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Purple Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia

Note:  Some herbalists maintain that echinacea 'angustifolia' is more potent as an immunostimulant than E. 'purpurea.'  The USDA does not make any distinction between the two.   Their roots were chewed by Indians was to alleviate coughs and sore throats, though modern interest stems from their anti-inflammatory properties.  Echinacea is a member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae.  Aster means "star" in Greek, referring to the radiating flower petals, and echin means "sea urchin," referring to the prickly seedhead.  Angustifolia translates into "narrow-leaved" in Latin.   (source:  Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center)

Contributed By: USDA, NRCS, National Plant Data Center

Alternative Names

Kansas snakeroot, echinacea, snakeroot, narrow-leaved purple coneflower, scurvy root, comb flower, black susans, and hedge hog

Uses

Ethnobotanic: The purple coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia, was and still is the most widely used medicinal plant of the Plains Indians (Kindscher 1992). It was used as a painkiller and for a variety of ailments, including toothache, coughs, colds, sore throats, and snake bite. Echinacea angustifolia was used as an analgesic by the Cheyenne, the Dakota, the Fox, and the Winnebago (Moerman 1986). Purple coneflower is used as an antidote for poisonous conditions, snake bite, and other poisonous bites by the Winnebago, Ponca, Pawnee, Omaha, Dakota, and by most Montana tribes (Gilmore 1977). The root was used to relieve toothache by the Dakota, Omaha, Pawnee, Ponca, Teton Sioux, and Winnebago (Moerman 1986). The Cheyenne chewed the root to stimulate the flow of saliva, which was especially useful for Sun Dance participants as a thirst preventative (Hart 1981). A wash was used as a dressing for burns to relieve pain by the Dakota, Winnebago, Omaha, Pawnee, and Ponca.

 

The Fox used purple coneflower as an anti-convulsive and gastro-intestinal aid. The Kiowa chewed coneflower root for coughs and sore throats. The Omaha and Pawnee used a smoke treatment as a remedy for headache. A poultice of smashed roots were applied as an anesthetic to arms and hands by the Omaha, and a poultice was applied to enlarged glands as a treatment for diseases such as mumps by the Pawnee, Ponca, Dakota, and Winnebago. Purple coneflower was used to increase endurance in the sweat lodge ceremony by the Dakota, Pawnee, Ponca, and Winnebago. The Lakota ate the root and green fruit when they were thirsty or perspiring (Rogers 1980, Munson 1981). The Teton Sioux used coneflower to cure tonsillitis. The Omaha and Ponca used the plant as eyewash. When the roots were mixed with blazing star (Mentzelia laevicaulis) and boiled, the resulting tea was drunk for smallpox (Kindscher 1992). Purple coneflower roots mixed with puffball (Lycoperdon species) spores and skunk oil were used in the treatment of boils. The smoke from burning purple coneflower was used as a treatment for distemper in horses by the Ponca, Dakota, Pawnee, and Winnebago.

The Omaha, the Lakota, and the Ponca sometimes used the seed heads to comb their hair (Kindscher 1992). Purple coneflower stalks were used in play by Pawnee children. They would whirl two flower stalks one around the other, the two stalk touching by the flower heads.

The purple coneflower was the only native prairie plant popularized as a medicine by folk practitioners and doctors, and was used extensively as a folk remedy (Kindscher 1992). The use of the purple coneflower root was used by early settlers in Oklahoma as an aid in nearly every kind of sickness. If a cow or a horse did not eat well, people administered Echinacea in its feed.

 

Echinacea is widely used as an herbal remedy today, primarily as an immuno-stimulant. Echinacea angustifolia root was found to possess mild antibiotic activity against Streptococcus and Staphyloccus aureus (Stoll et al. 1950). A pentane-oil extracted from the root was found to be inhibitory to Walker carcinosarcoma 256 and P-388 lymphocytic leukemia (Voaden and Jacobson 1972). Italian investigators found the wound-healing effects of Echinacea to be attributable to echinacin B (Bonadea et al. 1971). Perhaps the most important finding so far is the discovery of large, highly active polysaccharide molecules in E. angustifolia that possess immunostimulatory properties (Wagner and Proksch 1985, Wagner et al. 1985). Stimulation of the immune system appears to be strongly influenced by dose level. Recent pharmacological studies indicate that a 10-mg/kg daily dose of the polysaccharide over a ten-day period is effective as an immuno-stimulant. Increases in the daily dosage beyond this level, however, resulted in "markedly decreased pharmacological activity" (Wagner and Proksch 1985, Wagner et al. 1985). Other research has shown that the purple coneflower produces an anti-inflammatory effect and has therapeutic value in urology, gynecology, internal medicine, and dermatology (Wagner and Proksch 1985).

 

Echinacea angustifolia also contains chemical compounds that are insecticidal. One such compound is toxic to mosquitoes and houseflies; another substance, echinolone, disrupts insect development (Hartzell 1947, Jacobson 1954, Voaden and Jacobson 1972). Researchers in the Horticulture Department of South Dakota State University are currently attempting to identify the Echinacea angustifolia germplasm containing the highest level of echinolone. It will be used in manufacturing and insecticide for sunflower crops (Foster 1991).

 

Ornamental: The purple coneflower is often grown simply for its ornamental value, especially for its showy flowers. The best possibility for obtaining a new cultivar is in the hybrids between Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia var. angustifolia, whose progeny are compact, rounded, and bushy plants about two feet in diameter (McGregor 1968).

 

Status

Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as, state noxious status and wetland indicator values.

 

Description

General: Sunflower family (Asteraceae). Purple coneflower is a perennial herb 1.5-6 dm (0.5-2 ft) tall, with a woody taproot. The plant has one to several rough-hairy stems, mostly unbranched. Leaves are alternate, simple, and narrowly lance-shaped 5-30 cm (2-12 in) long, 1.5-4 cm (0.5-1.5 in) wide, with entire margins. Flowers look like lavender sunflowers with the heads 4-7.5 cm wide (1.5-3 in) wide, at the ends of long stalks. Flowers bloom from June to July. Ray flowers are 2-4 cm (0.75-1.5 in) long, spreading or drooping, light pink to pale purple. The disk flowers are 5-lobed, brownish-purple, and situated among stiff bracts. Pollen grains are yellow. Fruits are small, dark, 4-angled achenes.

 

Distribution

The purple coneflower grows in open rocky prairies and plains. It is found primarily in the Great Plains, east of the Rocky Mountains from Texas to Montana and Saskatchewan, to eastern Oklahoma, western Iowa, and western Minnesota. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

 

Establishment

Native Echinacea species are dwindling in the wild from loss of habitat and over-harvesting. Echinacea angustifolia is threatened on one hand by conversion of native habitat, and on the other hand by heavy harvesting to serve the herbal pharmaceutical industry. It takes three to four years for roots to reach harvestable size (Foster 1991). Yields for cultivated, dried roots of three-year-old Echinacea purpurea grown at Trout Lake, Washington, were 131 kg/ha (1,200 lbs/acre) (Foster 1991). According to Richo Cech (1995), a mature two-year old E. purpurea plant yields 2.25 pounds of fresh flowering aerial portions and 0.5 pounds of fresh root per plant. Yield for the purple coneflower is not available, but probably would be less because the plant is smaller.

 

Propagation from Cuttings

Purple coneflower can be propagated by division of the crowns. This technique results in stronger plants initially and eliminates the tedious nurturing and tending of the slow-growing seedlings (Kindscher 1992). Harvest roots when plants are dormant, when leaves begin to turn brown. Wash roots and remove most for use. Then carefully divide the crown by hand to make one to five "plantlets." Replant the divisions as soon as possible. It is important that they don’t dry out, so if replanting is delayed a couple of hours, dip the plants briefly in water and keep them in a sealed plastic bag in a cool, shady place until you are ready to replant them. When replanting, ensure that the remaining fine roots are well spread out in the planting hole and the soil is pressed firmly around the plant. These plantlets can be grown in flats in the greenhouse during the winter to re-establish their root systems, then replanted in the field the following spring for another round of production.

 

Seed Propagation

An ounce of well-cleaned E. angustifolia seed contains approximately 8,000 seeds. A pound contains around 128,000 seeds. Given a very tight spacing of six inches between the plants and one foot between the rows, an acre would contain 87,200 plants. Given a 68% germination rate, a pound of good seed could produce an acre of plants. This same acre, dormant harvested for the roots at the end of the second year of growth, would produce (at lb. per root) 21,800 lbs of fresh root.

 

Harvesting and Processing the Seed

 

Management

Herbivores such as insects and deer are not a problem with Echinacea. Gophers and moles can be a problem, eating the roots. Goldfinches love the Echinacea seed crop and can clear out all the seed in a few days.

