Echinacea – the name almost sounds like a sneeze, doesn’t it?
So perhaps it’s not surprising that the pale purple coneflower of the Illinois prairie, Echinacea pallida, is one of the three coneflowers used for medicine. Specifically, for fighting colds.
Two other species used medicinally are purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and narrow-leaved purple coneflower or “black Samson” (Echinacea angustifolia). I have the purple coneflower, purpurea, in my backyard garden. Pretty! The goldfinches love the seeds.
Native Americans smeared the juice of coneflowers on their hands, then plunged their hands painlessly into boiling water or were able to handle hot items without flinching. When chewed, the coneflower root helped numb toothache pain. Coneflowers were also made into concoctions used as a remedy for sore throats and as an antidote for snakebite.
The scientific name for pale purple coneflower comes from the Greek, echinos, meaning “sea urchin” or “hedgehog.” Take a look at the center dome. Yup. Appropriate, isn’t it?
The Mayo Clinic notes that Echinacea sales make up to 10 percent of the dietary supplement market, but offers cautions as to results. There might be better cold remedies than this prairie icon.
Maybe the best use of the pale purple coneflowers is as eye candy on days when the world seems like it is lacking in beauty.
Or perhaps, the coneflower’s best use is as medicine for the soul.
Feel your spirits lift just looking at them? Me too.
Against a backdrop of white wild indigo and bright blue spiderwort, could anything else be prettier? And yet… we could lose them all unless we continue to care for our prairies.
As the poet Ranier Maria Rilke wrote,
…simply to be here is so much
and because what is here seems to need us,
this vanishing world that concerns us strangely —
us, the most vanishing of all.
All photos of pale purple coneflower, Echinacea pallida, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; except garden photo of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) with bee balm (Monarda didyma, black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and gold flame honeysuckle (Lonicera x hecrottii), author’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL; bottom landscape photo of Schulenberg Prairie includes pale purple coneflowers, blue spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis, and wild white indigo, Baptisia alba.
Rilke quote is from 9th Duino Elegy. Mayo Clinic information is found online: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/echinacea/background/HRB-20059246. Info on medicinal uses and scientific meaning of the coneflowers is from Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest by Sylvan Runkel and Dean Roosa and Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel Moerman.