Echinacea (aka ‘cone flower’) is a perennial herb native to the American Midwest. Echinacea is easily grown and is a safe adjunct therapy for small pets ailing from a variety of conditions.
Echinacea is a member of the daisy family. The plant has tall stems and most commonly bears single pink or purple flowers, each of which has a central cone which is usually purple or brown in color. The large cone is actually a seed head with sharp spines, and the generic name is derived from the Greek word echino, meaning ‘sea urchin’ – in deference to the spiny cone!
Several laboratory and animal studies suggest that Echinacea contains active substances that enhance the activity of the immune system, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and provide antiviral, and antioxidant effects.
The herb can be enjoyed by small pets in the form of (cooled) tea, a few leaves in their salad, or topical applications for skin inflammations.
Easily grown here in the Midwest, Echinacea thrives in a wide variety of growing conditions. It can be found in prairies or home gardens, in sunny fields or shaded wooded areas, tolerating drought as well as overly rainy summers. The flowers bloom all through the summer, and the plant reseeds itself for the next year from the seeds that drop from the ‘cones’.
Three species of echinacea are commonly used for medicinal purposes: Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea purpurea. Every part of the plant (roots, stems, foliage, and flowers) has a medicinal use: the flowers are used in making flower essences, such as Bach’s flower essences and Newton’s Remedies, and all of the pars of the plant can be used in teas and other herbal preparations. Leaves can be mashed or chopped and applied to skin irritations (mix with a dab of food-grade coconut butter as needed).
While the leaves are somewhat hairy and have a rough texture, most small herbivores seem to enjoy a small, tender leaf or two in their daily salad. (The author’s rabbits could care less, and happily scarf down the roughest, hairiest leaves). Although many individuals offer Echinacea to their pets on a regular basis, it seems logical to this author to offer the herb to your pet on a temporary basis, perhaps for a week or two, and then stop the Echinacea and see if the symptoms have resolved. If not, then offer a second round of the herb for another week or two.
This time of year, you may find Echinacea plants on sale at local nurseries, or you may be able to sweet-talk your neighbors out of a plant or two. Echinacea spreads well, so in a couple of years those two plants will have multiplied a few times over.
If you prefer to offer your pet some cooled echinacea tea, the easiest thing to do is get some organic ground echinacea root from Olympia Health Foods. Add a big pinch of the ground root to a cup of very hot water, cover and let steep until the water has cooled off entirely. Offer to your pet.
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