If you haven’t heard of this flower by her common name, maybe you’ve heard of her professional name – Echinacea purpurea. She’s a star during her life as a summer blooming member of the daisy family, but long after she’s gone, she may be seen in a teapot helping people ward off the severity of cold and flu season.
Purple coneflowers are full sun perennials growing one to six inches tall, and are easy to grow, deer resistant and drought tolerant, and beautiful in cut flower arrangements. Echinacea comes from the Greek word ekhinos, meaning hedgehog – the spiny central disc sort of resembles a cone or I guess, using your imagination, you could say it resembles a hedgehog.
You can easily grow these from seed in late fall, and our cold winters allow a natural cooling-off period, which helps them have better blooms. Every three-to-four years in the fall, you can divide them to extend your planting area, or to share with others. Try not to divide sooner than three years as the root system needs that time to fully develop.
After the coneflower blooms start looking a little tired, you can give her a little facelift by snipping the top third of the plant. Sometimes, she will thank you by giving you a full second set of blooms that will last until the first frost.
But wait, there’s more! (I’ve always wanted to say that.) After you cut the top third, don’t throw the stems out. Carefully choose the best leaves and flower petals and dry them until they feel like paper. Keep them in a container and use as Echinacea tea. The most potent part of the plant is the root, but it’s not necessary to murder the plant to enjoy the health benefits of Echinacea which include giving your immune system a little boost during cold and flu season.
But wait, there’s even more! Leave the ‘seconds’ to the birds. After the second set of blooms fade, leave them and all through the winter birds will feast on the seeds. Purple coneflower is one of nature’s gifts that keeps on giving.