Overview of Echinacea Production in Manitoba



Echinacea (pronounced "ek-a-NAY-sha"), the purple coneflower, is well known to gardeners and wildflower enthusiasts. It's one of North America's most popular herbal products, used to prevent and treat the common cold, influenza and other infectious diseases. Echinacea are part of the genus of the Asteraceae family (Compositae). There are nine species of Echinacea in North America, of these only three have been shown to have commercial significance. These species are Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida. Each of these species can be grown in Manitoba, however, E. purpurea and E. angustifolia have been shown the most interest.

Most Echinacea species have a taproot while E. purpurea has a fibrous root system. E. purpurea is the most easily cultivated of the three, however, E. angustifolia, although relatively more challenging agronomically, is native to Southern Manitoba and produces a more concentrated active ingredient.

Echinacea angustifolia grows to be between 30-60 cm with a stiff coarsely haired stem. Each stem bears one flower, which has a round flower disk about one inch in diameter with spiky purple chaff. Droopy purple-pinkish colored petals also surround the disk.

History And Uses

Echinacea is a perennial plant often referred to as purple coneflower, which grows in North America along roadsides, in prairie fields and dry open woods. It has been used for centuries by the Plains First Nations to treat various ailments such as poisonous insect and snake bites, toothaches, mumps, small pox, blood purifier, measles and as a general immune system enhancer. A native of the eastern and central United States and southern Canada, Echinacea is reported to have been used medicinally by at least 14 Native American tribes for conditions including coughs, colds, sore throats, infections, toothaches, inflammations, tonsillitis and snake bites.

Echinacea is used for helping prevent and treat colds, flu, respiratory ailments, urinary tract infections, and other infections. As an anti-infection agent, Echinacea extracts have also been used as a general immune system enhancer.

Economics And Marketing

At present, demand for Echinacea exceeds supply. Canada is lacking growers and has no large-scale producers. Trends toward alternative medicine and natural healing have increased the interest of growing Echinacea in Canada. However, before Echinacea can be grown on a large scale, more information must be made available to the grower. Agronomic studies are currently being conducted within Manitoba to determine locations best suited for this crop. Markets are variable and price is usually determined prior to harvest in the form of a forward contract or a cash price. Premiums are usually paid for certified organic product, however, non-certified product accounts for approximately 75 percent of the market.

Site Selection And Seeding

Echinacea is best suited for a poor to moderately rich, well-drained soil. A high lime content is preferred, however, they will tolerate a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.0 or greater. Echinacea is drought tolerant. Good soil drainage and frequent, shallow cultivation are necessary to produce more vigorous plants.

Area Of Adaptation

The land suited to all three of these species have to be well drained in a sunny location. Rocky glacial till lands will contain most of the trace minerals needed.

Augustifolia - dry upland prairies, now grown in southern and northern prairies

Pallida - rocky open sites

Purpurea - rocky open woods and prairies, now grown in southern and northern prairies


Echinacea can be propagated via seed; by dividing offshoots of the crowns, or by planting four to five inch sections of the roots. However, the easiest method to grow Echinacea is to use transplants that can be set out in rich, well-drained soil. Seeds of Echinacea angustifolia and pallida require a stratification period (cold treatment) of four to 12 weeks. The angustifolia also may require further manipulation in the form of a soaking treatment for 24 hours immediately prior to seeding. Even with proper stratification, expected germination is still approximately only 50 percent. Echinacea purpurea on the other hand will germinate relatively easily in 10 to 20 days without pre-germination stratification. Some studies have shown that angustifolia seedlings do not transplant well given the tap roots. Direct seeding, however, also causes difficulties as germination is poor and the seedling grows very slowly, becoming susceptible to weed competition.


Fertilization of Echinacea is currently an inexact operation as further research is required for specific recommendations. Site selection is important and a soil in the pH range of 6-7 should provide a good starting point. A proper soil analysis of the site is advisable and should be done prior to applying any nutrients or soil amendments. Low nitrogen levels have been proven to give higher essential oil production in other medicinal plants. (Specialty Crops Infosheet, 1995). It is also necessary to provide adequate amounts of phosphorus and potassium.

Weed Control

Weed control in Echinacea production is essential. If weeds are not controlled during the early stages of establishment, the future viability of the crop is affected. Proper site selection and preparations are therefore essential to eliminate as many weed problems before the Echinacea is established. Methods used for weed control include inter-row cultivation and hand weeding, or hoeing. There are currently no herbicides registered for use in Canada.

Insects And Diseases

There have been no reported insect or disease problems reported in organic Echinacea production. However, the following insects have been observed in Echinacea in Manitoba: aster leafhopper, Lygus bug/tarnished plant bug, grasshoppers, aphids, thrips and stinkbugs. Aster yellows have been observed in Echinacea stands. The affected plants show leaf yellowing which causes sterility in the flower and enables it to produce seed. Aster yellows can affect the winter hardiness of the plant. Other diseases affecting echinacea are fusarium, botrytis and pythium. Other concerns include; broad bean wild virus, cucumber mosaic virus and damp off disease.


Echinacea is drought tolerant and therefore irrigation is not required unless severe conditions arise.


For root harvest, plants are required to grow for three to four years, if planted by seed, before harvesting can take place. Autumn is the best time to harvest Echinacea as the moisture content is normally lower than in spring. Once roots have been harvested they should be cleaned and dried. Two possible methods for drying the roots are under low forced heat, or dried in open air under heat.

When harvesting seed heads for seed, it is best to harvest on the 3rd year since the seed needs to ripen on plant (harvest at 25 - 30 percent moisture). Harvest close to the first frost when the stalks are brown and brittle. Harvesting seed heads for medicinal purposes: purpurea heads - harvest when flowers are in full bloom (mid July). Pick flowers first thing in the morning for optimum medicinal quality. Process the same day preferably within four hours (for fresh tincture): Dry the plant material fast and cool (artificially).

Harvesting for plant material, purpurea plants - cut in full bloom just after dew is dried, but not in the heat of the day for optimum medicinal quality. Process the same day preferably within four hours (for fresh tincture).

Harvesting roots, purpurea, augustifolia and pallida - harvest after a killing frost. On a large-scale operation, use a specialized U-blade and root harvester. On small-scale operations use a ditching spade. Expect roots to range from 8 inch (purpurea) to a possible 24 inch (augustifolia and pallida).

Processing And Drying

Since Echinacea is sold as both a fresh and dried product, the type and amount of processing is determined by your market and/or contract conditions. Drying of the herb is easily accomplished, however, it should be noted that drying at a moderate temperature of 20 – 25 degrees Celsius is preferred. The different parts of the plant will require various amounts of time to dry effectively, with the herbage and seed heads taking the longest. Seed heads can be processed using a common hammermill with at least a 2.5 cm screen. Seed cleaning is accomplished with various screen sizes to eliminate dust and foreign materials, however, chaff can become a problem, as it is similar in size to the seed. An airflow system will usually eliminate the majority of the chaff.