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Echinacea:The Art of Tincturing

Learn to harvest and make medicine from this immune-boosting plant

| September/October 2002

  • Two different-sized plants from the same clump of E. purpurea. By keeping the leaves intact when separating plants for replanting and tincturing, it makes it easier to keep track of roots and identify the echinacea from the other plants in the clump.
  • Harvest the Echinacea purpurea plant after it is at least three years old before digging it to make tincture. Here we take it after the frost, which has turned the stems, seed heads, and leaves black.
  • Largest root at the crown of E. purpurea ready to be separated from fibrous roots. Roots will be trimmed for tincturing and crown will be saved for replanting.
  • Appearance of vascular rings in roots of E. pallida help to identify the plant as echinacea. These rings also appear in E. purpurea—they are even in the tiny fibrous roots.
  • Good close-up of vascular rings of E. pallida, dividing the root for tincture from the crown to be replanted.
  • E. purpurea plants are separated for replanting and tincturing. At the top is whole tincturing root; at bottom, the plant is trimmed for replanting with the crown.
  • Separating plants and crowns for replanting: at bottom, trimmed crowns on damp paper towels; at top left, plants with tops wrapped in damp towel; at top right, root moisture is preserved by placing crowns in damp towels and plastic bags until ready to replant.
  • Washed roots draining in a colander.
  • Washing the fine roots of E. purpurea.
  • Chopping the larger, woody roots.
  • While pounding the roots, splash in a little menstruum (90-proof vodka or 1 part pure grain alcohol to 1 part distilled water) to help the pounding process.
  • Transfer the pounded root to a clean glass jar with a plastic lid, and pour the menstruum over the root. The traditional ratio is to use 2 parts menstruum to 1 part root.
  • The finished tincture (aged for two to six weeks) is now ready for straining. When making a tincture from the leaves and/or flowers, it should only infuse for forty-eight hours. For the menstruum and root to work best, all tinctures should be shaken twice daily.
  • Use a yogurt cheese maker to strain the tincture—it’s fast and it strains the tincture well. Of course, a tincture press is great if you make a lot of tinctures, but a strainer lined with fine cheesecloth works just fine. Exert pressure with a pestle to extract every drop of essence from the roots.
  • When ready, pour the finished tincture into a clean, brown glass bottle. We use a variety of recycled dark glass bottles and replace old droppers with new rubber droppers, since the rubber tends to disintegrate.
  • Digging around the circumference of E. purpurea, insert the fork or shovel about 11/2 to 2 feet from the plant all around.
  • Gently lift the plant from underneath with the tines of the fork, taking care to get all of the root. The clump contains roots of echinacea and other plants that will have to be separated.

  • photos by Susan Belsinger and Tina Marie Wilcox

We cultivate the echinaceas because they are handsome perennial-flowering plants that add height and color to our gardens and show off their splendid coneheads throughout the summer and into the fall. Butterflies and birds are attracted to these pink, purple, pale lavender, white, and yellow coneflowers. After the flowering season, when the plants go dormant in the colder weather, we reap the health benefits of echinacea by harvesting the roots and making our own tinctures. This is not difficult to do, and it is both rewarding and fulfilling work. We feel that making tinctures from our own organically grown plants is the best medicine possible.

Health benefits

Echinacea has been used medicinally for centuries by Native Americans to combat many ailments. Echinacea stimulates the immune system and its antiviral activities help fight colds and flu, as well as promote the healing of infections.

Our personal experience over many years of using the tincture has been that echinacea keeps us healthier; we find it helps us to avoid colds and flu, that it decreases the duration and severity of these symptoms, and it helps our bodies fight infections. We take echinacea tincture during the cold and flu season, at the first signs of a cold, or when we are fighting an infection, and especially when we travel and are around large groups of people. We also apply the tincture topically to inflammations such as hangnails, bug bites, and toothaches.

Persons with impaired immune systems should avoid using immunostimulants. Also, because echinacea is a member of the aster/daisy family (which ragweed is a relative), some individuals may be allergic to it.

Cultivating echinacea

Of the nine species of echinacea, we tincture Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) and E. pallida (pale purple coneflower). Closely related to E. pallida and also known as pale purple coneflower is E. simulata, which would be an easy third choice for herb gardeners in the regions of the Ozark Mountains (to which it is endemic). E. paradoxa (yellow coneflower) is simply too rare and beautiful to dig up and tincture. E. angustifolia (narrow-leaved purple coneflower) is native to dry prairies and struggles in areas with high humidity. E. tennesseensis (Tennessee purple coneflower) and E. laevigata (smooth coneflower) are listed on the federal endangered species list. Other rare species include E. atrorubens, which grows in eastern Kansas and Oklahoma, and E. sanguinea, which is found in Louisiana and eastern Texas, with one population in southwestern Arkansas.

E. purpurea is easy to grow in most garden soils and blooms all summer in our gardens. The leaves are oval-shaped and coarsely toothed. Long purple rays (petals) stand out from the cone and droop only slightly. The cone has bright orange bristles at the top. These plants can take full sun or partial shade; they self-sow and reproduce easily from division during the dormant season. The seed does not require a moist chilling period (stratification) to germinate. Purchased seed can be planted in the late summer or fall to mimic nature’s timing. Ripe seed from your own garden plants can be shaken out of the cones as soon as they are mature and loose in the heads. Otherwise, the finches will plant for you as they feed on the protein-rich seeds.

11/12/2015 9:37:34 PM Echinacea Purpurea is a beautiful, purple coneflower that is more than just good looks and has many benefits to one’s health. A native to North America and a wildflower of the Asteraceae family, it is said that this flower has a pungent and spicy taste yet it has the ability to boost the immune system. Boosting the immune system can help fight away many diseases, the most common is the common cold or the flu.

11/12/2015 9:36:35 PM

[url=]Echinacea[/url]Purpurea is a beautiful, purple coneflower that is more than just good looks and has many benefits to one’s health. A native to North America and a wildflower of the Asteraceae family, it is said that this flower has a pungent and spicy taste yet it has the ability to boost the immune system. Boosting the immune system can help fight away many diseases, the most common is the common cold or the flu.

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