All About Thyme
  A Weekly Calendar of Times & Seasonings

  Celebrating the Mysteries, Magic, and Myths of Herbs
Susan Wittig Albert  
Special Feature, July 2, 2018  

Prairie Doctor

The echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) is blooming across the Plains states now, its purple petals a colorful contrast to its bright orange centers. On this hot July afternoon in Texas, it is the prettiest thing in the garden. The bees and butterflies pausing happily to enjoy it obviously think so, too.

Echinacea is native to the Great Plains of North America, and the native peoples of the region, skilled herbalists as they were, understood its effectiveness long before white people came into their territory. In their larder of plant medicines—ginseng, golden seal, slippery elm, chickweed, milkweed—echinacea held the highest place. It was used to treat toothaches, coughs, infections, sore throats, and just about anything else. Preparation was simple: they dug a fresh root and sucked on it.

European botanists heard about the coneflower in the early 1700s, but it was not until the Indians shared their knowledge with the settlers that word of this American treasure, often called the "prairie doctor," got around. Now, it is one of the best-selling herbal remedies on the market, recommended as a treatment for colds, flu, and related ailments. There's a great deal of scientific reporting about this herb; while there are no known safety issues, it's a good idea to read about it before using it.

Herbalist Steven Foster suggests making your own herbal tea with the fresh flowering tops of E. purpurea. Pick a flower, he says, chop it fine, and put it into a tea bag or non-reactive strainer. Steep in hot water for 15 minutes, and sip to combat flu and colds.

Read more about echinacea:
Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family, by Rosemary Gladstar

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Who's Susan Albert?

Susan Wittig Albert is the author of two recent memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place. Her fiction, which has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, includes A Wilder Rose (a novel about Rose Wilder Lane's collaboration with Laura Ingalls Wilder in the writing of the Little House books); the China Bayles mysteries; the Darling Dahlias mysteries; the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter; and a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries written with her husband, Bill Albert, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige. She is founder and past president of the Story Circle Network, a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, and Honorary President (2012-2014) of the Herb Society of America. More

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Who's China Bayles?

She's the beloved fictional herbalist in Susan Wittig Albert's popular mystery series, set in Pecan Springs TX. For more about her books, visit

For more about herbs and the passing seasons, read China Bayles' Book of Days.

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