Stacking Functions In The Garden and In The Medicine Cabinet
An exploration of the many gifts offered by one of my favorite photosynthetic allies
There are some plants and fungi that go beyond just being helpful and/or being ‘productive’ in the garden (and/or in the wild in the ecosystem) and into the realm of being powerful allies to humans (and non-human beings) in increasing longevity, productivity, providing medicine, food, beauty and increasing the quality of life of those that the plant or fungi in question exist along side.
Enter Echinacea (aka the coneflower, known as ashosikwimia'kuk to the Potawatomi people of the Great Lakes Region where I live) and known as Echinacea purpurea to science. This plant is an amazing companion plant in the garden where it’s bountiful nectar attracts a plethora of native pollinators, feeds birds (both hummingbirds with it’s nectar and songbirds in the winter with it’s seeds) and it also provides powerful medicine for human beings.
We love how having Echinacea in our garden invites in a diverse array of beautiful winged creatures to visit (such as butterflies, hummingbirds and bees).
I find that my tomatoes, peppers and berries are much happier and more productive when i grow echinacea within 10 feet (as it invites more bees to visit their blossoms as well). We have about 6 varieties of echinacea in our garden and will continue to add more as space and availability allows.
Echinacea is a beautiful flowing plant has been used extensively by traditional herbalists and First Nation peoples and Native Americans alike in North America for generations. Echinacea eventually gained popularity in Europe in the 1900's. One of its main modern uses is to support healthy immune function, although some of its historical uses were related to topical applications. It is now one of the most available dietary supplements in health food stores and continues to be a subject of many scientific studies investigating its immune support properties. Modern scientific research has now confirmed a number of additional medicinal benefits offered be compounds found within the roots and aerial parts of the plant including offering Cardioprotective, Radioprotective, stimulating increased levels of Mitochondrial Biogenesis, increased proliferation of MSCs (pluripotent Mesenchymal Stem Cells)
Medicinal use of Echinacea: Echinacea is considered to be the most effective detoxicant in Western herbal medicine for the circulatory, lymphatic and respiratory systems. Its use has also been adopted by Ayurvedic medicine. Plants in this genus were probably the most frequently used of N. American Indian herbal remedies. They had a very wide range of applications and many of these uses have been confirmed by modern science. This species is the most easily cultivated of the genus and so has been more generally adopted for its medicinal uses. The plant has a general stimulatory effect on the immune system and is widely used in modern herbal treatments. In Germany over 200 pharmaceutical preparations are made from Echinacea.
Boosts the Immune System: How does Echinacea help with colds and flus?
Published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, the University of Connecticut performed a meta-analysis study that evaluated 14 studies and determined that:
• Echinacea cuts the chances of catching a common cold by 58 percent.
• Echinacea reduces the duration of the common cold by almost one-and-a-half days.
Craig Coleman, Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice and lead author of the study, added that, “The take home message from our study is that echinacea does indeed have powerful cold prevention and cold treatment benefits.”
As I’ve discovered, it’s one of several effective natural cold remedies. Anti-Inflammatory Arguably the number one killer worldwide, inflammation is at the root of most diseases. Various factors — including stress, toxins in our food and poor sleep — all contribute. Thankfully, as explained by the University of British Columbia, regular echinacea consumption can effectively reverse and alleviate various types of inflammation. The National Institute of Health reports that it can even help with uveitis, or eye inflammation. It’s a good idea for people who struggle with chronic inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis to regularly consume the herbal tea.
Relieves Upper Respiratory Issues Because of its immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory effects, echinacea can be used to relieve the following upper respiratory symptoms:
• Acute sinusitis
• All flu’s • Asthma
• Common cold
• Viral infections
• Strep throat
• Whooping cough
In fact, in a clinical study of asthma sufferers, echinacea acted similarly to classic synthetic drugs in treating asthma. “Recent studies have shown that secretion of asthma-related cytokines in the bronchial epithelial cells can be reversed by Echinacea preparations.” In particular, echinacea showed significant bronchodilatory and anti-inflammatory effects. Most people don’t realize that the chemicals contained in the root differ significantly from those in the upper part of the plant. If we analyze the roots, we can see that they have high concentrations of volatile oils, while the parts that grow above the soil tend to contain more polysaccharides that are known to trigger immune function.
