Europe: Different Cultivation and Production Forms of Echinacea

Decorative Perennial

Echinacea was introduced in Europe and cultivated first as a decorative perennial. Among the Echinacea species, E. purpurea is by far the best-known species. E. pallida and E. angustifolia have less ornamental value in Europe because their ligules have drooping characteristics.

As a perennial plant, its ornamental use is based on the large decorative and long-lasting inflorescens. Each plant has 10 to 30 flower stems and the large flowers are 6 to 18 cm in diameter, with 4- to 6-cm long ligules. Their color ranges from white to rose pink to red violet. After the flowering period, the dried elevated cones with ripened seeds have decorative value in the autumn garden as well. Echinacea species are also used in perennial plant borders.

Cut Flower

In our Finnish cut-flower study, the longevity of the flowers in the field was 31 to 50 days and their full aesthetic flowering lasted indoors at room temperature for 10 to 12 days. The flower stems after cutting must be placed immediately, and remain continuously, in water to preserve longevity.

Nectar Production

According to a study carried out in Ukraine, one E. purpurea plant, in years 2 and 3, developed 17 and 30 flowers, respectively. During the second and third years, one flower can produce 1.5 and 2.7 g of honey. Calculated based on plant density of 50 x 70 cm, one ha consists of 35,000 to 40,000 plants with 450,000 to 600,000 flowers. The calculated nectar production during the second and third years should be 25 to 75 kg/ha and 50 to 130 kg/ha, respectively. This result indicated that the flowers aged 3 or 4 years can be used for honey production as well.

Hydroponic Cultivation

Hydroponic cultivation techniques that are used generally for lettuce and fresh herb production in greenhouses provide new, totally controlled conditions for high-quality raw materials for industrial use of medicinal plants. Presently, these techniques are still in the experimental stage for Echinacea. The first experimental results have been recently reported in Canada on the cultivation of Echinacea angustifolia using a floating-raft growing system.

In Vitro and Micropropagation Production of Echinacea Species

Micropropagation methods are the means of rapid clonal propagation of elite individual plants with unique ornamental or medical properties. Several studies have been carried out on the three main Echinacea species.

There are several publications describing the use of in vitro techniques for the production of Echinacea species. The application of in vitro techniques to the production of Echinacea species provides an alternate source of plant material for extraction of active ingredients.

Regarding field production as a main source of the plant raw materials for industrial processing, the mass propagation method for commercial cultivation presently is either direct seed sowing or transplanting of seedlings. With respect to the end products of field cultivation, two main industrial utilization forms include the processing of the fresh plant material and of dried plant raw materials.

Fresh Raw Material

The fresh herb or root is sliced and pressed to obtain fresh plant juice, or the fresh plant material is frozen immediately after slicing and pressing. Other processing methods involve extraction of fresh raw materials by water, alcohol, or other organic solvents. Fresh raw material processing requires the close proximity of field and processing plant, and requires careful planning to avoid fermentation of processed material or contamination of active substances in fresh plant tissues.

Dried Raw Material

The most common and convenient method for preserving large quantities of raw plant materials is drying. The dominant part of the Echinacea raw materials used in national and international trade represents the dried forms of Echinacea.

The most common commercial items are leaves and whole aboveground parts: E. purpurea herba, E. angustifolia herba, E. pallida herba; and roots: E. purpurea radix, E. angustifolia radix, and E. pallida radix. Additionally, dried or soft extracts of the abovementioned raw materials are available on the market.

Bertalan Galambosi “Cultivation in Europe” (2004)