Coneflowers – Echinacea SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Trendiest of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa,  gi’zuswe’bigwa’is meaning “it is scattering”, who hasn’t heard of coneflowers AKA echinacea? It’s one of the biggest fads in herbal medicine in recent decades. But are the claims about echinacea legit or overblown hype?

Friend or fad? I’ll admit I’ve taken echinacea at the first sign of sniffles before. It’s one of if not the most popular plant in herbal medicine in recent decades, its sudden popularity heralding from a Swiss herbal medicine company after they learned some Native American tribes used it for colds. But is any of that legit?

Cutleaf coneflower (rudbeckia laciniata) is a species of flowering plant widespread throughout North America and it’s included Haliburton Flora, but no actual echinacea (echinacea spp.) are listed in Haliburton Flora. However, some echinacea are native or “near native” to Ontario and will grow up here in the highlands. We’ll only cover the echinacea sort of coneflower in this feature.

Coneflowers - Echinacea SPP.
Coneflowers – Echinacea SPP.

Edible Uses of Coneflowers (Echinacea)

The entire plant is edible, although I can’t see one chewing up the stem or entire flower top. The leaves and purple petals can be used raw in salads or as a potherb, similar to spinach.

Medicinal Uses of Coneflowers (Echinacea)

Echinacea is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Immune
  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Alterative, Antimicrobial, Antiseptic, Astringent, Diaphoretic and Immunostimulant. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the expressed juice or dried expressed juice mainly from echinacea angustifolia taken at the onset of a cold or flu to reduce the symptoms and length of illness. Studies at most show a small benefit if any. While I plan to shower every plant feature on this site with scientific studies in future rewrites, I haven’t explored these studies thoroughly yet. Did they use the proper formulation in these studies? Are the studies high quality? I’m doubtful, but here’s one assessment of two dozen studies. Do herbalists I respect and who have a ton of experience use echinacea for the onset of colds? Many do. Do some say it’s overblown? There are a few.

Finding a good product on the market is a careful process. Supplements degrade in quality quickly with this plant, at least for the dried rootstalk. The fresher the better. Fresh teas and tinctures in small doses are generally recommended. Safety wise, they say to limit usage to one week, or perhaps two. Siberian ginseng is typically recommended for long term use. Boneset, which we covered recently, is possibly even more of an immunostimulant!

As for our local First Nations, as far as I’ve seen its usage is for indigestion and in a salve for burns, like many astringent plants.

Browsing one of the books I own, Green Pharmacy, echinacea has one of largest lists in the index: antiaging, preventing cold and flu, athlete’s foot, bladder infections, breastfeeding problems, burns, bursitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, dry mouth, earache, gingivitis, herpesvirus, HIV infection, laryngitis, Lyme disease, pneumonia, sinusitis, sties, tendinitis, tonsillitis, tuberculosis, viral infections, wounds, and yeast infections – wow!

Alternative Uses of Comb Flower

A green dye can be obtained from the flower of echinacea purpurea.

Growing Echinacea SPP.

It’s somewhat at risk do to its popularity in herbal medicine. It is perhaps the most popular native plant too. But there are many more reasons to plant it in your landscape. Goldfinches love the seeds and countless pollinators and some caterpillars will be all about the flowers and leaves. Butterflies, skippers, a long list of bees and bee flies love it too! Local butterflies that will visit it include cabbage whites, fritillaries, monarchs, painted ladies, sulfurs and swallowtails. The caterpillars of the silvery checkerspot (chlosyne nycteis) feed on the foliage. Caterpillars of the blackberry looper moth (chlorochlamys chloroleucaria) and wavy-lined emerald (synchlora aerata) – both stunning green moths – will feed on the leaves too. And also the common eupithecia (eupithecia miserulata).

Start from seed late in the year to allow for cold stratification here. Over time many seedlings should volunteer and you’ll be able to divide the plant. It’s also for sale at most native plant shops. Here in Haliburton, your coneflower plants will like that bit of acidity in our soil!


Do to lack of study, there are warnings not to take it during pregnancy.

Some people have allergic reactions.

Don’t take with other drugs known to cause liver toxicity.

Not recommended for people with auto immune disorders, especially regarding self treatment.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Native Plants, Native Healing: Traditional Muskagee Way

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