Echinacea also Combats Cancer:
Fascinating research about echinacea benefits regarding brain cancer has been published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers state that the “medicinal value of phytochemicals contained in Echinacea is clearly evident and indicates that these agents, as well as phytochemicals not yet discovered in other herbs, may be valuable tools to combat tumors.”
The use of echinacea as another alternative cancer treatment is now being recommended, literally, “alongside — or indeed in place of — conventional therapy,” according to researchers.
Echinacea also serves as an Anti-Inflammatory Agent:
Arguably the number one killer worldwide, inflammation is at the root of most diseases. Various factors — including stress, toxins in our food and poor sleep — all contribute. Thankfully, as explained by the University of British Columbia, regular echinacea consumption can effectively reverse and alleviate various types of inflammation.
Products containing echinacea may even help with uveitis, or eye inflammation. It’s a good idea for people who struggle with chronic inflammatory conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, to regularly consume the herbal tea in order to reduce system-wide inflammation.
Echinacea extract is essentially a tincture from this upper part of the plant and the roots. Many of Echinacea’s chemical constituents are, in fact, powerful immune system stimulators and can provide a significant therapeutic value. A few that you’re probably familiar with are essential oils, flavonoids, inulin, polysaccharides and vitamin C. Echinacea tea, also known as the purple coneflower, is a delicious herbal tea made from the echinacea plant.
In our garden as our three year old plus echinacea plants get to large for the area we planted them in (we have a small urban suburban lot) I carefully dig them up in early spring
and divide the root ball into several sections.
I plant some of the divided sections in at least three in new locations in our garden (and/or give some away) and harvest the rest of the roots for making tinctures, herbal teas and adding to broths or fermented medicinal preserves.
Some years (depending on weather) the mature flower heads that are full of seeds are still hanging onto the stalk and I am able to save seeds for planting and sharing at the same time.
Ideally, I harvest Echinacea seeds in late fall, but sometimes I get too busy or miss some and end up saving seeds in the spring as well.
This plant gives so much to us in our garden, from offering beauty (in the forms of visual and tactile appeal and a lovely fragrance) as poetry for the senses as well as inviting native pollinators into our garden. Thus, when I have to to dig up a plant I felt compelled to give back in reciprocity to this plant and the Earth. That is why I carefully dig up the mature plant, separate the root mass into at least four sections with abundant fibrous roots attached and plant three of them in new locations (thus increasing the life of the plant rather than just taking away).
The fourth portion I harvested will be used to make medicine stored for long term so we can help our bodies be prepared for challenges they may face in the months and years ahead. I washed, chopped, and macerated the roots (using a mortar and pestle)
and then put them in a jar to soak in alcohol in order to extract the beneficial compounds into a shelf stable medium. (recipe for making a tincture linked below).
I also simmered some of the roots to make a herbal tea (sometimes referred to in herbalism as a "decoction") which surprisingly turned out to be a beautiful forest/emerald green color and tasted pleasant to me).
While my personal experience is rooted in the eastern purple coneflower, there are a variety of echinacea plants that can be used to brew tea including (the above mentioned Echinacea purpurea) as well as Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida. The perennial flower is native to eastern and central North America but can be grown in temperate climates where the plants receive at least partial sun.
Today, the plants are commonly grown in gardens in Europe and Asia as well. Echinacea tea can be made using a variety of plant parts from the echinacea plant including the roots, leaves, flowers, and stems. The purple flowers and roots are most commonly used to brew teas.
Habitat in the wild: Nine species of Echinacea are native to the United States and southern Canada. These species are perennial members of the sunflower, or Asteraceae, family and mostly prefer rocky, disturbed soils in open fields, prairies, and along railroad tracks.
