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.
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?
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