Echinacea is one of the most well-known and popular herbal remedies. In fact, Echinacea tincture was the first “Snake Oil” sold by old time peddlers as a cure-all for everything from cancer to snake bites. Perhaps a little too popular, two of the nine species of this beautiful native plant are listed on the endangered plant list. The high demand of Echinacea means fields of this herb are plowed up for the medicinal root. I like to grow all of my herbs, but I especially make an effort to provide a safe harbor for at-risk plants. If you must buy Echinacea, make sure it’s not wildcrafted but organically cultivated instead.
What’s it For?
The most commonly used medicinal variety is Echinacea purpurea, or Purple Coneflower. Perhaps best known for it’s immune-stimulating properties, this herb works by boosting white blood cell production and has even been used to fight cancer and AIDS. A general infection-fighter, Echinacea can be used internally or topically to treat anything from bronchitis to acne. I’ve recently found a new use for Echinacea: lymph detox. I’ve been taking a mix of Echinacea, Yellow Dock and Red Root as part of a lymph detox regimen. This is my attempt at eliminating stubborn cellulite and occasional acne, both signs of an overloaded lymph system.
The plant takes two years to flower (and become large and potent enough for harvest) when grown from seed, but can flower the first year if you have a particularly long growing season or plant early indoors. Botanical Interests sells a high quality organic seed, and their packages are so pretty I usually can’t resist picking up a few extras. Echinacea is super easy to grow from seed. Pick a moist, sunny spot with room to grow. Echinacea readily self-seeds and will spread where you let it. I knew I would be moving around so I planted mine in a 5-gallon pot. Echinacea is a pretty common garden flower, so if you know a neighbor who doesn’t spray their yard, you might be able to harvest or transplant from them.
Once your Echinacea is ready for harvest, you have several options for extracting the medicinal properties of the plant. Tincturing the fresh plant is highly recommended for getting the most out of the herb. The whole plant can be dried and used as tea, but you’ll lose a lot of the medicinal properties through drying. Plus, it’s not a particularly nice tasting plant and not the best for tea-sipping. A honey or glycerine extract would be a good choice for kids, but a strong alcohol tincture will be more versatile.
The root is the most concentrated medicinally, but harvesting this kills the plant. This is only recommended if you have a sizable stand of Echinacea and can leave enough to continue growing. The flower and leaf can be harvested without affecting growth, especially if you just use the flower petals and allow it to go to seed. With my precious, tiny stand, I chose to do a fresh flower top tincture.
Echinacea Tincture Recipe
- 10 oz strong grain alcohol or vodka. Everclear 190 or 151 proof will make a stronger tincture that you can dilute if desired. 190 is illegal in several states, but not in good ol’ Oregon! It’s generally kept behind the counter where it’s legal to purchase.
- 1 oz Fresh Echinacea root/flower/leaf
- Glass jar with tight lid
It’s best to keep records of all your concoctions for future reference. Tincture strength is measured in a weight:volume ratio, both read in ounces. This doesn’t work very well for light plants, but still try to weigh your plant material to achieve at least a 1:10 Herb/alcohol ratio (1 oz Echinacea for 10 oz alcohol). The more you add the stronger it will be, just make sure your alcohol is covering your herbs. Ratios of 1:4 and even 1:2 are common for less bulky plants.
If using roots, try to rinse off all dirt. Make sure there aren’t any bugs hiding under flower petals or leaves. Grind, chop or blend your herbs if desired. The more surface area exposed to the alcohol the easier the extraction process will be.
I’ve been adding petals and flower tops as the bloom, so my tincture will sit all Summer.
Mix herbs and alcohol in your clean glass jar. Cap tightly and let sit in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks. Shake the jar several times a day. The longer you let it sit and the more you shake it the stronger it will be. When your tincture is ready, strain and press the herbs through a muslin bag or bandana. Bottle in amber glass to help preserve the extract. Store in a cool dark place
Using Echinacea Tincture
Dosage will depend on the strength of your tincture, which can only be determined by use. Most commercial tinctures recommend a dosage of 15-30 drops up to four times a day. Start at the lower end and increase the dose as needed. A good Echinacea tincture will numb the back of your tongue. More than taste, I think this is the oddest part of taking the tincture.
Echinacea is commonly used to prevent or shorten the duration of colds. However, it’s important to use it at the correct time. Echinacea works best if taken when you are first exposed to a sickness or immediately when symptoms appear. If you take when you’re already sick it can overwork your already stressed immune system and make your sickness worse (not dramatically, but it doesn’t help). I honestly can’t remember where I learned this, but it has been true for me.