Wednesday, July 9, 2008

This herb is popular all over America as an immune-system enhancing herb and many people use it instead of using anti-biotics. German medical studies have proven that echinacea does indeed boost the immune system, and is useful in treating a number of common ailments. However, because of its popularity Echinacea is becoming endangered and over-harvested. To help keep this from happening I grow my own Echinacea (which is VERY easy to do...they are perennial wildflowers and grow in any sunny part of the garden) and only harvest what I need. If you have any garden space at all this is very easy to do and if more and more people do this, then Echinacea has more of a chance of surviving on this earth. Planting time is over for this year, but if you have some in your garden or along the nature path you walk you are welcome to wildcraft it gently in the following manner.

I have included a picture from MY Echinacea patch that I took today. As you can see, since the flowers are in full-bloom they are PAST the time when I can harvest the tops and it is way before the time when I can harvest the roots. The bee was very kind in posing for me. He didn't seem to mind my company :)

Harvesting Echinacea

For medicinal purposes, you'll want to harvest some roots and some flower tops. For best quality, wait until your plants are 3 years old. Roots are harvested in the fall when the tops have gone to seed and the plants have experienced a couple of hard frosts. Tops are harvested just as the flowers start to open. Whether harvesting tops or roots, the dried herb will be good for one year. Be sure to date the jars containing the herb so you won't use them past their potency date.

Harvesting Roots

1. Using a sharp knife cut off a portion of the root, leaving plenty for the plant to grow on.
2. Cut any pieces larger than 1 inch into smaller pieces to avoid mold growth during the drying process.
3. Wash thoroughly and pat dry.
4. Hang the root pieces or lay them out on screens in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight. If the pieces are large it may take several weeks for them to dry.
5. When completely dry, store in a tightly covered glass jar in cool, dark place.

Harvesting Flower Tops
1. Using a sharp knife, cut the plant at the point where the first healthy leaves are growing.
2. Lay the tops on a screen or hang them upside down in bundles out of direct sunlight. Make sure they aren't crowded so that air can't circulate around them.
3. When completely dry, the leaves will crumble when touched. Store them in glass jars with tight fitting lids in a cool, dry place.

There are two ways to brew an herbal tea: Infusion and Decoction. Use the infusion method when preparing a tea from leaves, flowers or seeds. Decoction is the method of choice for roots. For a pleasant cup of tea, most people prefer an infusion of the flowers. Decoctions are very strong.

To make an infusion:Place 1-2 teaspoons of dried herb or 2-4 teaspoons of fresh herb in a teapot. Cover with 1 cup of boiling water and steep for 15-20 minutes. Strain out the herbs and enjoy.
To make a decoction:Combine 2 teaspoons of dried root and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour. Strain out the herb and enjoy.


Blessings & Health,

Kristie Karima Burns, MH, ND

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