A FARM PROJECT
Richard Alan Miller, c1999
Echinacea angustifolia (DC) Cronq. and Echinacea purpurea DC
E. angustifolia is commonly called coneflower, purple coneflower, red Echinacea, Kansas snake root, black sampson, wild niggerhead. E. purpurea is known as Missouri snake root.
Dry, open woodlands and roadsides. Grows wild throughout North and South Dakota. Native to central and southwestern United States.
Coarse perennial reaching 18 inches. Leaves sparse, lanceolate to linear, 2 to 7 inches long, with slender petioles. Flower-head is solitary on stout terminal peduncle, consisting of spreading ray florets 1.5 inches, purple or rarely white, and 1.5 inches long conical erect disc florets, also purple. Flowers appear in midsummer to early autumn.
Formerly classed as Brauneria angustifolia, its present generic name reflects the shape of the sharp-pointed brackets of the receptacle, after the Greek word for hedgehog.
Coneflower also known as Kansas snake root, was used widely by the Indians of the western plains as an antidote for snakebite and other venomous bites, stings, and poisonous conditions. The freshly scraped root was used as a remedy for hydrophobia (rabies) and the Lakota (Sioux) used the root and green fruit as a painkilling remedy for toothaches, tonsillitis, bellyache, and eyewash.
While used extensively by Indians as a medicine, the purple coneflower was not quickly adopted by white physicians. However, the purple coneflower was the only native prairie plant eventually popularized as a medicine. Germany has also cultivated this crop for years, although their yield is very low.
Resins, sugars, mineral salts, fatty acids, and inulin which act in combination. Also now identified are betaine, sucrose, and two isomeric 2-methyltetradecadienes: echinacein and chinacoside (a caffeic acid glycoside).
Much of the research done on the purple coneflower has been done in Germany, where there is greater scientific interest in medicinal plants because more liberal laws govern their commercial availability and use.
They found the root to posses a mild antibiotic activity against Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus. Perhaps the most important finding for the genus, so far, is the discovery of large, highly active polysaccharide molecules in both E. angustifolia and E. purpurea that posses immuno-stimulating properties.
Dried root stock is used as an antiseptic and digestive. Particularly effective remedy for boils, acne, pharyngitis, tonsillitis, abscesses and septicaemia; useful externally and internally. dilates peripheral blood vessels. Echinacea is an alterative and blood purifier. The Indians used it to treat snakebite, stings and other toxins. It is used to promote perspiration, and in the treatment of ulcers, boils and septicemia.
E. purpurea shares many of the properties of the other Echinacea including blood purifier, promotes perspiration, and used for ulcers and boils. The purple coneflower can also be grown for its ornamental value, especially for its showy flowers. The ornamental possibilities of Echinacea have not been fully explored.
Seed can be taken and sold during second year growth. If seed is not taken, then the herb can be taken as a hay-type crop for both second and third year growth stage. The root is taken in the third year via a potato harvester, or something equivalent. The roots should be washed and split for drying.
Washed and split roots can be dried in the sun on tarps, with temperatures under 95 F. Higher sunlight tends to burn the product, and then it can be air-dried in kilns. Storage should be sacked in polypropylene or burlap. Estimate approximately 4,000# dry-weight yields per acre after three full years of growth. If cultivated Echinacea should run concurrent fields for a rotation program.
Most larger companies want to buy the root in chipped form, although many smaller wholesalers still need final processing, such as cut-and-sift (C/S) and powers. Most of the crop will be used to make an alcohol tincture, so smaller cuts are preferred (like powders). It could be sold this way.
Propagated by root division in spring and autumn. It is a strong, drought-resistant perennial and generally requires low maintenance. It does well in well-drained soil (5.9 - 8 pH). It prefers full sun in dry, compacted, alkaline or slightly acid soil. Propagated from seed, crown divisions or root cuttings.
The seeds exhibit some embryo dormancy and germinate more readily if stratified for a month in moist sand. Simply mix the seeds in moist sand, place in plastic bags, and refrigerate. At the end of a month, rinse the sand off in a screen mesh strainer and sow. Germinates more readily with light, although it is not absolutely necessary for success.
It is best to start seeds on the surface of a soil mix. Start them indoors, and move transplants at 6 weeks old. Mix can be equal parts sand, peat and sterile potting soil. Seeds germinate in five - seven days. Stratified seeds covered with one eighth inch of soil mix took from two weeks to a month to sprout. If the plant is grown from seed, vegetative development is very slow the first year. By the second year, however, plants bloom and become robust.
When the plants are dormant in fall or early spring, the budding rosettes on the crowns can be sliced off or carefully peeled from the main rootstock. Plant them in directly. You can divide up to seven plants from one root crown, in either spring or fall. A four to five inch section of root, broken off an older plant can be used to propagate new plants as well.
Soil should be well drained. No irrigation is given to this crop after initial establishment, or early spring rains. If plant begins to look stressed, a light sprinkler irrigation may be used on a limited basis. Frequent shallow cultivation encourages vigorous growth.
From 1890-1930, E. angustifolia was the largest-selling and most popular drug derived from an American medicinal plant. With current trends and its use as a treatment for aids, U.S. markets used more than 100,000 pounds of Echinacea root in 1987, with world markets estimated at more than 500 tons.
The price variation on Echinacea root can range from $3.75 per pound in tonnage to more than $8.00 per pound in powder form for 100-pound quantities. These prices can change significantly with availability. The oil extracts and tincture preparations seem to be the best form of marketing, bringing even larger prices to the manufacturer and harvester.
There is even a market for the tops, or herb part of the plant. Often the root is not yet ready for harvest, sometimes taking four or five years between harvests. During this period, seed and herb are harvested for side markets. The seed can be sold for up to $50 per pound, while dried and baled herb begins selling at $2.00 per pound.
No reports of toxic ingestion of Echinacea are reported. Since it has low physiological activity, it probably is not much of a hazard. Rudbeckia lacinata is often mistaken for Echinacea and has been reported as toxic.
a) An annual salary of $30,000, management compared to ginseng budget in planting year, growth year, and harvest year.
b) The B.C. budget indicates foliar spray by nutrient analysis, green and livestock manure (ie. organic fertilizers). Other sources indicate applications of phosphate and nitrogen fertilizers (ie. non-organic). Recommended levels for E. angustifolia in Saskatchewan are being determined.
Source: Planning for Profit, British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food, Agdex 263-810 Adjustments for Echinacea angustifolia and Saskatchewan estimated by Harvey Clark, Saskatchewan Irrigation Development Centre, January 26, 1998.
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