By Ellen Zimmermann
Photography by Carole Topalian
Now is the time to dig up root herbs to make your medicines for our cool season. The most powerful and most popular herb in our area is echinacea, and the easiest species to grow locally is Echinacea purpurea. Echinacea purpurea, commonly known as purple coneflower, is a Native Texas perennial herb found throughout North America. To plant, scatter fresh seeds in the fall, then lightly step on them, and water them in.
Echinacea likes full sun, requires little supplemental water and will grow into a stately deep pink flower to delight you in summer, when I like to harvest these flowers and tincture them. Then, in fall, I dig up the root and either drink it as a tea, create another tincture, or add it to the tincture I made in summer.
The result is a blend I call “Extra Echinacea Tincture,” a potent remedy to have on hand to take at the onset of cold or flu symptoms. As many of you know, echinacea has been shown to boost the immune system, enhancing and increasing the body’s ability to ward off infection.
When cooking fresh chicken soup for family members suffering from runny noses and body aches, I like to add cut and sifted echinacea roots for the last 20 minutes.
Even if you’re not at the chicken soup stage, the herb works exceptionally well as a preventive. I take it starting five days before airplane flights and vacations, or if I’m going to be around sick people, and continue the entire time I’m away.
Purple coneflower also acts as an alterative (blood purifier) and astringent, and is useful for many inflammatory conditions. Not surprisingly, Native Americans, who called the herb “snakeroot,” used it to combat snake bites and venom.
An important note: the United Plant Savers (plantsavers.org ) have listed Echinacea purpurea as an “at-risk” plant, because it’s been overharvested from the wild. This alone is a good reason to get viable seeds from a friend and cultivate it yourself. By putting these increasingly rare plants into our gardens, we are ensuring their survival.