Echinacea

The beauty of Echinacea is equal to its value medicinally. The intense purple daisy-like flowers outshine most flowers in the herb garden. Even the Monarch butterflies find it attractive. Tall and impressive, this perennial plant's natural habitats are the prairies and dry plains of North America, mainly in the U.S.A., from southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, down into Texas. At one time, the untouched meadows that covered much of America, were carpeted with Echinacea, commonly called Purple Coneflower, Black Sampson or Kansas Snakeroot. The Native Americans were wise to its medicinal abilities, and used it for snakebites, fevers, and infections. The Cheyenne, Comanche, and other tribes used it for many ailments, including toothaches, sore throats, tonsillitis, coughs, and blood and lymphatic diseases. It was used by the Dakotas as a veterinary medicine for their horses. Today it is used for fighting bad colds, upper respiratory and sinus infections, and the flu. One of America's most popular herbal products, it is considered a full-spectrum anti-microbial, in that it is effective against bacteria(including strep and staph) and viruses. It apparently does not work by killing the germ itself, but rather, by boosting our own immune systems. Although not scientifically proven, there are anecdotal reports about the use of Echinacea.

People who begin taking the extract at the first sign of a cold, often to their surprise, find the cold has disappeared, usually within twenty-four hours, and sometimes after taking the extract only once. Research in Europe indicates that Echinacea does stimulate the immune system. This occurs when the polysaccharides present in the plant, (complex carbohydrates which convert into sugars),stimulate the T cell lymphocytes, which in turn increases the production of interferon. This interferon activity protects cells against viral and bacterial infections. Research in 1957, showed that an extract of Echinacea caused a 22% reduction in inflammation among arthritis sufferers. Echinacea also contains an essential oil which has been tested in the treatment of tumors. Echinacea's antibacterial properties can stimulate wound healing and are of benefit to skin conditions such as burns, insect bites, ulcers, psoriasis, acne and eczema. It has also been used in homeopathy treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome, indigestion, gastroenteritis, and weight loss.  

Growing Echinacea is easy, a tough little plant that can take the heat of the desert as well as the high altitude, chilling region of the great Rocky Mountains. While several species are available, Echinacea purpurea is easier to grow and more productive in bulky, leafy material and flowers since it is a much larger plant than angustifolia. Purpurea has fibrous roots as opposed to angustifolia which has a long tap root. Echinacea pallida is reputed to be similar medicinally to angustifolia (some even say better). It has a long tap root which is usually paler in color than angustifolia and is taller with long droopy petals. Echinacea likes full sun or light shade in hotter climates, while it can grow in fairly poor and dry soil it will do best in a fertile well drained flower bed. You can sow the seeds directly or start them indoors in pots. When seedlings are established, you will want to thin or plant them to 18" apart, as they can spread quite a bit. In zone 6 they grow stunning blossoms in just four months from seed! It thrives in drier gardens than most other plants so is a good plant for that hot, dry spot. Do water it to establish new plantings but once established, it can thrive on its own. Echinacea does not like heavy clay soils or constantly damp soils. It also does not compete well with weeds.

The easiest method of increasing these plants is to divide the clumps. It self-sows prolifically in my garden and I dig it up and transplant it where I want it or share it with my friends. The part of the plant that contains most of the medicinal value is the root. When eating the fresh root an unusual tingling, numbing sensation occurs in the mouth and increases saliva flow. This anesthetic-like effect is also present in the seeds when sprouted. It is a good indicator as to how fresh the Echinacea preparation is. For medicinal use you should dig three year old plants. Roots should be harvested in autumn when the potency of active constituents is the greatest.

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Don't throw away the water that eggs have been boiled in. This water, although not suitable for humans to drink, is full of minerals. Allow it to cool completely and then feed your plants with it.

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Wood ashes are one of the best organic sources of phosphate and potash that there is, containing 1-2% phosphate and 3-7% potash in the most readily available form that there is. But wood ashes contain little nitrogen so this must also be supplemented.

Brandie

"When the world wearies, and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden."

 
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