In fall of 2021, Dave and I decided to remove the little patch of grass in our backyard and plant a drought-tolerant multi-use garden. We’d had a low-level argument going for years over whether or not the hammock should be hung between the two trees in said grass, because Dave said it would block the sprinklers and kill the grass, and I pointed out that the grass was always pretty much dead anyway, and I really wanted to utilize our hammock. PLUS, we live in the California East Bay, and until this year we were in deep drought. We couldn’t justify watering the grass enough to actually keep it green throughout the summer. So out it came, and in went a bunch of native and (relatively) low-water plants, along with the hammock and a little table and chairs for lunch al fresco.
Last summer the plants were still taking hold, but this summer they’re all full grown and beautiful, including a Purple Cone Flower, or Echinacea. I’ve always heard about the medicinal properties of this plant, and I’ve taken Echinacea supplements to ward off colds, but I have never tried to harvest my own plants. Now that they’re thick and in full bloom, I decided to give it a try.
What is Echinacea
Echinacea is a perennial flowering herb native to North America, and related to daisies. They’re very commonly seen in gardens, especially in the east and midwest, and have been used as medicinal plants for hundreds of years. Pretty and useful! There are several different varieties, and not all are used in herbal medicine – Echinacea Purpurea is the most common.
What is it used for
The plant is used primarily for it’s anti-infective and anti-viral qualities, and it’s used to treat infection and inflammation, to prevent colds, to treat skin afflictions like acne, eczema and wounds, to treat insect bites and stings, to strengthen the immune system and to treat post-viral fatigue.
How to use Echinacea
Echinacea is most commonly used as a tea, but you can also make oils and tinctures (more on this in part 2).
All parts of the plant can be used – petals, leaves and roots – but because I want to keep my plant as an ornamental in my garden, I’m only going to use the flowers and leaves. If you’re harvesting your own, it’s best to harvest in the morning, and make sure to clip the flowers right above a branching section where you can see small buds appearing. This will ensure that harvesting continues to improve the strength and abundance of your plant.
You will want to hang the flowers upside down to dry, or you can use a food dehydrator with a maximum temperature of 95 degrees. This is a good way to go if you live in a very humid climate where your herbs might mold before they get well-dried.
Once the flowers and leaves are totally dry, you can store them whole in an airtight container (preferably one that is colored to limit the amount of light that gets in). When you’re ready to make tea, gently crush about 1 Tablespoon of the leaves and petals and put it in a tea infuser. Heat your water until just under a boil, about 200 degrees (or boil, take off the heat and wait about 10 seconds), and cover the tea with about 8 oz. of water. Steep 3 minutes and sip!