The material found in commerce is generally E. purpurea, E. angustifolia, and occasionally E. pallida. E. purpurea is big bushy shrub, growing 4-5 feet tall, with vivid purple coneflowers (hence the common name 'purple coneflower'). The leaves are wider than E. angustifolia, which has more angular and hairy leaves (the specific name refers to this, literally meaning 'narrow-leaved), and grows to only around one foot in height. Often E. pallida and E. angustifolia are confused as they both have light pink petals and are used in a similar manner.
Distinguishing Features: This heat and drought resistance plant is very unique with its daisy-like purple/pink flowers that sport a prickly seed cone. The leaves are rough to the touch. Flowers: The flowers are rich purple to pink in colour and the florets grow round a high seed cone. This cone has sharp spines. Echinacea blooms about mid-summer and lasts about a month, after which there is a temporary dormancy. Some plants may bloom again during early autumn. Leaves: The leaf shapes are generally narrow, lance-shaped (or ovate) and toothed. The upper surface of the leaves is often dark green and has sparse white hairs.
Typical Habitat: Dry open woods, fields, barrens and prairies. Harvest Tips: Echinacea flowers should be harvested just after blooming season has begun. Trim the blossoms at the base of the stem just above the first set of leaves. This will encourage new growth, amplifying your harvest each year. Don't use seed heads as they won't provide proper flavor when infused in hot water. If you want, you can use the freshly harvested flowers to make tea. If you prefer, you can also dry the echinacea flowers. Simply lay them flat on a bamboo mat or hang them from a clothesline. If you choose to hang the flowers, place a table or blanket underneath the catch the petals as the fall off the stems. The same can be down using the roots and leaves of the echinacea plant. Whether you are harvesting Echinacea from your garden or the wild and for making your own medicine, I implore you to practice the principles of the Honorable Harvest so we are reciprocating the gifts this amazing plant offers and not just taking from it. You can learn more about the principles of "The Honorable Harvest" here:
Once the flowers petals, roots, or leaves have dried it's time to store them in an airtight container. Store in a glass jar or other non-reactive container and keep in a dry place. A dark place such as a cabinet or drawer is the best option to prevent the plant material from losing flavor.
Basic Echinacea Tea Recipe:
• 1 tablespoon dried echinacea (or 2 tablespoons of fresh echinacea)
• 10 ounces of water
• Sweetener (OPTIONAL)
1. Bring water to a boil using a stove-top pan or a tea kettle.
2. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium and add in the echinacea.
3. Place a lid on the pot and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. If using a tea kettle, simply pour the boiling water into a teacup and add the echinacea to a tea ball or tea infuser. Steep for 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Strain the loose flowers, roots, or leaves from the pot and pour into a teacup. It using a tea ball, simply remove and discard the echinacea.
5. Add flavorings or sweeteners such as honey and lemon if desired.
Recipe for Echinacea and Elderberry Syrup:
Recipe for making an Echinacea Root and Flower Tincture for Cold and Flu Season:
For those that have family members suffering from the deleterious side effects of the mRNA injections, Echinacea could serve as a powerful ally on the path to healing.
Studies Relating The Cardioprotective and Cardio Regenerative Machenisms: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26369808/ - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0888754306002461?via%3Dihub - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4833461/ - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0944711321001148#! - https://stemcellres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13287-015-0171-5 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7663822/ - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21312240/ - https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Studies-on-phytochemical%2C-antioxidant%2C-and-of-and-Aarland-Ba%C3%B1uelos-Hern%C3%A1ndez/cf07386f16a7774be31e2151ea5779b236915021
I will be including tips for companion planting and recipes in my upcoming gardening/recipe book.
You can learn more about my book and pre-order a copy through this link: recipesforreciprocity.com
I hope you enjoyed this article about stacking functions in the garden and in the medicine cabinet, if you have any questions about cultivation or preservation feel free to comment and I will answer when I can.
Wishing you all good health, joy and the peace of mind that comes with having powerful photosynthetic allies so we can be ready to face the challenges ahead with grace and resilience.