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Meet the Plants (Part 1): Echinacea, Black-eyed Susan, and Cardoon

May 29, 2012

Hi, Madison here, the summer intern. This is the first part of many in our summer blog series “Meet the Plants” that will explore the new plants in the IC Permaculture Garden. I will share some of our reasons for including them in the garden, along with some ecological information and culinary, medicinal, and historic uses. Pictures of the individual plants in our garden are coming soon once some technical difficulties are resolved.

Echinacea purpurea

Fully-grown echinacea in flower

Echinacea purpurea, also called simply echinacea or purple coneflower, is a perennial and native to the northeast. To those of us from the midwest we might recognize it as a characteristic flower found in tallgrass prairies. Echinacea is a tough plant that grows well in many soil types and is also a valuable medicinal, which is why we chose it for our garden. The name echinacea comes from the Greek root echino meaning spiny (think back to Biology and echinoderms), presumably because the center of the flowers are prickly to touch. Echinacea is sold at Greenstar Coop in pill and tea form as an immune booster. “The aboveground parts of the plant and roots of echinacea are used fresh or dried to make teas, squeezed (expressed) juice, extracts, or preparations for external use.” (

Rudbeckia fulgida

Rudbeckia fulgida, commonly called Black-Eyed Susans or Orange Coneflower, is a perennial native to the northeast and is also a prairie plant. Rudbeckia and echinacea both cope well with the direct sun and heat in the garden. (The garden is south-east facing and the walls of the surrounding building radiate a lot of heat.) They handle poor soil well, which makes them a great fit for our space. Rudbeckia attract butterflies, are rabbit resistant, and the seeds are a favorite food of finches during winter. The roots of Rudbeckia varieties are used medicinally in many Native American traditions.

Cynara cardunculus

Cardoon, viewed from underneath the foliage.

Cynara cardunculus, or cardoon, is a perennial closely related to artichoke. It is valued for its beautiful architecture with large grey-green foliage, resembling a thistle. Cardoon is edible in many forms. Most frequently, the greens and/or stalks are braised or steamed and used as a celery or artichoke substitute. Leaves are best harvested right before the plant flowers. In Italy, raw stems are dipped in olive oil and eaten raw. Flower buds are edible raw or cooked. Roots are edible, cooked as a parsnip. (

Cardoon is used in Cocido Madrileño, a traditional winter dish in Spain, also including chickpeas, meat, cabbage, carrots, and turnips. The flowers are used as a vegetable rennet in Queijo de Nisa, a semi-hard goat cheese from Portugal.

Artichoke oil (extracted from the seeds of the cardoon) has potential for biodiesel use because it is similar in composition to sunflower and safflower oil. (

Cardoon is also used in herbal medicine. As implied by its latin name, cardoon contains cynarin, a bitter tasting compound that improves liver and gall bladder function, helps with digestion, and lowers cholesterol. (


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