Echinacea - the coneflower

The coneflower, endemic to North America, is one of the most important medicinal herbs on the planet. The term Echinacea is derived from the Greek “echinos”, meaning hedgehog, and refers to the characteristic, prickly appearance of the flower heads. The “hedgehog” appearance arises from the stiff, mostly brownish orange, chaffy bracts sitting on a domed, spherical receptacle protruding above the tubular florets.


Three of the nine Echinacea plants indigenous to North America are used in homeopathy: Echinacea purpurea or purple coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia or narrow-leaved purple coneflower, and Echinacea pallida or pale purple coneflower. Other common names are hedgehog coneflower, black Samson or Eastern purple coneflower. The coneflower is grown in Europe and the USA not only as a medicinal, but also ornamental plant. It is propagated by sowing the seeds in spring. The plants grow best in slightly humus, sandy soil in sunny locations.

For the purposes of homeopathy, the fresh, whole plants of the Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida, and the fresh, above-ground parts of the Echinacea purpurea are harvested when they are in flower. The structure of the pretty white, pink or lilac flowers resembles that of the daisy, since both plants – Echinacea and the daisy – belong to the Asteraceae, or composite, family. The purple coneflower flowers in July at the earliest, though more likely in August, through to September, and is popular with bees and bumble bees. In the first year of cultivation the coneflower is quite fragile, but grows quite energetically in the second year and produces an abundance of flowers.

The coneflower was used by Native Americans to treat coughs and respiratory disorders, as well as wounds. The Comanches crushed coneflowers to use the fresh plant pulp mainly for tooth ache and sore throats; the Sioux used it for treating rabies, snake bites and as a disinfectant.

Native Americans mainly used fresh Echinacea angustifolia plants for such purposes. Immigrants observing the healing effects of the plant were not slow to take advantage of its properties. In his homeopathic pharmacopoeia of 1924, Dr Willmar Schwabe wrote the first monograph for the Echinacea (as E. angustifolia) plant to appear in a European pharmacopoeia and so made a pivotal contribution to the establishment of the plant as a herbal remedy. In the 1920s, interest and demand in Europe were so great that the seeds had to be imported from America so that they could be cultivated and researched here. Confusion, however, resulted in the seeds of the purple coneflower arriving in Europe. Consequently, we have the most experience with Echinacea purpurea here. Between 1895 and 1930, American scientists demonstrated the effect of Echinacea angustifolia in a wide variety of conditions. In Germany, research in the last 50 years has revealed how valuable Echinacea is as a medicinal remedy. The components of the purple coneflower exhibit antibacterial activity and also strengthen the body's immune system.

The plant contains the active ingredient echinacin, essential oils, bitter compounds, resins and echinacoside. Most of the ingredients are found in the leaves and the roots.