Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia, E.pallida)
Parts used: All parts
Benefits and uses: Echinacea is native to North America and its use was gleaned from native healers. Now it’s an herbal sensation, being one of a handful of medicinal herbs known by the general public. This has been bad news for native strands of echinacea that have been wiped out by unscrupulous wildcrafters. Currently there is a plea to stop gathering this plant from the wild, and instead to cultivate it yourself or from a respected herbal grower.
There are several species of echinacea that can be used: E. angustifolia, E.purpurea, and E. pallida. All three are interchangeable, although E. angustifolia can last longer after it’s been dried. Mostly the root is harvested, but it’s common to see medicine made out of the aerial portions as well. To harvest the roots for the most medicinal qualities, it’s recommended to harvest them in the fall after they have been growing three years. At this point they have the highest amount of alkaloids found in them. The aerial portions can be harvested in the summer no matter the age of the plant. Remember when harvesting aerial portions to leave enough of the plant remaining for it to gather enough energy for the next year’s growth.
The popularity of echinacea in the herbal market has led to its addition into all sorts of strange products such as shampoo and energy drinks. Although most of us know echinacea as the cold and flu herb, there are many herbalists that disagree with this use and recommend it more specifically for sepsis or other systemic infections. Still, some herbalists agree that it’s best to take it frequently at the very beginning of a cold or flu. Herbalist Stephen Buhner reports that echinacea supports the immune system by stimulating leukocytes, which in turn can kill pathogens in the body, and it also has anti-bacterial qualities that can stop the spread of pathogens as well. This can also make it a useful in the case of bladder infections. Traditionally echinacea was used externally for infected wounds, spider bites, and snake bites.