Difference Between Echinacea Species
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Judy Brent
Posted on: October 12, 1998

What is the difference between Echinacea pallida and E. angustifolia? If one wanted to grow echinacea commercially which has more medicinal value and higher profit?

Herbalists hold divergent views about the relative properties and uses of the various Echinacea species. Some say E. augustifolia is the best, and others say E. purpurea is the best. E. pallida seems to be caught somewhere in the middle. The truth of the matter is that the three major medicinal species of Echinacea can be regarded as different herbs just as the Chinese herbalists say american ginseng is "cooling" and korean ginseng is "warming" (and thus are used differently).

There is no doubt that the three species have different chemical profiles. One constituent may be abundant in one species and completely absent in another. The trouble with the constituents is that no one is sure which ones are important for health. Echinacosides are often assumed to be important, but there is considerable controversy among scientists whether they or other compounds are responsible for echinacea’s immunostimulatory effects.

Some herbalists say that E. angustifolia is the more potent species. They say it packs more of a punch, and would use it acute situations requiring a strong-acting agent. The same herbalists often prescribe E. purpurea in a more preventative role. E. pallida is commonly blended with the other two main species, less by design than for lack of availability of the other two.

Whatever herbalists or scientists say, the important thing for commercial growers is what the industry will pay. There is no doubt that E. angustifolia commands the highest price of the three species. But price does not translate into profits. E. angustifolia is harder to grow, slower, and more costly to establish than other two species. In addition, it is not suitable for areas that get a lot of rain (E. purpurea is a bit more tolerant of rain).

Just where on the profit and loss column the three species will end up for you is difficult to say without trying them out. We recommend that you start trial plots of the three species and pay attention to the costs of production. When you have root samples to show to buyers you will know how high your price should be.

All three species are 3-4 year crops. E. purpurea yields herb (above-ground foliage) as well as roots. The foliage can be cut in years 2, 3 and 4, and roots harvested in the last year. In Europe, only the herb of E. purpurea is used by some manufacturers. E. pallida and E. angustifolia are both grown for roots only, although there is no reason why some herb could not be harvested from E. pallida. E. purpurea is the easiest to grow, and the most likely to be successful.

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