Power Plants: Echinacea

via Bryce Wylde

Biohacks, Remedies

Power Plants

ECHINACEA (Echinacea spp.)
Echinacea— popularly known as coneflower—originated in eastern North America and is part of the daisy family (Asteraceae). If you look closely at the centre of each flower, you’ll notice a spiny cone-shaped disc that resembles sea urchin. That’s where this plant gets its name: from the Greek echino, which means sea urchin.
Coneflower has long been popular in gardens, but recently it’s gained new popularity as an herbal remedy. An AC Nielsen MarketTrack report in 2010 showed Canadians spent more than $12 million dollars on echinacea, with sales growing 7% each year. That makes it the fastest-growing herbal category in Canada.
Native people in North America used echinacea for hundreds of years and it has enjoyed a dramatic resurgence in the 20th century. It is frequently taken at the onset of cold and flu to reduce the length of the illness and the severity of symptoms. It is also believed boost the immune system by stimulating the body’s white blood cells.
There is a growing body of research about its effectiveness. In one large study of 755 adults, researchers at Cardiff University found that both cold episodes and number of days with a cold were reduced by 25% in the group that took echinacea.
Research also suggests taking echinacea may increase red blood cell production and oxygen intake in healthy men, which may be linked to improved athletic performance. Combine this with the known immune-stimulating effects of echinacea—since you’re exposed to a plethora of germs in a gym—and it seems anyone who exercises seriously should be taking this plant extract before and after workouts!
Difficulty: Easy
Hardiness: Perennial in zones 4 to 8 (some varieties hardy to zone 3)
Time to Plant: Spring
Time to Harvest: Flowers in summer, roots in Fall
Location: Full sun
Soil Type: Well-drained
Coneflower is one of the most popular plants in the perennial garden—so popular that every year plant breeders introduce new colours, new sizes and even new shapes. This showy low-maintenance flowering plant is extremely easy to grow and is a great choice if you’re looking to decrease water use. Originally a prairie plant, coneflowers are drought-tolerant and can be grown anywhere there is sun. They look great in borders, open meadows and formal gardens and can be used indoors as a cut flower. As a bonus, they even attract bees and butterflies!
Common Varieties: Echinacea purpurea, or purple coneflower, is the most familiar species, but two others are also popular in herbal remedies: narrow-leaved coneflower (E. angustifolia) and pale purple coneflower (E. pallida).
Mature transplants can be planted anytime during the growing season, but spring or early fall is ideal. Choose a location with lots of sun and well-drained soil. Remove the root ball from the pot and plant just deeply enough the so the soil line remains unchanged. Water deeply and infrequently until established.
The term “low-maintenance gardening” was created for echinacea! Drought-tolerant and resistant to disease and insects, echinacea needs only an occasional watering, lots of sun, and regular removal of surrounding weeds.
For overall plant health, I recommend deadheading (removing spent flowers) often. However, you may want to let the flower heads go to seed if you want to plant more echinacea next spring. Harvest the seed heads in late summer after the flowers have dried. Store the seeds in envelopes in a dark, dry location indoors and sow them directly in the garden in early spring.
Echinacea plants can also be divided in early spring or late fall.
Harvest echinacea flowers when in in mid-morning after dew has dried. Remove entire stem back to the first leaves, then remove the flower tops from the stems.
Harvest the roots in fall. Lift the plants with a garden fork and cut away sections of the root with a sharp knife, leaving large sections behind so the plant will survive. Place the roots in sun to dry them, then remove the soil with a brush. Cut root sections into 5 cm (2 inch) pieces for storage.
Dry both roots and flowers on drying trays or open screens in a dark, dry well ventilated space. Dry the roots and flowers on separate trays and don’t allow the pieces to touch one another.
After drying, store the roots and flower petals separately in sealed containers (such as glass jars) out of direct light.
Cold or flu? Echinacea is for you!
Rigorous trials have shown that echinacea extracts shorten the duration and lessen the symptoms of the common cold. Fresh pressed juice and alcoholic tinctures of echinacea root are the forms most commonly studied and proven effective
You can make your own tincture using the purple flower top and roots—that’s where the powerful medicine is found. Dig up 4 mature echinacea plants, chop off the roots and flower tops and discard the leaves and stems (all the green stuff). Wash the flowers and give the roots a good scrubbing.
