Coneflowers – characteristics, cultivation and use

purple coneflowers
purple coneflowers

Coneflower, also known as echinacea, is a relatively young medicinal plant. The herb was known for its ability to strengthen the immune system and ward off infections in advance. However, as a medicinal plant, coneflower can also fight some fungi and effectively fight inflammation. Many gardeners also like to cultivate the purple coneflower or the narrow-leaved coneflower as ornamental shrubs because of its magnificent flowers.

Profile of coneflower:

Scientific name: Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida

Plant family: asters (Asteraceae), composite

Other names: Echinacea, eastern purple coneflower, hedgehog coneflower, purple coneflower, narrow-leaved purple coneflower, blacksamson echinacea, pale purple coneflower

Sowing time / Planting time: March – June

Flowering period: July – October

Harvest time: June – September

Useful plant parts: leaves, flowers

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: nutrient-rich and humic soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: strengthening of the immune system, flu infections, inflammation of the paranasal sinuses, Candida

Use as aromatic herb: no use

Plant characteristics and classification of coneflower

Origin and occurrence of the coneflower

The different species of the coneflower are native to North America. Here they grow on different of locations, from wet meadows to dry prairies. Due to the high medical interest of the plants and the suitability as an ornamental plant, the coneflower was introduced to Europe. Since then, species such as the purple coneflower often can be found in some gardens.

Plant order of coneflower

Coneflowers (Echinacea) form a separate genus and belong to the daisy family. All species of the genus are therefore directly related to important medicinal plants such as the alant, the coltsfoot or the dandelion. There are more than 40 species of coneflowers worldwide. The most important, however, are the following:

  • Narrow-leaf coneflower – Echinacea angustifolia
  • Narrow-leaved purple coneflower – Echinacea serotina
  • Pale purple coneflower – Echinacea pallida
  • Purple coneflower, eastern purple coneflower – Echinacea purpurea
  • Sanguine purple coneflower – Echinacea sanguinea
  • Smooth coneflower, smooth purple coneflower – Echinacea laevigata
  • Tennessee coneflower – Echinacea tennesseensis
  • Topeka purple coneflower – Echinacea atrorubenswer
  • Wavyleaf purple coneflower – Echinacea simulata
  • Yellow coneflower, Bush’s purple coneflower – Echinacea paradoxa
bumblebee on a coneflower
bumblebee on a coneflower

Look and characteristics of the coneflower


The coneflower, depending on the species and growing conditions, grows between 30 and 140 cm high (12 and 55 in). All species are perennial and anchored in the ground with a deep tap root.


The leaves are always lanceolate and show a smooth, sometimes even slightly crenate leaf margin. Its length is usually between 10 and 20 cm (4 and 8 in). The leaf surface of most species are hairy with a rough texture. Often there are three or five leaf nerves on the top of the leaf. The leaves are mostly petiolate on the dark green to brownish stems.


The flowering time of most Echinacea species takes place between early July to early September. Coneflower species are easily recognized by their flowers. They have a brown flower basket with diameters up to 4.5 cm (1.8 in), which is occupied all around with yellow ray flowers. They stand horizontally or hang down slightly depending on the type. Particularly striking: the flower basket of the great coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima), which is a very impressive appearance in the bed. The flowers attract numerous insects. The flower center is reminiscent of a hedgehog. Each flower basket possesses up to 300 tubular flowers The ligulate flowers are noticeably pink, purplish to pink colored (purple coneflower), mostly white to pale pink (narrow- leaf coneflower).


For fruit ripening, the plant always forms typical achenes, which represents a special form of nut fruit. The fruits are provided with a crown-shaped pappus. The fruits themselves have an angular form, similar to a knife tip, of usually light greenish to reddish brown color.

Coneflowers – cultivation and care


Coneflowers can handle both sunny and half-shady locations, with sunny locations being preferred. However, full sun locations should be avoided if possible.


Echinacea prefers a nutrient- and humus-rich soil, but can survive in a loamy soil. Ideally, the soil is always slightly moist and permeable to water. Therefore, when first planting mix a little sand and for the nutrients garden compost. For pot and tub cultures, commercially available herbal soils are suitable.


The seeds can be scattered directly in the field between March and early July. A preculture under controlled conditions is possible and usually more successful. In order to germinate, a continuous germination temperature of about 20 ° C (68 ° F) is needed. The young plantlets germinate after about 14 to 21 days.


If there are already perennials of Echinacea in the garden, they can be easily multiplied by division. The coneflower generally propagates by itself and thus the perennials become ever wider. These adult perennials can now be divided. The separated perennials are then placed in a different location in the garden.


In the field or garden the plants should be planted at a distance of at least 25 cm (10 in). Also a cultivation in tubs for balcony or terrace is possible. You can also use ready-made plantlets. Coneflowers can be ideally combined with other perennials, including vegetables, herbs, lavender, garlic, asters, purple loosestrife, monkshood, globe thistle, phlox, larkspur and various spring flowers.


Coneflowers can be fertilized with compost in spring. Pot cultures require more fertilizer. About every 6 to 8 weeks, an organic liquid fertilizer can be administered sparingly with the irrigation water.


