Echinacea purpurea

Today’s write-up is again courtesy of Taisha, who scribes:

Echinacea purpurea is also known as the purple-coneflower. This photograph was taken by Daniel Grobbel-Rank@Flickr last summer in Frankfurt Botanical Garden. Thank you for the photo, Daniel!

Echinacea purpurea is a herbaceous perennial member of the Asteraceae. Its composite inflorescence contains striking purple ray florets and conically-arranged darker disk florets. This is native to parts of eastern and central North America. Due to its popularity in herbal medicine, it is grown commercially. It is also highly ornamental and found in many a garden, and can be considered a garden escape in parts of Europe.

A long history of medicinal use has been documented. First Nations uses include treatment for infection and anti-toxin for snake bites. According to Daniel Moerman’s book, Native American Ethnobotany, the Choctaw used the root for a cough medicine and gastrointestinal aid, while the Lenape (aka Delaware) combined echinacea root with staghorn sumac root for venereal diseases.

Presently, this species and its relatives have high commercial value (estimates range between 100 and 300 million USD for annual US sales in the 2008-2010 calendar years, with most in the lower end of the range). This is because of the purported ability for echinacea products (extracted from Echinacea purpurea and other related species) to prevent the common cold and/or treat upper respiratory tract infections. When researching this assertion, I will say there were contradicting claims in the literature as to whether using echinacea is effective or not for treating such ailments. Data supporting the use of echinacea products as a herbal medicine are unclear, in large part because there is variation and little standardization in commercially available products. This variation is due to several factors, including (but not limited to) the part of the plant used for extracts and the species being used along with its relative concentration of the active compounds. In a critical review on the medicinal properties of echinacea by B. Barrett, the author noted the use of Echinacea spp. to treat acute upper respiratory tract infections is moderately supported, while the use to prevent the common cold is less supported as the quality of evidence is limited. However, more quality research on Echinacea purpurea and its relatives remains necessary (see: Barret, B. 2003. Medicinal Properties of Echinacea: A critical review. Phytomedicine. 10:66-86).

For more, also see Dr. Alain Boucher’s Ph.D thesis from UBC in 2008, Recommendations for selection efforts to improve the therapeutic quality of Echinacea angustifolia crops in British Columbia.

Echinacea purpurea

5 responses to “Echinacea purpurea”

  1. michael aman

    I would be interested in a series on native North American plants that have become escapes in Europe. We are so accustomed to thinking of European species that have become escapes here: ox-eye daisy, day lily, sparrows, starlings, earth worms. Knowing more about the reverse flow would be good.

  2. Terry-Anya Hayes

    As an herbalist and all-around plant lover, I visit your site daily to admire, enjoy and learn. Lovely to meet an old friend today! According to folk tradition and in my own experience, Echinacea purpurea is most effective when taken at the first sign of a problem, in relatively large doses and at frequent intervals, preferably as a tincture. Once an illness has taken hold, most herbalists feel Echinacea is no longer the herb of choice. I suspect that in addition to the possible reasons for failure in clinical trials mentioned in your write-up, many of these fail to take into account the great variation in dose, preparation and timing requirements among medicinal herbs — in many cases, a few drops are just not going to help. In any event, for a cold, Echinacea is best combined with an anti-viral herb, Elderberry syrup being one delicious choice!

  3. Irma in Sweden

    Whenever I feel a cold coming I immediately reach for my Echinacea lozenges which I complement with lots of Tonic Water and some paracetamol if needed. I am a firm believer in this treatment and that may also be a great factor in that this works for me

  4. Jessica

    Nice to see one of our loveliest natives given the spotlight.

  5. Eric Hunt

    One of my all time favorite North American natives. I have it growing in my garden at home and visit it regularly in the wild at nature preserves within a short drive of my house.
    Here it is at Terre Noir Natural Area, about 90 minutes southwest of Little Rock, near Arkadelphia:
    We also are lucky to have another Echinacea in even greater numbers, E. pallida.
    This shot is taken along a trail under a powerline right-of-way here in Little Rock:

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