3 Herb Mamas

Herbal Medicine Making: ECHINACEA HARVEST


Echinacea purpurea

As the nights turn chilly and the mornings frosty, I know that it is time to turn my thoughts to harvesting medicinal roots before the ground freezes solid. Chief among my autumn digs is Echinacea, a flower much beloved by the winged pollinators during the summer. Although I often make whole plant tincture by steeping each plant part in turn, starting with leaves in spring, flowers in summer, and roots in fall, I have found the roots to be the most active. Since I have also found fresh root tincture of Echinacea to be much more active than dried (Huge understatement!) I always use freshly dug and scrubbed roots.

Native Americans used Echinacea for a variety of health needs but its use today is nearly synonymous with immune system support. Unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics, Echinacea stimulates and strengthens our immune system to better defend against viruses and infections. Our family likes to use it both preventively as well as during active infections.

Echinacea root harvest

Quite a harvest of Echinacea ready for trimming off the small feeder roots and stems, scrubbing, and chopping.

Echinacea roots

Echinacea roots after an initial washing. They still need more feeder roots removed and a more thorough scrubbing.

Range of Echinacea root sizes

Top to bottom these are all harvestable Echinacea roots. The top one is an average sized root, the middle and above-average, and the bottom is what I generally refer to as a “Grandmother” which is conglomerate of third-, second-, and first-year roots along with some tiny buds that would have grown into new plants next year. These roots are often near and growing under large rocks and the alkaloids are very active and potent.

Small Echinacea root

An average sized Echinacea root with feeder roots removed and scrubbed up.

Sliced Echinacea root

Sliced Echinacea root. I consider tasting each Echinacea harvest to be an essential step. I learn so much about how the growth season affects the vigor and vitality of that year’s crop, the differences between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year roots, the most active parts of the plant. Chewing a slice of fresh Echinacea root is an experience not to be missed. The polysaccharides lend a subtle sweetness and the alkaloids leave my tongue and lips “buzzing”. 

Older hollow Echinacea root

In the third or fourth year Echinacea roots will become hollowed out in the center. Although the remaining root parts are still somewhat active the “daughters” and “granddaughters” that come after and around these hollow roots are often more potent. Clumps of mature roots often remind me of little villages and I like to read the “stories” of their history through the arrangement of the root crowns and sprouts.

Fresh Echinacea Tincture 2014

Fresh Echinacea root tincture 2014. I won’t go into all the details about water to alcohol ratios for optimum extraction of both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble components but if you are interested I would highly recommend Richo Cech’s (of Horizon Herbs) book MAKING PLANT MEDICINE. This is a very large batch of Echinacea tincture because I was cleaning out an old garden bed of all its plants in preparation for starting a fragrant Rose bed next spring. I will also need to start more Echinacea from seed this winter and begin a new bed, which means it will be three years before the next harvest. Good thing tinctures are fine for 10 years or longer.

One of my quirks in life is that I have a need to understand the true cost and value of things I use in every day life, as opposed to simply the current market rate for them. Growing Echinacea from seed to harvest, with all of the attendant care-taking and work involved, is part of the wholeness of its healing magic for me. This plant is easy to grow, a blessing to watch (especially when the butterflies are feeding on it), and an essential component of my herbal medicine chest. Maybe $10 for a tiny tincture bottle seems high in the glare of florescent-lit pharmacies, but waiting 3 years to harvest leaves me feeling like that is an amazing bargain…although it won’t hold a candle to what comes from my own garden at any price.

Echinacea tincture with inulin

A previous year’s Echinacea tincture with inulin settled to the bottom. When I strain the plant material out I try to include as much of this inulin as possible. Research indicates that naturally occurring inulin increases absorption of minerals like calcium and magnesium, benefits the immune system by enhancing the growth and activity of beneficial gut flora and inhibiting the growth of certain pathogenic bacteria, decreases cholesterol and triglycerides, improves kidney function (rehydration and re-mineralization), blood sugar regulation, and more. You won’t find the inulin in commercially available tinctures but you can grow it easily in your garden and make your own. I always shake up my tincture bottle before using in order to redistribute this water-soluble component. 

Dig deep for healing! ~Leenie

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Seasonal Living: Facing Colds & Flu Season

Pantry Blessings

Be Prepared! is a good motto for herbal homemakers as well as  boy scouts.

