The garden as a home pharmacy: Red and other coneflowers

Scarlet coneflower, a beautiful perennial plant that is now offered in all garden centres, has led a different life for some time, namely as a health drink, herbal tablet and lipstick in herbalists and pharmacies. Plants lead their own lives even without humans. Until they are discovered, named, classified, tasted, tried, propagated, analyzed and sometimes eradicated. In a weak moment I sometimes think: shouldn’t we let all those plants live their own lives? But can we do without them and can they do without us?
Scarlet coneflower is one of those plants that we have done without for a long time. And which now seems almost irreplaceable as a health plant. Because it is a North American plant, it could of course not be known here in Europe and therefore not used . He has had a great reputation among the Indian peoples for centuries. Plant remains in graves of the Lakota Sioux date back to 1600. It was used successfully by the famous Eccletic doctors King and Loyd, especially between 1845 and 1930, during which time the plants were used by Dr. Meyer was brought to Europe and further examined at the Madaus company. He became known and popularized mainly by the Swiss naturopath Vogel and the Biohorma company.


The Purple coneflower belongs to the large family of the Composite flowering plants, it used to be called Rudbeckia, before being given the name Echinacea around 1800. The Indians called it Snakeroot because it was used to treat snake bites.
According to McGregor, there are 9 species, of which the best known and most used are Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia and E. pallida. They are all bushy perennials that grow on the American prairies, but fortunately they are also easy to grow in Europe. The Echinacea purpurea in particular is an easy 1m high summer bloomer, which can be propagated both by sowing and by dividing. It fits beautifully in a classic purple-pink border, for example in the company of the black Hollyhock, Mallows, the pink Lavatera, Zeeland buttons, the remarkable Fireworks plant and the native Dark Cranesbill. A summer flower border to die for!

Well researched and widely used

Finally a plant where daily user experiences are confirmed by extensive scientific research. As early as the 1920s, Dr. Madaus in Germany investigated the influence of purple coneflower on infected wounds. Since then, more than 400 scientific articles have been published on the chemical composition and clinical use of various Echinacea species.
The plant is mainly used to increase resistance and strengthen the immune system against all kinds of infectious diseases. Especially for the respiratory tract, so it is good to use for colds, flu and bronchial diseases . In addition, also for bladder infections together with Solidago and Mallow and for skin infections together with Marigold and Chamomile.
People with reduced resistance, for example after illness or after heavy exertion, can use 30 drops of mother tincture 3 times a day for 1 week to 10 days. It doesn’t have to be longer! Research has shown that Echinacea temporarily boosts white blood cells, an effect that can disappear after 1 week. If you need it longer, it is better to use it alternately, for 1 week and not for 1 week. And continue in this way for as long as you feel necessary.

Skin remedies in our pharmacy garden

Marigold, Chamomile, St. John’s wort and Purple coneflower together form the big four for first aid in our herbaceous ornamental garden.
A combination of St. John’s wort and Echinacea is especially suitable for viral infections such as lip blisters and shingles. Marigold and Purple coneflower are good for disinfecting all kinds of wounds. We no longer need this plant
to treat snake bites and saddle sores, for which it was used by the Indians, but there are more and more other skin problems and the Coneflower can be widely used for that.
An alphabetical list of skin problems looks as follows: acne, abscess, burns, pressure sores, eczema, shingles, insect stings, lip blisters (herpes), cuticle inflammation, psoriasis, fungal infections, varicose ulcers and wounds. Quite a laundry list, but for many of these ailments, scientific research has been conducted or serious practical experience has been reported that confirms the effectiveness of Echinacea.

How to use efficiently?

Knowing what herbs are really good for is important, but knowing how to process and use them is equally necessary. When and which part of the plant should be harvested? Can it be fresh or dried? Should we eat them as is or should we make a tea or tincture from them? How long should or may we use that plant?
All these questions cannot be answered simply. With the Zonnehoed, fresh use seems to be the most efficient. This means that we can eat the leaf, flower or root as is, but it is more practical to process the fresh plant into a tincture. You can make a simple tincture by steeping 50 grams of leaves and flowers in 250 cc of alcohol of 30 to 70% (weight ratio 1:5), shaking regularly and straining after 14 days.
Making an alcoholic infusion is easy, but also difficult. After all, shouldn’t we measure the moisture content of the fresh plants? Which alcohol should we use? What is the ratio between plant and alcohol? In other words, how concentrated is such a tincture and how many drops can we use?
It is not without reason that books of 1000 pages have been written just about processing herbs. One of those books is the HAB, the Homoopathic Arzneibuch, which describes exactly how the tincture should be made for each plant.
For us do-it-yourselfers, all these calculations are practically impossible to do. So make it the simple way, but realize that we have to do it as accurately as possible and that the quality of home-made preparations can vary greatly. Sometimes very good and sometimes very bad! Knowledge and experience are therefore very important.

A thousand and one substances

All plants contain an infinite amount of substances, which are primarily intended to keep the plant itself upright and alive. The smart person has learned to use all those ingredients as food and as medicine. The nutrients are called vitamins, minerals, proteins and so on, the medicines with a specific physiological effect are, for example, tannins with an astringent effect, mucilages with a soothing effect on irritated skin and mucous membranes, essential oil with a disinfectant effect.
Strangely enough, purple coneflowers contain a number of polysaccharides and alkylamides that mainly stimulate the immune system. Alkylamides can cause a mild stinging and anesthetic effect on the tongue. This tingling sensation was used by the Indians to assess the quality of the plant. As a herbalist, I find this interesting because it makes it easier for us to understand difficult substances by using our senses. Our body works as a scientific detection instrument. Scarlet coneflower, does it not tingle or tingle?

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