Echinacea (Echinacea pupurea) is a beautiful and distinctive plant from the daisy (Asteraceae) family. It is commonly known as coneflower due to its protruding flower head. The name Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos, which means hedgehog. If you have ever seen or touched the spiky head of an echinacea flower, you will understand why.
Echinacea flowers are found in many an ornamental garden as a result of their stunning and vibrant flowers. However, echinacea is also grown and used for its medicinal properties. If ever you look in the herbal tea section at your supermarket, you will likely see an echinacea tea right there on the shelves. Any tea that claims to be immune boosting will likely have echinacea in its ingredient list.
Echinacea tea and supplements are used to help support immune system health and act as an anti-inflammatory.
Medicinal Properties of Echinacea Tea
Echinacea contains important active compounds such as flavonoids, cichoric acid, and rosmarinic acid. These work as antioxidants that fight against oxidative stress and help prevent life-threatening diseases.
Echinacea is probably more commonly known for its immune-supporting properties. Not only can it be used as a preventative against the common cold and flu, but some research also shows that it may help in reducing the longevity of such illnesses.
It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties and can be used to treat some skin issues such as eczema.
How to Grow Echinacea
You can grow echinacea fairly easily from seed, but it sometimes requires a process called cold stratification. This is a process that mimics the conditions the seeds would have gone through naturally by being shed at the end of summer and overwintered in the soil before popping up again in spring. You can create this condition by putting your seeds in the fridge for about four weeks.
Plant your seeds in early spring after the last frost. You may also find echinacea plants at your local nursery. Echinacea plants can grow to about four feet tall and 18 inches wide, so be mindful when spacing your plants. Due to having a very deep taproot, these plants do not transplant well. Be sure about your location before planting them.
If you are lacking space to grow echinacea in a garden bed, you can grow it in a container. However, as mentioned, due to its deep taproot, make sure that you chose a pot deep enough to accommodate this.
Choose a space that gets full sun to partial shade. Echinacea can tolerate poor soil and does not need too much water. Echinacea is a prolific self-seeder, so once you have echinacea in your garden, you will likely always have echinacea in your garden. Not a bad thing, ay?
Once your plant has stopped flowering, you can cut the plant back to the ground in the autumn and wait for it to reappear next spring.
How to harvest Echinacea
Unfortunately, you need to wait two years before you can start harvesting from your echinacea plant. The leaves and the petals can be used to make tea. If you are going to harvest the leaves, cut the stem just above the bottom leaf. If are harvesting the flower petals, cut the flower head just above the top leaf.
How to Make Echinacea Tea
Making herbal tea is one of the simplest ways of introducing medicinal herbs into your routine. You can use the leaves and petals fresh, or you can dry them for use at a later date. Dried leaves and petals are much more concentrated, so you can use about as half as much as you would with fresh leaves and petals.
Whether dried or fresh, simply steep leaves and petals in hot water for about 15 minutes. Dried tea will infuse more quickly, but honestly, the strength is really to do with personal preference. You can taste the tea to see if it is to your liking. If you are not fond of the flavor you can add some lemon balm, peppermint, or ginger. Once the tea is to your taste, drain out the leaves and petals and enjoy your tea.
To dry the leaves and petals, simply hang them or leave them on a tray until they are crispy. Keep them dry and out of direct sunlight as this can bleach the leaves. Then, store them in a jar for use in the fall and winter.
If you have allergies to flowers, especially those from the daisy family, avoid using echinacea. Consult a medical professional before using any herbal remedies, and do your own research.
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