My Feeling-Under-the-Weather First Aid Kit

Along with being Autumn, and Back-to-School, it is also the season for colds and flu “bugs” to start making their appearance. I like to be pro-active so my herbal medicine chest is well-stocked by now. I know that an ounce of prevention is absolutely worth at least a pound of cure so I do all I can to make sure we are eating nutritious whole foods in wide variety, staying well-hydrated with plenty of pure water, herbal teas, and warming soups and broths. Since we heat our home with wood stoves I like to make sure the air stays moist with humidifiers (water pots on the wood stoves) to which I add a variety of essential oils particularly supportive of the respiratory system, like Eucalyptus, Lemon, and especially Rosemary.

For the times when I do feel something coming on…like right now…I turn to these tried and true natural allies:

*Pots of Herbal Teas. Yes, as pictured, I often use a canning jar for my “teapot”. That clear glass jar catches my eye and reminds me I still have more tea and I find that I remember to drink more throughout the day. Today I am drinking a blend of Nettles, Red Clover, Comfrey, Horsetail, and Dandelion leaf but I custom blend for current needs on a daily basis. A quart a day is fairly normal for me but I will double or triple this if I feel a cold coming on. Brewing in a thermos is a good way to not only keep your tea warm but also carry it along if you have to be away from home.

*YEGG(-ish) capsules I make using freshly dried and powdered roots of Yellowdock (Rumex crispis), Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia see my note), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) based on a formula of the same name that I learned from my herb teacher, Jeanne Rose. I actually like to take Echinacea in the form of a fresh root tincture so I leave that out of the capsules now and take it alongside the dried herbs.

Encapsulating herbs Tinctures & Fire Cider

I like to have a variety of encapsulated freshly powdered herbs like YEGG, tinctured herbs like Echinacea, and vinegars like Fire Cider on hand at all times.

*Neti Pot. I use a neti pot to keep sinus passages clear and healthy. Once a day is fine but if I feel a cold coming on or am stuffed up I have used it as often as hourly to keep breathing easily.

*Hydrogen peroxide. My ears are often the first place I can feel a virus trying to gain a food hold. They may feel dry and itchy. I place a few drops of peroxide in each ear, doing one at a time, and allow it to bubble and foam, then tilt my head back up to let it drain out, and repeat on the other side.

*Garlic (Allium sativum)…and lots of it in whatever form. Our favorites are probably delicious Garlic Soup with a slice or two of toasted bread slathered with freshly whipped Garlic butter. Roasted Garlic, raw, or any way I can ingest it, I eat as much Garlic as possible for its immune strengthening, anti-microbial talents.


Mugs of delicious Garlic Soup are warming and healing.

*Quercetin & Fresh Nettles Tincture. These two in combination are an invaluable resource for promoting clear nasal passages. They probably need a whole blog post to themselves so I will write that on the calendar for a Spring Allergy Tactics article. For now, I’ll include the Reader’s Digest version and say that Quercetin is a flavonoid extracted from fruits and vegetables and often combined with Bromelain (a Pineapple stem extract enzyme) to enhance absorption and effectiveness. It is available encapsulated at health food, vitamin, and some grocery or drug stores. Although research indicates uses as an antioxidant and in lowering cholesterol, the main purpose I have for using it is its antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) is a traditional respiratory health and hay-fever remedy. In my experience, it must be used fresh or tinctured using fresh plant material for maximum effectiveness.

*Hot Ginger Baths (and tea). If I have chills or just can’t seem to stay warm, I chop up a nice sized fresh Ginger root and simmer it in at least a quart of water for 20 minutes or more. Then I strain and add the “tea” to a hot bath. I like to pour some of the Ginger tea into a mug along with some raw honey and a squeeze of lemon to sip while relaxing in the tub as well. Very warming! Keep the room warm and dry off quickly, dressing in warm pajamas and a robe. I like to cuddle up in bed under warm quilts and get a good night’s rest to assure a healthier tomorrow.

*”Flu Shots” as some call them. I like to use Fire Cider, which is a blend of Horseradish, Onion, Garlic, Ginger roots, and Cayenne in an apple cider vinegar base and sweetened with just a touch of local, raw Honey. As a prevention, I take a tablespoon in a couple of ounces of water once a day during fall and winter, but if I feel a “bug” coming on I take that much hourly until symptoms begin to subside. For those who don’t care for the kick-in-the-pants variety of hot shot remedies that Fire Cider provides, there is always the sweetly warming tonic, Elderberry Syrup. It can be taken in exactly the same ways and amounts as Fire Cider.

Elderberry Syrup

Happy, healthy Autumn to All! ~Leenie

Edited and updated 12/30/2014  This information is shared descriptively as opposed to prescriptively. Always research thoroughly anything you plan to ingest and consider its potential benefits vs. possible risks in light of your own unique health condition.

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