Name: Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia)
Otherwise known as: Purple Cone Flower, Black Samson
Habitat: A perennial member of the Compositae which grows to 1.5m in sandy soil and has purple petals surrounding a central cone. Native to North America, it is now grown throughout the temperate regions.
What does it do: The plant takes its name from the Greek echinos, the word for sea urchin, this refers to the flower’s dried seed head. All parts of Echinacea are used medicinally which includes the tap root that may attain a length of 1.2m.
It first achieved prominence among early American settlers who were aware that the Plains Tribes used it extensively to treat wounds, burns, illness, abscesses and insect and snake bites. Travelling lay healers processed it in the late 1800s and sold it as a ‘cure-all’ at fairs and prayer meetings. Numerous anecdotal claims were made for its successful treatment of typhus, diphtheria, gangrene, tonsillitis and even appendicitis. Echinacea was favoured by the Eclectics’, a group of North American physicians that embraced the herbal medicine practiced by the medicine men of the plains tribes.
The pharmacology of Echinacea is complex and centres around the polyacetylenes and alkylamides, these are responsible for the tissue regeneration and immune-enhancing properties of the plant.
It has the power to inhibit the enzyme hyaluronidase which is known as the ‘spreading factor’, this is secreted by micro-organisms and is a component of snake venom, its purpose is to break down the ground substance, the intracellular cement that holds body cells together, and thereby allowing the toxin to spread throughout the body. Not only does Echinacea prevent the breakdown of connective tissue, it actually stimulates the fibroblasts that manufacture it.
This effect also appears to be responsible for the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties, it exerts a mild cortisone-like effect and promotes secretion of the adrenal hormones.
Inulin, one of the compounds found in the root, activates a part of the immune system known as the alternate complement pathway, this enhances the ability of white blood cells to penetrate and combat areas of infection. The plant elevates white blood cell counts when they are low and turns on the natural killer cells.
Echinacea will grow very easily in Cyprus but does not respond well to full sun, plant it under trees, and create your own home pharmacy.