Wildflower Wednesday: Growing Echinacea for Health, Habitats, and Happiness.

I've been dreaming of summer. While I gaze at seed catalogs and ponder what to change in the garden, I also make lists of plants that serve our garden well. Plants that benefit wildlife. Plants that add beauty and interest. Plants that satisfy culinary or health needs.

Peter rolls his eyes as I make lists of new seeds to trial in the garden, especially since four storage containers hold hundreds of seed packets downstairs. Tomorrow, I'll complete an inventory of my seed stash and fill in the gaps. However, I already know I'll order more echinacea.

echinacea single

Echinacea is the perfect garden addition. It's attractive, a pollinator magnet, and a food source for goldfinches. It's native, easy to grow from seed, and establishes quickly. While it's lovely in bouquets and landscapes, it's also an herbal remedy. Both beautiful and beneficial, no garden should be without it.

echinacea close up

While echinacea faces threats in the wild due to overharvesting, many organizations work to protect native populations. With the help of native plant societies, gardeners, seed savers, and even the popular meme "Wildflower Wednesday," hosted by my friend Gail of Clay and Limestone, the plight of native plants is well-known, and our ability to revitalize their populations within reach. Most gardeners can easily grow this perennial from seed and establish it in their gardens.

echinacea blooming

There are several species of echinacea (Echinacea augustfolia, E. pallida, E. purpurea), but the name most commonly known is Purple Coneflower. The herbaceous perennial requires full sun to light shade, blooming from mid-summer throughout fall.

echinacea in landscape

Most seed sources recommend a cold, moist stratification period of two months for echinacea seeds for best germination. Honestly, I've never stratified my seed--and I've experienced excellent germination. I may perform a trial this spring to test the germination of stratified versus non-stratified seed, just to see if there's a difference. Stay tuned!

(You can also stratify naturally by sowing seeds directly in the garden in late fall. Direct sowing works well for areas with cold winters.)

echinacea varieties

While you'll need a bit of patience when growing from seed, as it may take two to six weeks for sprouts, the beauty of growing your own echinacea is twofold. First, you can ensure that your plant is grown organically, which is important if you plan to harvest it for medicinal purposes. Also, while there are gorgeous new introductions of echinacea each year, many of these are grown with neonics--systemic pesticides that can endanger pollinator populations. By growing from seed, you can ensure you're actually benefitting wildlife, not harming it.

echinacea with lavendar

When growing echinacea for medicinal purposes, the entire plant can be harvested. Roots are harvested in the fall or spring, when the plant is three years old. Flowers and leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season when in peak bloom. The plant is used in a variety of methods, including teas, infusions, tinctures, syrups, creams, salves, and more. It's best known to boost immune support, reducing the severity of colds and flus, and improving respiratory and skin conditions. (Before using medicinally, research the proper methods and consult with a certified herbalist.)

echinacea in bouquet

Echinacea is the perfect low-maintenance, beneficial perennial wildflower. While it can soothe colds and feed wildlife, it also possesses another superpower: it looks lovely in bouquets.

And we know how much I love my backyard bouquets for Floral Friday!

You can find echinacea seeds at many of your local garden centers, feed and seed stores, or online. I love these seed sources, and I always have excellent results with their products: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds; Botanical Interests; Renees Garden; and Johnny's Seeds.

What are you waiting for? Ignore the eye-rolling of your significant other and place your order for echinacea. You--and your garden visitors--will be happy that you did.

Happy seed shopping!