Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a popular ornamental flowering plant, valued for its unique purple flowers and long blooming period. It’s also well-known for its medicinal uses, especially as an immune system booster. But did you know that the seeds of the coneflower can be collected and stored for future use?
Harvesting and storing coneflower seeds properly is essential for ensuring that the seeds remain viable for future planting. Proper harvesting and storage also help to ensure that each plant in a garden produces true-to-type offspring, as each strain of coneflower has unique characteristics. While harvesting and storage may seem like a daunting task, with a few simple steps, it can be easily managed.
How and When to Harvest Echinacea Seeds
The best time to harvest coneflower seeds is when the flower heads have dried out and the achene, or seed, is easily visible. This usually happens in late summer or early fall. Echinacea seeds are usually brown and oval-shaped but can vary in size from 1 mm to 5 mm in length. For optimal growth, it is important to ensure that these seeds are harvested at the correct time when their moisture content is between 6-8%.
- To collect seed heads, wait until the flowers have finished blooming and the seed heads are dry. Once they’re ready, carefully cut off the top of each flower head with scissors or a knife. Be sure to place the seed heads in an envelope or paper bag away from direct sunlight.
- Once the seed head has begun to dry, gently break it open and carefully collect each individual seed. It is important to note that this step should be done carefully because the seed head is quite prickly.
- Once the seeds have been collected, they should be spread out on a paper towel and allowed to dry completely (about 3-5 days). Keep the seeds away from direct sunlight, as this may cause them to overheat.
- Once the seed is dry, you may choose to sift it through a fine mesh strainer or sifter. This will remove any chaff (fine debris) that might be in with the seed and ensure that only pure coneflower seeds remain.
Shelf Life and Storage Conditions
When the seed is dried, it should be placed in an airtight container. Containers such as glass jars, plastic bags, or paper envelopes are all suitable for storing seeds. Essential to success when harvesting is to label your container with the species’ name and harvest date. It is important to ensure that no moisture is present inside the container and that it is stored in a cool, dry environment.
The ideal condition for long-term seed storage is a cool, dry environment with temperatures between 54-59°F and humidity levels of 55% or lower. If storing the seeds for long periods of time (more than 2 years) it is important to check that temperature and humidity levels remain constant in order to ensure the best possible chances of germination when the time comes to plant. Every year, the germination rate of seeds slightly decreases.
Properties of Echinacea
The Echinacea, also known as purple coneflower, has many properties that make it a popular herbal remedy. Its active constituents include polysaccharides, alkylamides, caffeic acid derivatives, and flavonoids. These compounds are said to have antibacterial and antiviral activity and may be helpful in boosting the immune system. The coneflower is also said to have antioxidant activity, which can help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.