Echinacea is an herb in the Asteraceae family with a reputation as a medicine that goes back centuries. It is American in origin and was widely used by Native American tribes in the Great Plains for treating numerous ailments. The roots and the leaves of the plant are beneficial for health and contain many of the same chemicals; however, there are some differences. We will look at how echinacea leaf and echinacea root compare to each other in this SPICEography Showdown.
How does echinacea root differ from echinacea leaf?
Historically, the root of the echinacea plant has been considered the part of the plant with the most health benefits; however, in some varieties, the different parts of the plant share many of the same compounds.
Echinacea purpurea is the most versatile echinacea variety since the whole plant can be used. E. purpurea’s versatility was discovered in the 1930s and since then tinctures made with the upper parts of the plant or the whole plant (both roots and aerial parts) have been popular. With Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida, only the root and rhizome are considered beneficial.
The roots of the echinacea plant are higher in alkamides when compared to other parts of the plant. Echinacea root should only be harvested in the fall as the leaves begin to yellow; you can harvest echinacea leaves from spring to fall when they are green. Echinacea root will cause a tingling sensation on the tongue that you won’t get from the leaves. The sensation comes from the higher concentration of alkamides it contains. As with other plants in the Asteraceae family like burdock, the root of the echinacea plant is an especially good source of inulin and contains more than other parts of the plant.
Echinacea root will cause a tingling sensation on the tongue that you won’t get from the leaves. The sensation comes from the higher concentration of alkamides it contains. As with other plants in the Asteraceae family like burdock, the root of the echinacea plant is an especially good source of inulin and contains more than other parts of the plant.
Echinacea leaf is a rich source of flavonoids that can help to protect the body against the damage caused by oxidation. Studies have found leaf extracts to contain 20 percent more flavonoids when compared to the below-ground parts of the plant.
Can you use echinacea root in place of echinacea leaf and vice versa?
All parts of the echinacea plant are chemically similar — you will find polysaccharides, glycoproteins, and alkamides in both the root and the leaf. This means that for some of the conditions typically treated with echinacea, either the root or the leaf will suffice. You can substitute one for the other and get the same benefits.
However, some of the compounds are present in different concentrations and you may have to take that into account when deciding which part of the plant will be most beneficial. For example, you may not want to use the leaf as a substitute for the root if you are trying to manage your blood sugar because of the difference in inulin content. Similarly, the leaves may be the better option if you want the benefits from the flavonoids they contain.
When should you use echinacea root and when should you use echinacea leaf?
If you want more of echinacea’s cancer-fighting and antioxidant effects, use echinacea root. For general-purpose antimicrobial and cold- and flu-fighting, you may want to focus on leaf-based tinctures and decoctions. You can buy commercial echinacea leaf extracts or make your own by soaking the leaves in 80-proof alcohol for three to four weeks. Strain off the alcohol store it for when you need to fight off an infection.