Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench
Brauneria purpurea (L.) Britton
Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench var. arkansana Steyerm.
Rudbeckia purpurea L.
Purple cornflower is native to eastern North America. The name is derived from the Greek word echinos (Εχίνος), meaning hedgehog, because the central disk flower has the spiny look of a hedgehog.
Plants: 24-54" (60-137 cm) tall and 18-24" (45-60 cm) around, with stems that are usually bristly or hairy.
Leaves: May be alternate or opposite, and may be ovate (sort of egg-shaped with a sharp tip) or more like a grass blade in shape, long and narrow. They are up to 6" (15 cm) × 3" (7.6 cm), with widely spaced teeth and a sandpaper-like feel.
Flowers: These are composite flowers, resembling daisies, 2-5" (5-12 cm) in diameter, with central yellow-brown disk flowers in a flattish or rounded mound, and 10-20 pink-purple ray flower petals. On close inspection, the central disk flowers often have red tips. The ray flowers often droop, accentuating the central disk.
Fruits: The central cone flowers become gray seeds in the fall.
Medical: Echinacea, especially this plant and the closely related Echinacea angustifolia, are wildly popular as immune system stimulants said to reduce the likelihood of getting colds, or to reduce their duration. Many small-scale studies have suggested possible benefits from preparations made from the roots. There is also some evidence that it is helpful in speeding wound recovery. But The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, says:
A 1998 study, published in Journal of the American Medical Association and the Archives of Family Medicine, was also negative. So was a 2004 study by the Department of Internal Medicine, Marshfield Clinic, and the Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Core, Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation.
The Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines, a tome that attempts to summarize what is really known about herbal medicines, has a large entry for echinacea. The plant contains alkamides, glycoproteins, caffeic acid derivatives, and polysaccharides that may have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, collagen-protecting, or cytokine stimulation effects. However:
I don’t believe in unsubstantiated herbal cures. Of course some plants have curative properties; in fact, some of the most poisonous, properly used, can save lives. Foxglove comes to mind, used for digitalis. But taking drugs with unknown properties is, at best, expensive but harmless, and at worst, dangerous. In the case of echinacea, at least it is fairly harmless. However, it should definitely not be used in patients with progressive systemic and autoimmune disorders, for example: tuberculosis, leicosis, connective tissue disorders, collagenosis, or lupus.
Echinacea purpurea on Missouriplants.com
Echinacea purpurea at Illinois Wildflowers
Echinacea purpurea at the Ohio State University PLANTFacts database
Echinacea purpurea at the Missouri Botanical Garden
Echinacea purpurea on plants.ces.ncsu.edu
Echinacea purpurea at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Echinacea purpurea on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants
Echinacea purpurea description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.
Range: Zones 3-8: