Benefits & Uses
Traditional use of the plant focuses on root preparations, but now we know that all parts of the plant contain the necessary chemicals to support our immune system. Teas and tinctures are the two easiest ways to make and use echinacea. (See more about tinctures at the end of this article.)
Renowned as a cold/flu herb remedy, there are medical studies to support its use. It is best taken at the very first sign of illness - that moment when you’re thinking “Uh oh, am I getting sick?” This is the time to take it in adequate doses and frequently! Then reduce doses (frequency, then quantity) over days. Begin by taking every 1-2 hours. If you are unlucky enough to get sick, a throat spray with echinacea can help soothe a sore throat. It is considered safe for most adults, yet, pregnant or breast-feeding women should not take echinacea and caution should be used in giving it to children.
It should not be considered a preventative, since compounds within the plant stimulate the production of white blood cells to move efficiently toward a place in the body to fight infection. It cannot be used to substitute for a weakened immune system. If a person is getting sick frequently, a tonic of immune building herbs such as astragulus should be considered.
A less well known use is for the bite or sting from a poisonous creature; an oil infusion of the roots is in our black drawing salve, which has successfully been used on poisonous insect bites by us. Spider bites, wasp, hornet and bee stings, and even snake bites have reportedly been treated with echinacea. Tincture or salve would work as something to carry with you on trips and have handy in your medicine cabinet.
Echinacea In the Garden
Echinacea is fairly easy to grow from either a division or from seeds. When planting seeds, wait for a warm day as it likes soil that is close to 70⁰ F. The seeds may take 15-30 days to germinate so have patience, although we’ve generally had good luck within a week or so on a heat mat. It grows to about 18 inches tall with erect stems that support the plant’s daisy-like flowers that have attractively drooping petals. Its rough leaves are dark green and 4 to 8 inches long. Typically it prefers full sun but will tolerate some partial shade. Once it is established it can be somewhat drought tolerant. Flowers and leaves can be harvested throughout the growing period and dried to be used later. Roots should not be harvested until the plant is at least two years old. These can also be dried for later use.
Benefits & Uses
Black elderberry extracts and flower infusions have been shown to reduce the severity and length of influenza.
Commercial preparations of elderberry for the treatment of colds come in various forms, including liquids, capsules, lozenges and gummies. The remedies we make at home are syrups and decoctions. A decoction is virtually a juice – all the good stuff in elderberries are water soluble so we steam the berries in a steam juicer, just like we would to make jelly, and save the juice. If you don’t have a steam juicer, you can simply cover the cleaned berries with water, bring to a gentle boil, then simmer for ~ 20 min. Let cool slightly, then strain. We like to use this method with dried berries, but it works with fresh or frozen too. We like to store the juice in the freezer in small 1 to 2 cup quantities, until its needed.
The berries and flowers of elderberry are packed with antioxidants and vitamins that can help boost your immune system. Research suggests that diets high in antioxidants may help prevent chronic disease. For people with certain chronic conditions, elderberry juice has become an important part of their diet.
To make a syrup, we take the juice we saved and add honey. Since honey is also full of antioxidants and has been shown to soothe sore throats, we break out the elderberry syrup at the first signs of a cough. The youngest and oldest members of the family have found this syrup to be very helpful in lessening coughs and congestion.
Elderberry In the Garden
The elderberry tree or shrub can be grown in our yards and garden just like any other fruit tree. In June the clusters of white flowers typically appear and will become small purple berries before the end of summer. Keep the purple berries picked as they will quickly be eaten by the birds. Bushes usually grow to 12 – 15 feet tall. We have seen some, though, that were obviously taller than that (up to 30 feet!). They prefer partial shade and would rather be cool and moist than hot and dry. They are often seen along roads in the woods, in mixed sun and shade. Proper drainage is key to preventing root rot, so avoid any place prone to standing water. Elderberries should be planted in the spring, once the danger of frost has passed. It is recommended that they be planted in pairs, no more than 60 feet apart, for the full benefit of cross pollination (more fruit to enjoy!). Since they can grow quite tall and broad and bush, mature bushes will need lots of room to thrive. Once an elderberry bush is well established it requires little maintenance and are known to be quite hearty. (We have had a different experience with our bushes, but have decided it’s a “personal problem” or location issue and not the typical experience of others.)
As winter progresses stay healthy, get out doors and use your herbs.
A Quick Note About Herbal Safety
For the most part, herbal remedies are safe, but as with all medicinal herbal remedies please consult with your medical practitioner before taking or using any herbal remedy if you have any concerns or health conditions. All information presented here for informational purposes and is not meant to constitute medical advice.
Making a tincture
Gather the useful parts of the herb(s), possibly the berries, leaves, roots, bark, or all of these, and remove any unwanted parts.
Wash and coarsely chop the herbs.
Place them into an airtight jar.
Pour alcohol into the jar and seal it. For fresh herbs, use a 1:1 plant-to-alcohol ratio. For dried herbs, use a 1-4 ratio
Most often vodka is used with a proof of at least 80%
Seal the jar for 6 or more weeks to give the alcohol time to absorb the active components of the herbs. Shake occasionally.
After opening the jar, strain the plant parts from the liquid. Be sure to label the jars with some basic information about the tincture (name and date).
To use a tincture, fill a dropper or small syringe with the liquid and drip it into the mouth, just under the tongue. Hold the tincture in the mouth for a few seconds before swallowing. The precise dosage a person should take depends on their age, but it is best not to take more than 2 small full droppers. Most tinctures are not recommended children.
The New Age Herbalist, Richard Mabey, Collier Books, 1988
Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder – Echinacea purpurea
Elderberry Benefits by Rosalee de la Floret
Benefits of Echniacea by Rosalee de la Floret