Family: Asteraceae (Sunflower)
Scientific Name: Echinacea angustifolia
Perennial herb up to 2 ft tall, established predominately on the great plains, in dry upland prairies, often in rocky soil.
Watch for: Long, alternate leaves and a large cone-shaped flower with ray petals. Center crowns of flower large and circular, similar to Black-eyed Susans.
Other names: Comb Flower, Snakeroot, Kansas Snakeroot, Scurvy Root, Hedge Hog, Echinaecea.
History: Coneflower is widely known as the most used medicinal plant of 1st Nations peoples in North America. It covers remedies for pain killer, toothache, coughs, olds, sore throats, snake bite, and cancer. It was also the prairie plant most popularized and used by Ango-American doctors, verging beyond common folk use, which did not happen easily nor quickly. Anglo farmers would use the plant in a cattle or horse feed for livestock that had trouble eating. This popularity led to a heavy harvest for Coneflower, with a record of 200,000 lbs harvested in Kansas in 1902, profiting up to $100,000. Ups and downs in harvest continued to 1965, as interest in the plant turned into more of an academic medical research. After 1965, harvest decreased, but has recently picked up again. Now however more people are concerned with it’s survival in the wild, with Missouri prohibiting it’s harvest in parks, forests, and along highways. Today also brings more interest in cultivation.
Tidbits: The genus name for Purple Coneflower comes from the Latin word for Hedgehog, derived from it’s prickly stem. South Dakota University has studies how to make it into an insecticide, since some chemical compounds it contains are toxic to mosquitoes and house flies.
Gardens/Cultivation: It has been said there there is much more potential still awaiting to be discovered in Coneflower cultivation. It attracts butterflies, insects, and birds (especially American Goldfinch). It prefers upland moist to dry conditions, providing good soil stabilization (roots 6-7′ deep). It can withstand one day of flooding. Some examples of cultivars include Magnus, Ruby Star, Tomato soup (pictured dark red), White Swan (pictured), and Pale-purple Coneflower (pictured thin petals). Similar species include Yellow Coneflower, Smooth Purple Coneflower, and Sweet Coneflower.
Kindsher, Kelly. Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide.
University Press of Kansas. Lawrence, Kansas, 1992.
Schmidt, Rusty and Shaw, Daniel. Plants for Stormwater Design. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 2003.