On a bright shiny August afternoon I decided to prepare for cold and flu season. Kinda weird to think about sickness on such a fabulous day but the plants were calling me. Boneset and Echinacea were blooming and dancing in the wind; you can say they were waving me over. They were reminding me that I should prepare for days of fever and runny noses.
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) is a first line of defense herb. It is best to take before a full-blown cold or flu has taken hold of your body. It’s perfect to take when you feel something brewing, like a scratchy throat or you just don’t feel like yourself. It works in concert with a person’s natural healthy immune system and helps boosts it by stimulating the activity of macrophages and natural killer cells. It accelerates phagocytosis, our body’s mechanism where macrophages and other antibodies attack and remove bacteria. This is an important way the immune system removes various pathogens, bacteria and other cellular debris. Echinacea also helps to reduce the production of an enzyme that breaks down hyaluronic acid (an important and highly viscous fluid that holds and binds cells together, lubricates body tissue, and blocks the spread of microorganisms). Because of how Echinacea supports the immune system, its principal usefulness depends on a healthy immune system. Without a healthy population of antibodies to work with, Echinacea’s ability to fight infection is limited. This means timing is critical to its effectiveness ~ it should be taken at the first onset of symptoms, otherwise it’s not really that effective for colds and flu. Finally, it is not the herb for people who have frequent colds and a weakened immune system brought on by poor diet and lifestyle choices.
In addition to Echinacea being a powerful immunomodulator, it is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, a vulnerary, a lymphagogue (promotes lymph flow), antibiotic, detoxifying, increases sweating, and heals wounds. Besides being the first line of defense, it is ideal for relieving the pain and inflammation of insect, spider and snakebites. If a snake bites you, take Echinacea but also go to the hospital. One should take it internally and apply topically for relief. Furthermore, it helps heal wounds, acne, boils, abscesses, septicemia (bacterial infection enters the bloodstream), and mouth infections.
I harvested the Echinacea flowers and leaves, which contain polysaccharides that are known to activate the immune system. I will harvest the roots in the fall after the flowers have gone to seed. I make two separate tinctures, one with flowers and leaves and another with roots. Once they are both decanted, I will then combine the two. There are several closely related species of Echinacea so, I like to test the plants potency by chewing on the fresh seeds. They have a beautiful spiky seed head and it is no big surprise that the Greek meaning for Echinacea is hedgehog. When you taste a potent Echinacea seed, you’ll immediately get a tingly sensation on your tongue followed by a mouth full of saliva (known as sialagogue). The increased salvia helps heal mouth infections and promotes digestion along with validating it potency.
If you weren’t fast enough to utilize the medicinal powers of Echinacea and a bad cold or flu has gotten its grips on you, Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is the remedy for you. It really knocks the socks off any cold or flu, especially when a cold just seems to linger for months. I think of it as the bouncer for your body and it kicks out the nasty germs that have overstayed their welcome. I like to harvest the blossoms and leaves when less than half the flowers in a cluster are just starting to open, when the vital energy is rising. Boneset is ideal to have in our travel First Aid kit.
When you collect any herbs, please keep in mind:
- Be sure you have made a definite identification, so use a field guide.
- Harvest it in a respectful way, leave some, please do not overharvest, and make sure there will be a healthy crop for the future and the pollinators.
- Harvest away from traffic and areas where chemicals have not been sprayed or animals relieve themselves.
- If you are unsure, it is best to move on and not harvest in that area.
Harvesting herbs is a wonderful activity for a sunny August afternoon and good insurance for a healthy future.
All information is shared for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.