the farm

4 Lessons from Our Old Friend, Echinacea

Published on November 12, 2015

If you've ever wondered whether plants could be role models, the answer is yes. Yes, they can. My plant teachings first came from my mom, who brought herbal knowledge with her from Scotland. She taught me the power of gardening, and that the tingling sensation of Echinacea extract means potency.

My relationship with plants continued to develop when my passion turned into a career: as a community developer working with small farmers throughout the world, as an aspiring organic farmer myself, as a university research assistant and, most recently, at Gaia, where I spend many hours wandering our 350-acre Certified Organic farm.

Walking the Gaia Farm allows me to truly "get to know" our valued plants-from the various stages of growth to the extensive testing our team of scientists completes. I'm also able to hear stories from people who take our herbs. But the most magical transformation I see is the glow on their faces when they visit our farm for the first time, especially as they walk into a flourishing field of Echinacea.

Here are some of my favorite lessons from one of my own first plant friends, Echinacea.

Maintain graceful strength.

Echinacea growing at Gaia Herbs farm

Echinacea reaches up to four feet in height, with sturdy green stems that give way to lively mauve or rose-pink petals and bright cone heads. To get lost in a field of Echinacea is to get lost in a sea of pink with the soundtrack of pollinators galore, bees, birds and butterflies. It welcomes these creatures in to feast on the pollen, which they then spread to plant the seed for new growth and fruit.

Native to North America, Echinacea is a tough plant that resiliently thrives in extreme temperatures. As a hardy perennial, it can survive cold winters, from the eastern half of the continent to the northern tip of Ontario. Echinacea is resistant to drought as well as most insects and plant diseases. Adversity is an old friend to Echinacea - it stands tall, holds its ground and becomes stronger for the next phase of life.

So be like Echinacea. Embrace struggle without resentment. Stand tall and stay rooted. Find strength in being yourself, but always welcome others.

Know what sustains you and make that a part of your daily life.

Echinacea is constantly full of life and energy, thanks to the millions of seeds resting in its flower head. It is this cone head that allows the plant to flourish and propagate from season to season. Its instinct knows that these seeds are sacred, the source of strength and resilience. Keeping these seeds close and safe is essential.

What brings you growth and sustenance? Discover your source and keep it close to you every day. It's easy to forget the little things that give you life, like dipping your feet in fresh spring water, cuddling up with a good book and cup of tea or greeting the day with the peace that only dawn can bring. Give priority to these simple rituals that bring nourishment so you can be fully present for everything life throws your way, good and bad.

We are constantly evolving and changing. Embrace this.

Life is constantly and consistently fluid. Relationships end and friendships fade. Houses are sold and children depart for college. Workloads shift and loved ones pass away. These profound changes are a challenge for us as creatures of habit and comfort. So change is often met with resistance-causing fear and uncertainty. Sometimes it causes us to forget daily necessities, like being active or eating a fresh meal. In reality, this constant state of change is necessary for growth and often leads to new opportunities.

In 2001, Gaia Herbs was funded by the National Institutes of Health to study the various chemical groups in Echinacea. During our study we witnessed remarkable change and profound beauty inside this humble plant. The constituents of Echinacea, as well as its actions, vary dramatically depending on the species, the part of the plant used, the season of harvest and the method of extraction. This change in chemistry allows us to use Echinacea in a multitude of products, including both long-term use and short-term use formulations. But why?

In the springtime, the fresh flower buds provide polysaccharides, the constituent that supports a healthy immune response and promotes health within the body all year long.* We harvest these flower buds in the spring and then extract the polysaccharides in water for our long-term use products, like Whole Body Defense*.

Then comes the fall, when the pink petals have fallen and the seed heads are uniformly brown. The outside luster of the plant may have faded, but inside the alkylamides are at their vibrant peak. This constituent of the Echinacea plant supports a healthy inflammatory response.* We combine Echinacea at this stage with complementary plants for support at the onset of immune challenges, like in Quick Defense.*

When the leaves start to drop and the seed heads turn brown, Echinacea embraces change (quite literally). This makes room for the chemical transformations that shape our liquid extracts. So take a cue from Echinacea. Find strength in the winds of change and anticipate the new beginnings those changes bring.

Seasons are short: Only put energy where it matters.

Like all perennial plants, as the aerial portions of Echinacea (the leaves, seed heads and stalks) begin to die, the plant concentrates energy into producing strong roots for winter. This focus is deliberate-it understands that energy wasted on frivolous tasks will only distract from survival. Strong roots go beyond an easy winter; they also provide valued constituents, like alkylamides.

A simple but powerful message from our friendly Echinacea: Put energy where it matters. Spend time with people who elevate you or find a job that expands your passions. Balance the amount of energy expended on thoughts and reactions. But, most importantly, discover the kind of energy you want in your life. Find focus and deliberation, just like Echinacea.