Native to eastern North America, Echinacea purpurea is distributed from the states of Georgia to Louisiana and Oklahoma and northwards to Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. It inhabits rocky, open woodlands and prairies but is also found adjacent to rivers and streams.
The generic name comes from the Greek word for hedgehog ‘echinos’ (inspired by the spiky projections in the centre of its flower head at the seed stage). The specific epithet ‘purpurea’ refers to the purple colour of the flowers.
The common name, coneflower, relates to the cone-shaped receptacle (the base of the flower head, bearing the florets).
Echinacea purpurea grows up to 1.8 m tall with an underground stem (rhizome), and rough stems above the ground. The flower heads (capitula) are up to 15 cm in diameter with orange central disc-florets and red-purple outer ray-florets with green tips.
The rhizome has been used in Native American medicine to treat a wide range of ailments from snakebites to sore throats. Medicines made using Echinacea species have been shown to have antiviral effects and to stimulate the production of white blood-cells.
The fresh juice of the above-ground parts has also been approved in Germany for use in restoring damaged tissue and for assisting the human body in fighting infection.