Next, chop the flowers and roots into fine pieces and place them in a Mason jar until it is 2/3 full. Pour in enough vodka (minimum 50% alcohol, or 100-proof) to fill the jar to the top. Cover the jar tightly and label it, including the date prepared, and the alcohol used. Steep for at least 2 weeks, shaking jar vigorously for 2 minutes every day.
After 2 weeks the tincture can be strained (this is optional). Then pour the tincture into small dark-coloured glass containers to protect them from light. Store in a cool, dark place. The finished tincture will keep for a minimum of 24 months.
At the first sign of a cold or flu, dilute 1 tsp of the tincture in 1 oz of water and gargle for 1 minute before swallowing. Repeat 3 times daily. You will feel your tongue get slightly numb or tingly. This is normal: it indicates the activity of some of the phytochemicals in the echinacea and will last only a few minutes.
Got gingivitis? Swish with this!
Gingivitis is chronic inflammation of the gums, causing them to bleed and swell. It is the most common type of gum disease and a common cause of tooth loss after age 35. Gingivitis is caused by plaque around the teeth. Flossing and brushing regularly can help prevent it and treat it, but because recent research has linked gingivitis with heart disease, adding a third layer of protection is a good insurance plan! It turns out echinacea may help.
Open a new bottle of your favourite mouthwash and swish with the first dose (a capful, or about 1 oz). Then pour 1 oz of echinacea tincture (as per above) into the bottle. Continue to use the mouthwash as directed. Do not swallow.
Weekend warrior? Add echinacea to your water bottle!
Once you’re into exercise, you typically can’t stop. Some athletes and weekend warriors end up with a condition called overtraining syndrome, where performance begins to deteriorate and the immune system begins to malfunction. One sign is an increased incidence of upper respiratory tract infection after excessive exercise.
One way to help prevent the immune suppression caused by overtraining is adding echinacea to your water. Start by making echinacea tea: boil 1 cup of water and ½ cup of freshly chopped echinacea flower and root. Let it boil for 10 minutes. Cool and strain into 1 to 2 litres of drinking water and consume as you normally would during exercise.
Fast forward to the health food store to purchase A. Vogel Echinaforce tincture or equivalent. Follow the instructions on the label.
Echinacea is a very safe herb that has very few side effects when taken orally. It was once believed long-term use was unsafe, but it has since been proven that it is safe for up to four months at a time at therapeutic ranges, or all year as a regular addition to your weekend water bottle.
You should avoid echinacea if you have an autoimmune illness, such as lupus, or other progressive diseases, such as tuberculosis or multiple sclerosis. Those who are allergic to flowers of the daisy family should not take echinacea.
Jawad M, Schoop R, Suter A, Klein P, Eccles R. Safety and efficacy profile of Echinacea purpurea to prevent common cold episodes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012
Di Pierro, et al. Use of a Standardized Extract from Echinacea angustifolia (Polinacea®) for the Prevention of Respiratory Tract Infections. Alternative Medicine Review. Mar2012, Vol. 17 Issue 1, p36-41
Hoheisel O, Sandberg M, Bertram S, et al. Echinagard treatment shortens the course of the common cold: A double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur J Clin Res 1997;9:261–8
See DM, Broumand N, Sahl L, Tilles JG. In vitro effects of echinacea and ginseng on natural killer and antibody-dependent cell cytotoxicity in healthy subjects and chronic fatigue syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome patients. Immunopharmacology 1997;35:229–35.
Lakier Smith L. Overtraining, excessive exercise, and altered immunity: is this a T helper-1 versus T helper-2 lymphocyte response? Sports Med. 2003;33(5):347-64.
Melchart D, Linde K, Worku F, et al. Immunomodulation with Echinacea—a systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Phytomedicine 1994;1:245–54.
Dorn M, Knick E, Lewith G. Placebo-controlled, double-blind study of Echinacea pallida redix in upper respiratory tract infections. Comp Ther Med 1997;5:40–2.
Hoheisel O, Sandberg M, Bertram S, et al. Echinacea shortens the course of the common cold: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur J Clin Res 1997;9:261–8
Schoop R, Klein P, Suter A, Johnston SL. Echinacea in the prevention of induced rhinovirus colds: a meta-analysis. Clin Ther. February, 2006;28(2):174-183.
Braunig B, Dorn M, Knick E. Echinacea purpurea root for strengthening the immune response to flu-like infections. Zeitschrift Phytotherapie 1992;13:7–13.
Brikenborn RM, Shah DV, Degenring FH. Echinaforce® and other Echinacea fresh plant preparations in the treatment of the common cold. A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. Phytomedicine 1999;6:1–5.

Join our mailing list

Sign up for occasional newsletters from Bryce Wylde