Echinacea: The Magical Cure-All Coneflower
By: Lauren M. Liff for Dabah Landscape Designs
Echinacea purpurea is arguably one of the most common plants one will see in a typical New Jersey Landscape. They are very showy, and, because they are native to Eastern North America, they are easy to grow and require little maintenance. This beauty is also pollinator friendly by attracting bees and butterflies and is also deer resistant. Not as obvious as its outward beauty are the medicinal properties contained within the plant.
Echinacea, also known as the eastern purple coneflower, displays flowers with showy lavender petals surrounding a brown spikey looking center. The single flower sits atop a long green stem adorned with rough, almost spiny-feeling leaves that grow smaller as they move up the stem. The coneflower prefers full sun and can grow in a wide range of soil types including clay. It’s become a fan favorite because of its ability to bloom heaviest in late summer while withstanding the higher temperatures.
This wildflower makes a great addition to any landscape as a massing or border plant as well as in rain gardens and butterfly gardens (commonly in combination with Rudbeckia or the Black-Eyed Susan). The coneflower can shoot out a second round of blooms in the fall and the stems should be left up with the spent bloom intact during the winter. The center cones provide a food source for common backyard birds that will feast on the seeds—it is best to prune the stems back mid-spring.
Echinacea is among a group of ornamental plants that have been recognized as medicinal herbs. These ornamentals were traditionally used by the Native Americans and are now widely recognized by modern herbalists. Of all the species of Echinacea, the purple coneflower is probably the most studied for its medicinal properties. Native Americans used it as a cure-all herb but it has been used as a short term cold treatment as well has an immune system booster. Recently researchers have found that it shows chemopreventive potential by inhibiting tumor growth and pain chemicals. As the research progresses, it is said that the purple coneflower shows promise as an adjunct treatment for cancer!