Introduction

Echinacea pallida—show potential pharmacological activity and have economical value all over the world (McKeown, 1999).

Echinacea is a relatively new genus in Europe. First, these species were introduced as decorative plants and later, from about 1930 to 1960, they became very popular as medicinal plants. As evidence of their medicinal value became clear, supplies derived from wild native American plants did not meet the increased demand. Thus, research efforts today are directed at establishing the best methods for cultivating Echinacea species in Europe and North America. More than 15 countries now have cultivation and production facilities.

From the several Echinacea species, the most studied and well known is the purple coneflower (E. purpurea), the species that has been most fully domesticated thus far. Several articles and books have been written on the biological activity, chemistry, and medicinal effects and uses of Echinacea (Bauer and Wagner, 1990; Foster, 1991; Hobbs, 1995), but the literature is sparse concerning cultivation and agrotechnical issues for the genus. Information on cultivation methods, yield components, and effects on biomass productivity and chemical components is very limited. A few papers dealing with agrotechnical issues were published recently in scientific and practical journals and in national herb cultivation handbooks.

The history of the cultivation of Echinacea in Europe can be divided into several periods. The first period started when Echinacea was first introduced into Europe as a garden perennial for its decorative qualities. John Banister introduced it into English gardens before 1699 (Ewan and Ewan, 1970). The earliest written report on Echinacea appeared in the 18th century, when the genus was described in the Horticultural Lexicon by Miller in 1776 as Rudbeckia purpurea (equivalent to E. purpurea). The first cultivation methods were described by Reichenbach in 1833. Echinacea-based drugs appeared in the European literature at the end of the 19th century. The first reports on medical utilization of Echinacea appeared in 1898 (E. purpurea) and in 1897 (E. angustifolia) (Bauer and Wagner, 1990).

In the second period, 1920 to 1940, several articles referring to Echinacea as a homeopathic herb were published in Germany (Schwabe, 1924). When the German companies Madaus and Schwabe started to use Echinacea as a medicinal plant on a larger scale, cultivation activity began on an equally large scale.

In the third period, 1950 to 1980, cultivation of Echinacea expanded to meet the increasing demand of medicinal manufacturers. Commercial cultivation began in Germany in Mittel-Unterfranken by Madaus and Schwabe, and in Inning and Weber-Ammersee by the Vogel company (Bauer and Wagner, 1990).

Facilities for cultivation were also established in Bocourt, Switzerland, by Spagyros, in Roggwill, Switzerland, by Vogel, and in Elburg, The Netherlands, by Biohorma Ag. Others were set up in northern Italy (Sudtirol-Gardasee) and in Yugoslavia and Spain (Boehringer-Ingelheim Company). A summary of all these cultivation methods and techniques on Echinacea can be found in Heeger (1956), and later by Ebert (1982).

Because of morphological similarities but vague taxonomical definitions, there was much confusion in the identification of species. In 1939, Madaus ordered seeds of E. angustifolia from America. The plants grown from those seeds later proved to be E. purpurea. This might be one of the main reasons for the intensive product development and research into E. purpurea in Europe.

The fourth period began in the mid-1980s when detailed taxonomical and agrotechnical research was carried out mainly in Germany. The first formal research on E. purpurea was done in Sweibheim (Barnickel, 1985). Later, long-term and basic agronomic research was carried out at Bayerische Landesanstalt fur Bodenkultur und Pflanzenbaues in Freising (Bomme, 1986; Bomme et al., 1996). Published results generated increasing interest in Echinacea in other European countries. Agronomic research and commercial cultivation extended into several European countries, such as Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia. Finally some Nordic countries also initiated research on Echinacea. The interest in Echinacea can be seen from the number of publications on Echinacea species in agriculture (Table 4.1). According to the available literature, 61 manuscripts were pub lished from 1951 to 2002. These statistics include only articles and monographs focused exclusively on Echinacea, and do not include handbooks of herb cultivation or general articles in which Echinacea is one among other herbs, such as in the paper by Bomme and Wurzinger (1990). In the 1990s, the number of publications increased, which paralleled equally intense research activities. Research activities in other countries increased as well during this period.

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