When the first European settlers came to the New World, high on their list of things to look for were new medicinal herbs. If the plant was attractive as well they considered it a sure winner. One of those native American plants they discovered was purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).
The root of purple coneflower (also called echinacea today) was used by Plains Native Americans to fight infection. In the age before penicillin, infections from cuts or disease were often life-threatening. Imagine being able to grow a cure for infections in your own garden.
Purple coneflowers would be an excellent addition to todayís flower border. The flower stalks rise from a rosette of lanceolate leaves in late spring to mid-summer. In good conditions blooming may continue to early fall. The flowers range in color from light purple to pink. As the flower matures and fades the center slowly rises to form a dense cone of dark seeds. To get volunteer plants next year, leave some of these cones on the bush so the seeds can scatter on the ground. If you like, leave even more of the seed heads for finch and other seed-loving songbirds.
Purple coneflowers will thrive in sun to partial shade as long as the drainage is good. Overwatering or soggy soil will rot the roots. Select a spot in your garden that will give them plenty of room to spread. These North American native perennials are drought tolerant and frost hardy from Zone 3 to 8.
You can make echinacea extract from the roots of home-grown plants but I warn you ñ the process is labor intensive and may produce an extract of an uncertain strength. Better by far to purchase it from a reliable supplier and just enjoy the lovely flowers on this North American native.