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The Many Varieties of The Herb Echinacea Or The Coneflower

With the popularity of the herb Echinacea there has been a keen interest in growing the plant by gardeners and herbalists.  The common name is coneflower and has been known for centuries for its medicinal qualities.

The coneflower or the Herb Echinacea has caused a great splash with gardeners and herbalists in the past couple of years.  There have been many studies done in Germany which seems to support the ideas that the coneflower does indeed boost the immune system. Gardeners love the Herb Echinacea because of it hardiness and long blooming season July through fall.  Herbalists love it for its medicinal qualities. The plant was named from the Greek "echinos" meaning Hedgehog.  It is believed that they named it that for its sharp and pointy flower bracts. The conical center is why it is called Coneflower.  In addition, gardeners love the fact that the Herb Echinacea attracts birds and butterflies.

There are nine species of the coneflower.  All of them are native to North America.  We will be examining four of the species that are widely available.  You can choose one coneflower or mix it up with two or three to make it more interesting.

For a smaller coneflower (10 to 24 inches) choose the Black Sampson variety. The plant grows from the Canadian border south, all the way to Texas.  The stems of this plant are hairy, with narrow leaves and rose pink flowers. This is the smallest of the Echinacea species.  The flowers are 2 ½ to 3 inches in diameter when in full bloom.

The research on the Herb Echinacea suggests that the medicinal qualities of  the Echinacea are in the roots.  Unfortunately, mass collection of the Black Sampson has endangered it.

Tennessee Coneflower is also on the endangered list.   This coneflower only grows in central Tennessee and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency licenses the nurseries planning on selling this species.  This Herb Echinacea will grow two or 3 feet..  The leaves are a darkish green with flowers that are a deep pink with green centers and upturned petals.

As noted above, the nurseries must be licensed, so look to the internet for sources.

There are two kinds of purple coneflowers, the Pale Purple coneflower and the Purple coneflower.  The pale purple coneflower is 3-6 inches in diameter.  It is best situated in sunny sites with good drainage. It is found in the Midwest and south to Louisiana.  These three feet tall plants start their blooming in July and will last until the frost months.

The Purple Coneflower, known for its medicinal qualities is the most widely used of the species.  Most gardeners make use of this Echinacea herb. This is a big plant, three to four feet tall with large flowers about four to six inches in diameter. The flowers are quite lovely with reddish purple petals tipped in green.  The centers are orange and there petals will droop.  They are so droopy that in the Ozarks their name is droopy. There leaves can be jagged or smooth and are a medium green color.  Many florists use these in their arrangements because of their durable stalks.

The Herb Echinacea was revered by the Native Americans and in Montana they are alarmed that it is being over harvested.  They used the coneflower to treat health problems like respiratory infections and snakebites. In the 19th century Echinacea was use to purify blood.  It was also used to treat dizziness. In the next century, before the use of antibiotics, it was used to treat colds and flu.  Now it is popular in treating upper respiratory illness. It is becoming increasing popular in reducing itch and to soothe the skin. 

If using the Herb Echinacea for medicinal purposes it is best used in its fresh state. The plant must grow for three years before the roots become beneficial. If you are buying the Herb Echinacea from a health food store, chew a small piece first.  If it does not numb your tongue and you don't produce more saliva, the roots are either too old or improperly dried. It is not healthy to ingest Echinacea over a long period of time.  Give your immune system a break so you do not build up a tolerance for Echinacea.

The Herb Echinacea is now the third most popular herb sold in the United States.

Copyright © Mary Hanna, All Rights Reserved.

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Mary Hanna is an aspiring herbalist who lives in Central Florida. This allows her to grow gardens inside and outside year round. She has published other articles on Cruising, Gardening and Cooking. Visit her websites at and 

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