Echinaceas or coneflowers are both useful and highly decorative.
Echinacea purpurea is a hardy perennial flower that grows to about two feet high. Slender, dark green leaves are produced at the base of the plant. The purple flowers resemble large daisies with large orange centres. It’s from these prickly cones that the flower gets its name: it’s derived from the Greek work for hedgehog. They’re produced on branched stems throughout summer and into autumn. The honey scented flowers are popular with butterflies. The seedheads are decorative and may be left on the plant over winter. Small birds will sometimes feed from them.
Plants do best in a sunny position and without too much competition and prefer rich soil. They may be propagated by seed, division or root cuttings. A variety of named forms are available, including those with white flowers and some with extra large ray shaped petals and some double kinds. Echinaceas look good in traditional herbaceous borders, cottage gardens and in prairy style plantings. Echinaceas also make good cut flowers.
It is the roots and rhizomes which are used medicinally. They are bitter and aromatic and as well as being anti-viral and anti-bacterial they have properties that stimulate the immune system and promote healing. To harvest these, the plant can be lifted in autumn and the roots removed and dried. They are then used for infusions, tinctures or ground into powder. Commercially produced echinacea remedies are widely available.
Used internally, echinacea treats skin diseases, gangrene, boils and helps wounds and abscesses to heal. When used externally, it can treat acne and psoriasis.