Coneflowers is quite drought tolerant. The plants can live without water for several days. Normal watering is completely sufficient. On prolonged hot days, it may be necessary to water in the evenings so the plant will not develop any disease. Waterlogging should be avoided, as this can lead to root rot.


The lush flowering perennials of the coneflower are ideally cut in the spring before the new shoot. This has the advantage that the garden does not look so empty in winter, because the flowers survive in good weather even into the winter. Otherwise, the perennial can be cut close to the ground after flowering in late autumn. For a rich flowering period, withered flower heads should be cut off regularly to encourage the growth of new flowers.

Diseases and pests

Coneflowers is rather robust and hardly susceptible to diseases and pests. Occasionally the plant can be attacked by powdery mildew during the summer months. This mainly affects older plants that are exposed to greater drought for a longer period. It is essential to sort out plants that are more infested. In addition, aphids, mildew and small nematodes can affect the plants.

Coneflower against snail

Coneflower is not only very decorative but also useful. It repels snails. Take advantage of this feature and plant Echinacea around your vegetable bed. Not only the coneflower is spared by the snails, but also its neighbors.


Coneflower belongs to the hardy perennials. The remaining part in the ground is frost hardy. Everything above the ground will be cut in the spring before the new shoot. If it is a mild winter, then the plant remains green and can keep its beautiful flowers well into winter. But usually the Echinacea fades in autumn. Coneflowers, which are cultivated in the tub, should be protected in winter.

yellow coneflowers
yellow coneflowers

Use of coneflower

Coneflowers in the kitchen

Echinacea is meaningless as a kitchen plant. Neither the leaves, nor the roots or the flowers are tasty nor do they develop corresponding spicy power.

Coneflowers as a medicinal plant

Echinacea is a valuable medicinal plant. Of medical importance are mainly the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and the narrow-leaf coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia).

The coneflower was completely unknown in the Middle Ages in Europe. However, it has been reported that the Native Americans made frequent use of it as a medicinal plant. These used extracts of the plant. The plant was used for throat infections, cough, headache, toothache and snake bites. About the application and presentation is little known. By tradition of today’s Native Americans, it is certain that both the roots, the leaves and the seeds of the plants were used.

In Central Europe Echinacea became known only in the 19th century.

In today’s natural healing the coneflower plays a prominent role. The most important effect of the plant is the proliferation of white blood cells. This strengthens the immune system.

Infectious diseases can be warded off better. However, it is a mistake to believe that the coneflower can prevent or shorten a cold when the cold has already started. Rather, one should take the herb already preventive before a possible contagion. As a result, the white blood cells are increased and the immune system also strengthened otherwise, including through the strengthening of the lymphatic organs. Such a strengthened immune system can then cope better with a contagion and the cold proceeds more gently.

In addition, coneflower has an antibacterial effect. As a result, it acts directly on bacterial infections, such as skin infections, boils and the like. You can then use it as an ointment or as an envelope with the help of a tincture or a tea. In such external applications, it also has a mild analgesic effect.

Especially if a wound heals badly or festers, coneflower can help.

Coneflower can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • abscesses
  • arthritis
  • badly healing wounds
  • boil
  • bronchitis
  • burns
  • carbuncle
  • cold
  • cough
  • erysipelas
  • flu infections
  • immune defense
  • leg ulcers
  • prevention of infections
  • psoriasis
  • susceptibility to infections
  • ulcers

Medicinal properties

  • analgesic
  • antibacterial
  • anti-inflammatory
  • immunostimulant

Preparation of a coneflower tea

Time needed: 10 minutes

The preparation of a tea is possible, but should only be done with fresh plants. When drying the plant parts, the active ingredients are lost.

  1. put 1 teaspoon of both leaves and flower in a cup, at best in a tea strainer

  2. dash with hot water

  3. let brew for 8-10 minutes

To strengthen the immune system and for colds, a cup of freshly prepared tea can be drunk several times a day, preferably between meals.

In homeopathy, coneflower is used primarily for colds. For this purpose, different homeopathic preparations are available.

Side effects and application restrictions

Echinacea should not be taken if there is an allergy to daisy family. There are no contraindications for external use. Internally, purple coneflower should not be used in systemic diseases such as tuberculosis, leucoses and multiple sclerosis. Parenteral use is contraindicated for pregnant women, diabetics, and people who are prone to allergies. In pregnancy coneflower should not be taken in principle.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Coneflower – What to pay attention to?

For cultivating in the garden or on the balcony different kinds of coneflower are available. For the individual species often also different varieties exist. If you want to buy a certain species, you should pay attention to the botanical name. For the species Echinacea purpurea alone, there are different names used (including eastern purple, hedgehog and purple coneflower).

Optionally, you can buy fresh plants on special garden markets, in garden shops or online, which are usually easier to cultivate. Please pay attention to the underside of the leaves and check that the plant is free from mildew. Also, the leaf margins should not be colored differently. The price range is from 3 to 8 EUR / $.

You can purchase seeds as well. The price here is about 2 to 4 EUR / $.

There is an enormous assortment for the healing field. In most cases, fresh plant juices have proved their worth. If capsules or tablets are considered, care should be taken to use root extracts of Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea angustifolia.

Dried echinacea products for preparation should be avoided if possible. These rarely contain the desired ingredients, as these are lost during drying. Teas should always be made from fresh plant ingredients.

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