Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Echinacea - Herb of the Week

I was over at the garden and realized that my Echinacea (Purple Cone Flower) escaped!  I had the plants in nice bunches at the end of a couple of rows near the back of the garden - somewhat close the the fence.  When I was out viewing the garden last week I found the plants had moved to the other side of the fence.  I am assuming they had help masterminding this escape in the form of birds or squirrels, but whoever helped the entire hillside is now dotted with Echinacea and wild bergamot (Bee Balm) which I have not even planted here in this garden, but did have in my former garden.

Here is the hillside:


Echinacea is a lovely plant which I grow for the root as it is the most potent part of the plant medicinally speaking.  I am kinda excited that I have a few extra.  It is a native prairie plant in Illinois, so it is not impossible for it to easily reseed here.

Therefore I thought I would focus on this wonderful plant as Herb of the week -- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)

The variety that I grow is Echinacea purpurea although the more popular version is Rudbeckia purpurea.  There are several other versions as well all of which have the same medicinal properties in the roots, leave and flowers.  Echinacea requires well-drained soil and a sunny location, which is why it is doing so well on the hillside.  the plants are deep rooted, so if your soil is shallow place them in a raised bed.  They are great in erosion prone areas as once established they are even draught resistant.

Echinaceas are a perennial and can be divided in both fall and spring.  You can propagate them from root cuttings as well.  They grow easily from seed (as evidence by my hill).  They germinate easier however if the seeds are stratified.

Stratification

Stratification is using cold to crack or break the seed surface to ease germination.  If you scatter seed outside and it winters over, as mine did you get natural stratification.  However if you buy seeds you may need to stratify them.  This is simple to do.  Mix the seed with some sterile sand and place in a zip lock bag.  Place the bag int he crisper drawer of the refrigerator for 4 weeks.  then you can plant the seed outside or in pots depending on the season.  If you plant them in pots, do not transplant until the roots have filled the pots.

Medicinal uses

Echinacea is a popular medicinal plant.  traditionally it has been used an an herbal remedy for the treatment of contagious illnesses and skin infections.  It has a significant immune-stimulating effect, enhancing the boy's ability to fight off bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms.  It is used commonly (as a tea) int hr treatment of common cold, flu and upper respiratory infections.  Recent clinical studies seem to uphold that it will reduce the symptoms and duration of these illnesses.

Recipes

I love Echinacea in tea.  the flavor is savory and earthy and not at all medicinal.  here is a blend I use in winter whenever the cold symptoms arise.

Lemon Ginger Echinacea Tea

  • 2 cups boiling water

  • 1 teaspoon dried echinacea flowers (or roots)

  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger

  • juice of 1 lemon

  • 1 teaspoon honey (or more to taste)


  • Add herbs to a mug or pot and pour boiling water over them.  Allow to steep 10 to 15 minutes.  Strain and add lemon juice and honey to taste.  (I have also been known to add whiskey!)

    Echinacea Tincture

    A tincture is a concentrated alcohol extraction of the herbal essence that can be take kinda like a cough syrup for its medicinal properties.

    Here are the simple steps for making a tincture using echinacea.  All you need are glass jars, some 80 proof alcohol (vodka, everclear, Brandy or rum will all work) and fresh or dried echinacea, roots, flowers, stems and leaves are all appropriate.  (Since I save the roots for tea I use the leaves and stems for this!)

    1. Fill a quart jar 2/3 full of echinacea flowers.
    2. Pour 80 proof alcohol over flowers, filling jar.
    3. Cover jar tightly and label.
    4. Steep herb for at least 2 weeks, shaking jar every day.
    5. After 2 weeks, tincture can be strained if desired. The finished tincture will keep indefinitely.
    6. Repeat process using Echinacea roots. Combine these two finished tinctures to create a more powerful synergistic blend.

    Tips:

    1. Store tincture in a darkened area.Store in colored glass if possible.
    2. Strain tincture through fine cheesecloth, if desired.
    3. Do not use anything but glass to make your tinctures.

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