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Phytochemicals, seed and forage from purple coneflower

Craig Sheaffer, Extension Agronomist, and Katrina Freund Saxhaug, Research Scientist, Department of Horticultural Science

A field of purple coneflower grown in monoculture
Production of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea Moench) in mixture with native grasses and forbs on agriculture landscapes has potential to supply ecosystem services such as pollinator habitat, carbon sequestration, and soil stabilization. Ecological uses could be promoted by revenue streams from phytochemicals, seed, and biomass. Purple coneflower is a native perennial plant widely distributed in prairies throughout the Midwest. It is also grown as an ornamental plant in gardens.

Medicinal use

Purple coneflower was used as a medicinal plant by Native Americans and knowledge of its benefits was passed on to colonists. It was used to treat snakebites, wounds, toothaches, and respiratory illnesses. A product containing purple coneflower, Meyers Blood Purifier, was marketed in the late 1800’s as treatment for malaria, diphtheria, and other serious illnesses (Sumner, 2004). 

Today, the leaves, flowers, and roots of purple coneflower, are used in dietary health supplements reported to act as an anti-inflammatory, to stimulate the immune system, and to treat respiratory illnesses, although results from clinical trials have been inconsistent (Freund Saxhaug, 2023). Purple coneflower health benefits may be related to the presence of a diverse set of bioactive phytochemicals including polysaccharides, phenyl propanoids (like cichoric acid, caffeic acid, and echianacoside) and fatty acid amides (alkamides) (Manayi, et al., 2015).

Agroecological research

Research led by Dr. Katrina Freund Saxhaug examined the effect of planting pattern (mixed species communities versus monocultures) and location (environment) on the phytochemical profile of roots, stems, leaves and seeds of purple coneflower. The concentration of some phytochemicals such as caffeic acid were higher in stem, leaf, and root tissue when grown on a low fertility, droughty soil than on a higher fertility silt loam soil.

Roots and seeds contained the highest concentration of caffeic acid and alkamides, and stem and leaves contained less. Because seed tissue contains similar levels of alkamides as root tissue, harvest of seeds instead of roots could cause less disruption in coneflower stands. Flowers contained the highest concentrations of cichoric acid.

Purple coneflower is a valuable
source of nectar for pollinators
 and seed for birds.
The concentration of phytochemicals like cichoric acid was similar for purple cone flower grown in monoculture or in a polyculture with native grasses and forbs. Polycultures would be preferable over monocultures because of the ecosystem services polycultures provide. and it shouldn't come at the cost of affecting the beneficial phytochemical profile.

Seed and biomass can also provide economic return from growing coneflower. Seed yields from a polyculture averaged about 2000 lb/acre in the first two years of production and were about 300% more for a silt loam than a sandy soil. Above ground biomass yields from a single fall harvest were over 5000 lb/acre for the silt loam soil which was 200% greater than for the sandy soil.

Table 1. Purple coneflower seed and biomass yield in year 1 and year 2 of production on a silt loam and sandy soil. Yields are from a diverse polyculture.
Soil type Seed yield
Year 1
Seed yield
Year 2
Biomass yield
Year 1
Biomass yield
Year 2
lb/acre lb/acre lb/acre lb/acre
Silt loam 2700 1200 5500 4500
Sandy 670 670 1870 1870

Freund Saxhaug et al. 2020.

Ecological applications

This research was supported by a AGRI Crop Research Grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and the University of Minnesota Forever Green Initative ( ) that develops perennial crops to protect soil and water while providing new economic opportunities for growers, industry, and communities across Minnesota.


A. Manayi, M. Vazirian, and S.Saeidnia. 2015. Echinacea purpurea: Pharmacology, phytochemistry and analysis methods. Pharmacogn. Rev. 2015 9: 63–72

K. Freund Saxhaug, J. Jungers, A. Hageman, D. L. Wyse, and C.C. Sheaffer. 2020. Cultivation of native plants for seed and biomass yield. Agronomy J. 112:1815-1827.

K. Freund Saxhaug, J. Jungers, D. L. Wyse, C.C. Sheaffer. And A. Hageman, 2023. Field production of purple coneflower for beneficial phytochemicals. J. Horticultural Science and biotechnology:

J. Sumner. 2004. American household botany. Timber press, Protland, Oregon, U.S.A.

USDA NRCS Plants Database. Purple coneflower.

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