 

Cultivars, Improved and Selected Materials (and area of origin)

ECAN2 is readily available from native plant nurseries and seed companies throughout its range. Please check the Vendor Database, expected to be on-line through the PLANTS Web site in 2001 by clicking on Plant Materials.

 

References

Bonadeo, I., G. Bottazzi, & M. Lavazza 1971 . Echinacin B, an active polysaccharide from Echinacea. Revista Italiana Essenze Profumi, Piante Officinali, Aromi, Saponi, Csmetici, Aerosol 53:281-295.

Cech, R.A. 1995. Echinacea Native American tonic roots. A Horizon Herbs Publication, Williams, Oregon.

Foster, S. 1991. Echinacea – nature’s immune enhancer. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont.

Gilmore, M. 1977. Uses of the plants by the Indians of the Missouri River region. University of Nebraska Press.

Hart, J.A. 1976. Montana: Native plants and early peoples. Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana.

Hartmann, H. T., D. E. Kester, & F. T. Davies, Jr. 1990. Plant propagation principles and practices. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. 647 pp.

Hartzell, A. 1947. Plant products for insecticidal properties and summary of results to date. Contributions of the Boyce Thompson Institute 15:21-34.

Hutchens, A.R. 1991. Indian herbalogy of North America. Shambhala, Boston and London. pp. 113-117.

Isaacson, R. T. 1993. Anderson horticultural library's source list of plants and seeds. Anderson Horticultural Library, University of Minnesota Libraries. Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. 261 pp.

Jacobson, M. 1954. Occurrence of a pungent insecticidal principle in American coneflower roots. Science 120:125-129.

Kinscher, K. 1992. Medicinal wild plants of the prairie. An ethnobotanical guide. University Press of Kansas. Pp 84-94.

Martin, A.C., H. S. Zim, & A.L. Nelson. 1951 . American wildlife and plants. A guide to wildlife food habits. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, New York. 500 pp.

McGregor, R.L. T.M. Barkley, R.E. Brooks, & E.K. Schofield (eds.) 1991. Flora of the Great Plains. University Press of Kansas. 1402 pp.

McGregor, R.L. 1968. The taxonomy of the genus Echinacea (Compositae). University of Kansas Science Bulletin 48(4):113-142.

Moerman, D.E. 1986. Medicinal plants of Native America. Research Reports in Ethnobotany, Contribution 2. University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology. Technical Reports, Number 19. Ann Arbor, Michigan. Pp. 156-158.

Munson, P.J. 1981. Contributions to Osage and Lakota ethnobotany. Plains Anthropology 26:229-240.

Rogers, D.J. 1980. Lakota names and traditional uses of native plants by Sicangu (Brule) people in the Rosebud Area, South Dakota. Rosebud Educational Society, St. Francis, South Dakota.

Stoll, A., J. Renz, & A. Brack 1950. Antibacterial substances II. Isolation and constitution of echinacoside, glycoside from the roots of Echinacea angustifolia. Helvetical Chim. Acta 33:1877-93.

USDA, NRCS 2000. The PLANTS database. Version: 000322. <http://plants.usda.gov>. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

USDI, GS 2000. Native wildflowers of the North Dakota grasslands. Version: 000322. <http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/literatr/wildflwr/species/echiangu.htm>. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, Jamestown, North Dakota.

Voaden, D.J. & M. Jacobson 1972. Tumor inhibitors 3. Identification and synthesis of an oncolytic hydrocarbon from American coneflower roots. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 15(6):619-623.

Wagner, H. & A. Proksch 1985. Immunostimulatory drugs of fungi and higher plants. IN: (H. Wagner et al. Eds.) Economic and Medicinal Plant Research. Vol. 1. Academic Press, New York, New York. Pp.113-153

Wagner, H., A. Proksche, I. Riess-Mauere, A. Vollmar, S. Odenthal, H. Stuppner, K. Jurcie, M. Le Turdu, & J.N. Fang 1985. Immunstimulierend wirkende polysaccharide (heteroglykane) aus hoheren pflanzen. Arzneimittel-Forschung 35(8):1069-1075.

Prepared By

Michelle Stevens

formerly USDA, NRCS, National Plant Data Center

Species Coordinator

M. Kat Anderson

USDA, NRCS, National Plant Data Center

c/o Department of Environmental Horticulture, University of California, Davis, California