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Ingredient Spotlight: Echinacea

Ingredient Spotlight: Echinacea

As the season shifts to colder weather, longer nights, and common immunological discomforts, there is one herbal ally that you can count on to support you the most: Echinacea.  

A stunning flowering herb in the daisy (Asteraceae) family, echinacea is also commonly called “purple coneflower” for its spiked, pinecone-shaped disk flowers and its dusty purple to pink ray flowers. A familiar landscaping plant that grows to 4 feet tall, echinacea attracts all sorts of pollinators from bees to butterflies and everything in between.  

The history of this powerful herb lies in its natural habitat – the great plains of central North America. Here lies the origin of the three most commonly known species of echinacea: Echinacea angustifolia, purpurea, and pallida. Discovered by the first peoples of North America living in the great plains (including the Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Lakota, Plains Apache, and Plains Cree among others), echinacea was traditionally used by at least 15 tribes in the region to support a variety of ailments, including coughs, colds, inflammation, rabies, snakebite, sore throats, toothache, worms, and as a painkiller. In addition, it was used to treat animals, especially horses.”1* 

Among the different indigenous groups living in the great plains, common names for Echinacea often referred to the healing properties of the plant: 

POTAWATOMI: ashosikwimia’kuk—smells like muskrat 

LAKOTA: ica’hpehu—something used to knock something down 

OMAHA AND PONCA: inshtogahte-hi—where inshta means “eye,” referring to an eye wash 

KIOWA-APACHE: ize. iso. he. —medicine makes you numb2 

English settlers were first introduced to echinacea spp. by first peoples, and from there, the herb caught on as a powerful ally for supporting many different common ailments. It is one of the most researched North American herbs and is a globally recognized medicinal herb.  

It is no surprise that echinacea has earned itself such global fame. This powerful herb contains some exciting phytochemistry that really packs a punch! The tingly alkamides found throughout the plant do, as the Kiowa-apache say, make you numb. Whether used topically or internally, echinacea extract will numb whatever tissue it touches, soothing throat irritation, and even supporting topical wound care concerns. This warming molecule is one of the main contributors to echinacea’s immune-stimulating properties.* 

Another key contributor to echinacea’s immunological support is its polysaccharide content, found primarily in the root. This hot-water-soluble molecule is a form of simple starch that is considered immunomodulating, making echinacea helpful for building and fortifying the immune system over time.* 

Of the three species of echinacea mentioned above, E. angustifolia and E. purpurea are the most commonly used in commerce. E. angustifolia is (debatably) said to be the more potent of the two. This is primarily due to the fact that it is the most often wildcrafted, as it does not do well under cultivation. Living in the wild means that it is much more susceptible to environmental impacts like excessive sunlight, drought, and intense seasonal fluctuations. It seems that the phytochemistry of plants in the wild are more concentrated due to a plant’s struggle for survival.  

Comparatively, Echinacea purpurea, which is used interchangeably and in combination with E. Angustifolia, is easy to grow in your home herb garden, making it the preferred species for many home herbalists and gardeners.  

To grow echinacea successfully in your home garden, give it a nice, sunny spot, in loose, sandy soil, with moderate water; this hearty herb can be amazingly doubt tolerant. It is best to let the deep tap roots get established for 3 to 4 years before harvesting for tea, tincture, and even infused oil.   

A note on wildcrafted herbs: If you happen to see wildcrafted herbs listed in your formulas, be sure that these herb suppliers are practicing sustainable wildcrafting techniques, as it is becoming more and more important to maintain healthy stewardship of our wild spaces.  

A helpful recourse for sustainable wildcrafting is the United Plant Savers. Their monograph on echinacea includes this perspective on the sensitivity of this wild herb: 

“Relying on healthy, open grasslands and prairies means that this genus of wildflowers is often at risk of habitat loss due to the expansion of livestock pastures and increased agricultural development in prairie regions.”3 

Due to the fact that the immuno-supportive phytochemicals of echinacea are found throughout the whole plant, the most potent extracts will include the synergistic trinity of the leaf, root and flower. Our [Echinacea Combination] extract is made using the entire plant and is a combination of both E. angustifolia and E. purpurea, giving this compound formula a full spectrum of helpful plant molecules to support you through the toughest seasonal discomforts.*  

To showcase the immune supportive actions of echinacea in your apothecary this winter, stock up on our Echinacea Combination, Herbal Throat Spray, Immune Boost, and Immune Support Gummies today!* 

*FDA warning: This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. 

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