! Hope to see you there!

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    1. I am still sad about my lack of a green thumb with Coneflowers... Thanks for sharing with us at Eco-Kids Tuesday!! Hope to see you again today!

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    2. Hi Hannah...thanks again for the invite! My coneflower does best in lots of sun, and well drained soil. Not sure where yours is located - sometimes I try growing flowers in different spots in the flower beds to see where they do best. They usually only live for a matter of years and I always have them from reseeding as long as you leave on the seedheads and they like where they're planted. Hope yours will come along better!

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  9. Echinacea is also very beautiful, particularly in your photos.

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    1. Thanks...I definitely agree it's a beauty! :)

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