Backyard Medicine: Purple Coneflower

Yesterday, I posted about the medicinal uses of yarrow, a common garden plant. Today, I want to talk about the coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. In the wild, coneflowers are found in eastern North America, although they have been widely introduced. They produce beautiful flowers, available in many varieties but purple in the wild, and the center of each flower is made up of a spin cone-shaped structure.


While Echinacea is popularly believed to help stimulate the immune system, I am finding it hard to write an article about because of the surprising lack of conclusive scientific studies. If any of my readers are pharmacology researchers, this could be an interesting topic to study. Plains Indians of central North America used a related species, Echinacea angustifolia, to treat sore throats and headaches. In an interesting side note, apparently elk will actively look for and eat this plant when they get sick. For this reason, it is also known as “Elk Root.”

In the 19th century, it was a common addition to “miracle cures” of all types. In the early 20th century, Echinacea was first used by western medicine to prevent and treat colds, and the prescription has stuck since then. Studies have shown that the roots contain higher concentrations of active compounds than other parts of the plant, so usually the root is used medicinally. Unfortunately, the actions of the active compounds are poorly understood.


Another use that is being studied is the treatment of upper respiratory infections. Again, there have been very few studies on the subject, but it seems that it might treat and prevent the recurrence of URIs. Echinacea cream is also used on slow-healing wounds to keep inflammation down.

Echinacea has a very interesting property. It causes the mouth to tingle and go numb. This is one way to test whether an extract is actually made of Echinacea. Why is this important? Because found that many Echinacea products are mislabeled, with some having no Echinacea at all, others having the wrong species, and some containing a different amount than the label says.

Please let us know how you use Echinacea!


The Disclaimer:

Don’t be stupid. If you take other medications, check with a doctor before using Echinacea. If you are seriously injured or ill, go to a doctor instead of relying on my untrained advice. As with any other herb, some people are allergic and should not use Echinacea. If you experience unexpected side effects, discontinue the use of Echincea.

~The Homesteading Hippy

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