Echinacea, one of our best friends and most favorite herbs; loved by pollinators of all kinds and tolerant to some of the harshest of conditions.
Purple Coneflower - Echinacea purpurea (purple echinacea); the common variety sold in garden centers, given away as water saving seed packets, and listed in every flower catalog. E. purpurea is the species that has been bred to create all the fun flavours of Echinacea: purple, pink, red, yellow, orange, lavender with green edges, and so many more. Very attractive for the home gardener; to go with any color scheme while still providing the pollinators with precious nectar.
Prairie Star knows a very different version of Echinacea - Echinacea angustifolia (little/slender leaved echinacea). One of the original echinacea to the prairie. I will admit, it is not as showy or colorful as E. purpurea; standing about 1-2 feet tall, slender/small leaves that blend with its surroundings, and a perfectly cute, small, pale pink bloom in Summer. What E. angustifolia lacks in show, it definitely makes up for in performance.
Here at Prairie Star Botanicals, we have strict protocol on plant species identification. The plants of today are bred for color, height, full-ness, fragrance, bloom size, as well as other factors. Being bred for these reasons has taken plants away from their original genes; making flowers sterile, nectar inaccessible to pollinators, increasing susceptibility to disease and pests. While creating something that is appealing to the eye, we lose so many beneficial qualities of the plant; affecting insects, animals, humans, and the Earth as a whole (long term).
As herbalists, we have noticed another factor altered by selective breeding…potency. In the herbal community we always refer back to one key element for making herbal extracts: “Stress creates chemistry”. This statement says it all; by putting a plant through stressful conditions, it creates different compounds that allow the plant to survive in its naturally harsh environment. In the moment, it seems almost too tough for the plant to bare, but in the long run, the plant becomes stronger than ever.
When using these stressed plants, you can taste and feel the difference when compared to a pampered and cultivated plant of the same species. This is also how we determine the difference in which species is strongest. Recently, we ran an experiment between E. angustifolia and E. purpurea. Both species were processed exactly the same: processed into Tincture (alcohol-based extract), made from dried root, 1:4 ratio of herb to solvent, macerating (soaking in alcohol solution) for 2 weeks minimum.
Quality Echinacea tincture should have the following characteristics: light-med brown, cloudy, slightly coats the tongue, slightly sweet, earthy, smooth/creamy texture, slight bite from the alcohol, leaves a tingling sensation wherever touching the tongue (like a zingy, zesty quality). The E. purpurea tincture had the following characteristics: light brown, cloudy, lightly coating, slightly sweet, earthy, thinner texture, slight bite of alcohol, and almost no tingling sensation to the tongue. These methods used for verifying quality of product is called Organoleptics: using the sensory organs to gage consistency and quality of herbs.
Being in the business of herbal products manufacturing, it is of high priority for us to assure our customers quality and consistency of what we produce. That is why we source as much as we can from trusted, local growers and regulate what is put into (and onto) our herbs. Whether fresh or dried plant material, we reference leaf margins, venation, leaf shape, stem, flower, twig, etc. with several species’ identification books. We verify Latin names, common names, and sometimes folklore. If there is ever anything that enters or leaves the lab and does not meet our standards, we reject it, recalling the whole batch. Everything coming into and going out of the lab is tested with organoleptics, everything is hand-made with love and intent, everything is crafted with you in mind.
One of the reasons we love our job is because we encounter surprises and hidden gems. Fall of 2019, we received a very special order of fresh Echinacea angustifolia root from Curious Roots Herb Farm. Her seed source was wild-crafted from Northern Nebraska in a naturally existing prairie. To date, this is the absolute most potent Echinacea that we have ever experienced. Macerating, it looked like no other herbs we have ever seen. The Tincture is such a clean, fresh, and light green color, as well as taste. Even the Glycerite (alcohol-free extract), which is argued to be less potent than Tincture, gives that same intense tingling sensation on the tongue.
We all know Echinacea as an immune supporting herb, moving lymph in the body. Applying theory and organoleptics to this very special extract, confirms exactly what Echinacea supports in the body. Just 3 drops of this Tincture and my body immediately signaled what was changing. My tongue was coated, a deep and intense tingling sensation overwhelmed my tongue, blood rushed my head and back of neck, my body felt lighter overall (almost cleaner), I broke a slight sweat, and saliva flooded my mouth. We knew that we had discovered an herbal treat.
When planning your garden this year, keep factors like these in mind, because they apply to all plants: pollinator, floral, culinary, and herbal. We put pride in what we do because we are able to source our plants where they thrive naturally. Grown without chemicals, grown through native seed sourcing, harvested ethically, and returning back to the Earth from which it came. Although our preferred Echinacea angustifolia may not be the showiest flower of the garden, it definitely takes home the blue ribbon for performance.