Monday, 6 April 2009

Echinacea Beauty With Hidden Powers

I have heard lots about echinacea, but never really seen it grown in my or friends gardens. It is quite a spectacle, but more than that this herbaceous plant commonly called Coneflower has hidden secrets.

All the species derive from eastern and central North America. The plants have big, extravagant heads made up of composite flowers. They bloom from May to late September.

The name comes from the Greek "echino" that translates as "spiny," and almost certainly due to the characteristic spiny central disk. The plants grow up to 2 metres height and are drought-tolerant and perennial. The leaves are lance shaped in the main reaching 10 – 20 cm in length and 1.5 – 10 cm wide.

The North American Indians for general medicinal reasons used Echinacea. The plant was one of the basic herbs of eclectic medicine from around 1850 to the 20th century. It was used for snakebite, anthrax and for as a general pain reliever. During the 1930s echinacea was commonly used in Europe and the Americas as a herbal medicine.

Its modern day use now is for the treatment of the common cold. This was started by accident when a Swiss herbalist misunderstood that the Native American tribes used this for colds where in fact they didn't. However the Native American tribes used echinacea for coughs, sore throats, headaches, and many tribes used it as an analgesic. Not too far removed based on this fact.

The European Medicines Agency has now approved the use of echinacea in the form of expressed juice for the short-term prevention and treatment of the common cold.

Of course many grow this plant purely for it's beauty and outward colourful display and are grown as ornamental plants in many gardens. They tolerate a wide variety of conditions and keep their attractive foliage throughout the summer. Well worth keeping stock of in your border. They need full sun and fertile loam soil although any decent soil will do. Otherwise. Very little care is needed and they are quite sturdy so no staking is needed. You can also take cuttings of young shoots in spring and propagate quite easily or just simply grow from seeds that are widely available.

You will find many herbal medicines based in chemists and herbal health food shops with echinacea enhanced products, which is growing in popularity. It is not recommended you try and make your own potions for the herb as it has toxins that could be quite dangerous. Therefore it is best left to herbalist experts and bought over the counter.

Images from Wikipedia
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