The Native Americans used this beautiful prairie plant to treat conditions ranging from colds and influenza to suppurating sores, earache, bladder infections and contagious diseases.
One if its compounds, echinisen, is an antiviral agent and another compound, echinacoside, has antibiotic properties, which gives the plant its unique healing abilities.
The many varieties of Echinacea range from the bright deep pink ‘purpurea’ that now flourishes in South Africa, through to tender pinks, mauves and magentas, to the palest yellow. All types resemble slightly droopy daisies with a hard, cone-like centre (which dries beautifully for flower arrangements), but it is Echinacea purpurescnes that is used medicinally.
Echinacea plants need full sun and richly composted soil to send up their tall, 60 cm flowering heads in late summer, and thrive with a good, deep, twice-weekly watering. They do not like being moved once established, and die down in winter. If left to grow in the same place undisturbed, they will do well for years. Each plant re-seeds itself via a mass of tiny seedlings around the mother plant every spring. It is a true surviving plant, adjusting to harsh weather conditions and neglect. It even adapts to being grown as a container plant on a hot patio, where its bright pink flowers will draw the eye.
Sow seeds in trays of moist sand. Germination is good, especially using the previous season’s seed. The little seedlings can be planted into growing bags as soon as they are big enough to handle. Transplant the seedlings in spring and early summer and keep them moist and shaded – stick leafy twigs into the ground around them to shade them from the midday sun.
HARVESTING AND PROCESSING
Harvest the mature flowers in midsummer. Pick the leaves at any time. Best used fresh.
Both Echinacea and comfrey seem to act like a facelift on slow-growing plants. Echinacea boosts brinjals, green peppers and kale.
The soft mauve-pink flower petals can be chopped and sprinkled over salads and fruit salads, and they are exquisite and unusual floating on summer drinks.
Tinctures are the easiest way to take Echinacea. A dose of 10 – 15 drops taken in water three times daily, from March onwards, will do much to prevent flu and colds. If taken two-hourly at the first sign of symptoms, Echinacea will in most cases dissipate the infection. A tea can be taken daily as an immune booster.
To make the tea, use ¼ cup fresh Echinacea leaves and flowers. Pour a cup of boiling water over the herb and allow the tea to stand for five minutes. Strain and sip slowly.
Echinacea and apple cider vinegar can be used diluted as a gargle, as a mouthwash for ulcers or sore gums, or add a dash to the rinsing water after washing the face to treat acne, oily skin, rashes and spots. Dab onto mosquito bites, stings and insect bites.
Echinacea is now listed as an important treatment for infections of the respiratory tract, the urinary tract and as an immune-system modulator. However, in all cases be guided by your doctor, especially if suffering from autoimmune ailments. Do not take Echinacea without thorough consultation – it is a powerful herb!
Echinacea forms the base of my most useful healing cream. It can be applied to rashes, bites and itches; it is also deeply soothing for dry cracked lips and fingernails. In bath oil, echinacea is excellent for dry skin, while in bath vinegar (see recipe) it is excellent for softening the water, as well as for a final rinse after shampooing the hair.
Many herbs can be preserved in vinegar and used to soothe sprains and bruises or aching legs and cramps. The vinegar can be added to the bath for problem skin or to relax sore muscles, used as a freshening tonic on the face, or added to the final rinse water for an itchy scalp and shiny hair. Use only fresh herbs, use only the parts of the plant mentioned and do not combine herbs. Refer to my individual herb articles for information on how to use the particular vinegar.
As a general guide, pack fresh leaves and flowers of herbs that will impart their fragrance and healing properties (see options below) into a clear glass bottle. Fill the bottle with good-quality grape vinegar or apple cider vinegar and place it in the sun for a week, giving it a daily shake. After a week, strain out the spent leaves and flowers and replace with fresh ones. Repeat the process. Do this three times, then finally strain out the vinegar, pour into an attractive bottle and add a fresh sprig, leaf or flower for identification. Cork well and use as recommended, adding a splash to hair-rinsing water and half a cup to the bath.
Options: Bay leaves; Borage leaves and flowers; Calendula leaves and flowers; Chamomile flowers; Echinacea flowers, leaves, stems and root (use apple cider vinegar); Elder flowers; Lavender sprigs and flowers; Mint leaves and flowers (use any variety); Myrtle sprigs and a few berries; Rose-scented geranium leaves and sprigs; Rose petals; Rosemary sprigs; Sorrel leaves; Southernwood sprigs (also called Lad’s love vinegar); Tarragon sprigs (use apple cider vinegar).
Echinacea healing cream
- 1 cup Echinacea petals, leaves and chopped stem and root
- 1 cup aqueous cream
- 2 teaspoons vitamin E oil
- 10 drops lavender essential oil
- 10 drops lemon essential oil
- 10 drops tea tree essential oil
Gently simmer the Echinacea and aqueous cream in a double boiler for 20 minutes. Strain and add the vitamin E oil, followed by the lavender, lemon and tea tree essential oils. Mix well and pour into a sterilised jar.
Echinacea spritz spray
This spray is valuable on hot summer afternoons when the mosquitoes are around, and it keeps well.
- Echinacea flowers, leaves and stems, lightly chopped
- Apple cider vinegar
Boil Echinacea in a pot of water, using enough water to cover the herb. Simmer for 30 – 40 minutes with the lid on. Set the pot aside and allow it to cool. Strain and add one cup of apple cider vinegar to one cup of the Echinacea brew and pour into a spritz-spray bottle. Shake well. Spray over the braai area and into the air, as well as over arms and legs. It is particularly soothing and quickly reduces the hot, red itchiness of mosquito bites. I have used the same spray on kitchen windowsills to repel flies, on aphid-infested plants and even where ants have come into the house.
Echinacea and comfrey foliar feed
- Echinacea stems, leaves and flowers
- Comfrey stems, leaves and flowers
Chop up equal quantities of Echinacea and comfrey, cover with water (enough to submerge the leaves), and simmer in a large pot for 30 minutes. Cool the mixture and keep it covered until the next morning. Strain, discarding the plant matter onto the compost heap, and spritz spray the greenish brew onto the leaves of any ailing plants. I have become a great fan of foliar feeding for its quick and healthy results!
Echinacea combined with comfrey is excellent as a foliar feed. Use it twice during summer and once in late August and watch the luscious growth. It is a standby for the vegetable garden in summer – beetroot rows become rejuvenated after two applications, and a quick weekly spray over the leaves of green pepper, brinjal and courgette plants gives them new life! Once the foliar feed has been made, toss the remaining Echinacea and comfrey plant matter on the compost heap – it will break the heap down at speed.
Roberts, M., My 100 Favourite Herbs, Struik Nature.