Herbs are useful for more than just flavoring food. They can add nutrients to your diet including vitamins and minerals, help alleviate symptoms of a cold/flu, improve your immune system, and even reduce inflammation, stop bleeding, and heal minor burns/bee stings. Wildcrafting is a good way of gathering herbs that you may need. But a way to secure your herbal medicine cabinet is to learn to grow your own.
My last blog post was about mullein, which is something that grows prolifically in the wild and is great for making an oil to soothe ear aches/infections and also helping relieve chest congestion. Today, I’m going to cover another great herb that can be cultivated in your garden: Echinacea purpurea, or Purple Coneflower.
Echinacea as Medicinal Plant
A member of the Asteraceae family, this easy-to-grow plant is a native of North America. Its stalk will grow from 2-5 feet topped by a lovely lavender flower with brownish centers. Though it prefers moist soil it can also be found in dry prairies, and, once established, can do well even in drought conditions (which is great for gardeners!).
When planting this flower, choose a sunny spot — it does not do well in shade. The flower blooms in the summer and reseeds itself in the fall. This year I left the Echinacea in my garden alone to allow them to reseed for next year hoping to at least double my crop.
Echinacea has a rich history, used by several Native American tribes of North America for different purposes, the chief one being as an analgesic (it relieved fever, headaches, and provided pain relief). Echinacea is a natural remedy to turn to the next time you or a family member come down with a cold.
Adding this herb to your garden will allow you to be able to have it on hand when you need it. You can quickly whip up an infusion or, plan ahead a little, and make a tincture which allows the medicinal qualities to be preserved for use at anytime.
In the United States, we tend to rely more heavily on prescription medication, but that situation is different in Europe. For instance, in Germany, experts have deemed Echinacea a natural antibiotic, because it suppresses viral activities. Echinacea also contains phenols, flavonoids, copper, iron, iodine, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and E.
These are some benefits of Echinacea:
• Alleviates symptoms of colds, coughs, flu, and upper respiratory conditions
• Soothes sore throat and enlarged lymph nodes
• Eases the symptoms of urinary tract infections
• Fights infections
• Strengthens the immune system by promoting T-cell activation (which may cause issues with people with auto-immune diseases)
Preparation: Using fresh is preferred since drying can decrease the medicinal potency, however you may dry it for use as an infusion if you desire.
• 8 oz alcohol (I use Everclear but you can use vodka as well)
• 1 oz fresh flower/leaves/roots (only do this if you have a large stand since you are pulling the entire plant)
• Glass jar
1. Check herb for bugs, remove any dirt, and chop plant parts (the more exposure to the alcohol the better).
2. Make sure the plant is completely covered by the alcohol and cover tightly.
3. Store in a cool, dark place for a minimum of two weeks (four weeks will create a stronger tincture). Shake the jar 1-3 times a day.
4. Strain through cheesecloth and store in an amber dropper jar, in a cool, dark location. For a stronger tincture you may change the herb: alcohol ratio from 1:8 to 1:4 but just make sure the herb is fully covered by the alcohol.
To use: For best results, take at the first sign of illness or if you know you’ve been exposed to illness. Take 15-30 ml three times a day. Do not take for more than 10 days in a row. Echinacea is NOT an everyday tonic, if you are wanting to support your immune system during the winter months, consider brewing up elderberry syrup instead.
This is NOT medical advice; this is for educational purposes only. You should always check with your doctor before trying any of these remedies.
Check out our online community for ways to help in your local food movement, learn about more medicinal herbs and much more. Sean and Monica are available for consulting work regarding property analysis and design, personal coaching and speaking engagements.
Sean and Monica Mitzel homestead with their family on 40 acres and are using permaculture techniques and methods for the property. The homestead is a demonstration and education site where they teach workshops and raise dairy goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, and ducks. The Mitzels have planted food forests, guilds and enjoy wildcrafting and propagating plants. Sean and Monica can often be found podcasting or speaking and teaching at different events. Listen to the podcast and to learn more about the Mitzels, visit The Prepared Homestead. Read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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