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THE REVIVAL OF AN OLD HERB
ECHINACEA; A LOVELY ADDITION TO ANY GARDEN
BY
ANNA MAY KINNY

 

The winters were long and cold in upper Michigan, where my great-grandparents lived. The late 1800's were hard times, when a person took ill they didn't have the variety of over the counter medicines we have today and even if they had, the trip to the general store would take an entire day.

They relied on their Native American heritage, the belief that everything we needed to keep us well is provided by Mother Nature. They learned from the elders how to use herbs to heal colds, sore throats, toothaches, colic, stomach upset and coughs. The herbs were gathered during the spring and summer, dried and put in safe keeping.
I remember my grandmother brewing a thick green tea for my grandfather's cold. She told me that my great-grandmother, her mother-in-law, taught her how to use herbs.

Sadly, after a few years of living in the city, grandmother no longer had need for the old recipes, in no time she forgot how to make them. I have often wished those precious recipes had been handed down to me and after studying about herbs for the last 25 years, wondered if one of the main ingredients in that old recipe could have been echinacea.

For centuries echinacea was one of the most used herbs by Native North American's. There are many different species of echinacea, most known by other names, sometimes the names reflected what they were used for treating. Some of these names are; Black Sampson, Missouri Snake-root, Scurvy Root, Purple Coneflower, Indian Head, Comb Flower, Kansas Snakeroot, Hedgehog, and Red Sunflower.

Not all types of echinacea grew everywhere in the U.S. It's possible that some of the following tribes used Echinacea pallida, as several of these native groups lived in the range of Echinacea pallida.
Echinacea was used for sore throats and coughs by both the Choctaws and the Kiowas. The Delaware used the Echinacea purpurea for advanced cases of venereal disease.

It's juice was used by Crow babies for colic and colds, while the adults chewed fresh roots to lessen the pain of toothaches.

The Omaha-Ponca natives used E.angustifolia for burns, snake bites and other poisons. Thy also used it for enlarged glands, headaches, toothaches and as a stimulant.

The Cheyenne used the juice as a toothache remedy. They also made an infusion of the leaves and roots for sore throats, gums, and mouth problems. Mashed root was applied to boils after lancing. Echinacea tea was used to treat arthritis, measles, mumps, rheumatism, and smallpox.

The Lakota utilized the root for pain in the bowels, tonsillitis and toothaches. The Pawnee tribe used E. anustifolia to treat rattlesnake bites.

The Sioux used fresh root to treat rabies (hydrophobia), septic conditions and snake bite. The Comache also used Echinacea root for toothaches and sore throats. The Meshwaki used echinacea to sooth eczema, stomach cramps and fits.

In 1762, Echinacea made it's first appearance in medical literature as a treatment for saddle sores on horses. In the October 1914 issue of The Gleaner, Dr. J.S. Leachman of Sharon Oklahoma states, "Old settlers all believe firmly in the virtues of Echinacea root, and use it as an aid in nearly every sickness. If a cow or horse does not eat well, the people administer Echinacea, cut up and put in feed. I have noticed that puny stock treated in this manner soon begin to thrive."

John Uri Lloyd, from Cincinnati, was one of two early advocates on the use and development of Echinaceas. A pharmacist, he was president of the American Pharmaceutical Association from 1887-1888, He is responsible for over 5,000 scientific papers, eight novels and several books on American Medicinal Plants. In addition he founded Lloyd Brothers Pharmacists, Inc., a manufacturing firm.

John King, the second proponent, was the author of the Eclectic Dispensatory for more than sixty year. He is classified as the most prominent Eclectic medical practitioner of the 19th century.

Europe discovered the benefits of echinacea around 1895 and it's popularity kept growing. It was in such demand, that by 1937 there was a major crop shortages after the French bought nearly the entire crop.
Up until 1937, the most popular echinacea in Europe was angustifolia, but when Dr. Gerhard Madaus of Cologne bought seeds and cutting to cultivate this plant in Germany. He bought several ounces which turned out to be Echinacea Purpurea. This chance mistake resulted in the vast majority of European research being conducted on Echinacea purpurea, which has now become the most used one.

Here are some varieties of echinacea; Echinacea Pallida - Pale Purple Coneflower grows in the Midwest. Echinacea Angustifolia - commonly called Narrow Leafed Purple Coneflower, grows exclusively throughout the western Great Plains.

Echinacea Paradoxa - This Yellow Coneflower is found only in the Ozarks of Arkansas and Oklahoma. Echinacea Simulata - Echinacea Sumulata is also found only in the Ozarks of Arkansas and Oklahoma, and has a purple flower. Echinacea Laevigata - another very rare species of Echinacea from the Appalachians. It has been listed as a Federally endangered species since 1992.

Echinacea Tennesseensis - Tennessee Coneflower is officially listed as an endangered species. At this point, there are only five known wild populations of Echinacea Tennesseensis.

Echinacea Purpurea - commonly referred to as Common Purple Coneflower. Known for it's light purple flowers, this variety grows throughout eastern North America. Echinacea Purpurea is a favourite garden flower and is widely grown as an ornamental. This plant is the most commonly used echinacea for medicinal purposes, with Echinacea Angustifolia a distant second in popularity. Echinacea Purpurea is relatively easy to grow and both the foliage and the roots are used for health purposes.

Echinacea Atrobubens - grows in a small area in eastern Kansas and Oklahoma. Echinacea Sanguinea - is found in the West Gulf Coast Plain of Louisiana and eastern Texas.

Modern research has shown that echinacea is effective in treating some bacterial infections, viral infections, reduces inflammation and healing wounds, usually by stimulating the immune system. There are literally thousands of research papers on echinacea, most stand as a written testimonial to the effectiveness of this unique plant.