Two of the nine species of echinacea native to North America, the Tennessee coneflower (E. tennesseensis) and the rare Appalachian smooth purple coneflower (E. laevigata), are federally listed endangered species. We often hear about the need to preserve the exotic habitats of possible miracle plants that might cure cancer or AIDS. But what about the therapeutic potential of temperate-climate endangered species?
Tennessee coneflower differs from other echinaceas in that it has upturned rather than drooping flower petals, among other factors. Recently, University of Iowa researchers assessed its potential medicinal value.
Fresh root, leaf and flower tinctures were found to stimulate immune-enhancing white blood cells. The fresh root tincture had the strongest effect, and stimulated the production of interleukin 1-beta, interleukin 10 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha, all blood components related to immune boosting.
You can plant Tennessee coneflower in your garden: Various nurseries have been licensed to sell this endangered species for about 20 years. It’s available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Niche Gardens and other sources.
Senchina, D.S., McCann, D.A., Flinn, G.A., et al. Echinacea tennesseensis ethanol tinctures harbor cytokin- and proliferation-enhancing capacities. Cytokine 46: 267-272, 2009.
Steven Foster is an expert on medicinal plants.