These are the practices we follow to preserve the native populations of Echinacea angustifolia in Western Kansas. Since Echinacea grows wild here, we encourage the preservation through "wild management. If these suggestions are followed by all wild crafters, then there should not be a threat of endagerment by over harvesting.
Before harvesting begins, scout surrounding private property to locate potential harvest sites, then contact the land owner to obtain "written permission" to harvest rights for that property. Under no circumstances, should Echinacea be harvested from state or federal owned lands, or any other land you have been warned against entering upon.
When harvesting Echinacea, start by digging around the root to loosen the rocky soil before popping the root off at about 8" - 12" deep. Echinacea grows a tap root five to eight feet deep, the remaining root will regenerate new growth from the remaining root. This method causes no more harm to the plant than wild game or livestock that naturally graze on the upper portion of the plants during spring.
Always leave a strong seed base to bloom and pollinate the following spring. Do not harvest from the wild stands during March through June, so that they may complete their seed producing cycle. Develop "wild managed" populations from seed harvested with the roots, by sowing seeds during the fall or by germinating them in 4" - 6" flats, and placing one seedling near each harvested root spot. This not only replaces what was taken, but the loosened soil will assist quicker root establishment.
Always remember to return at least fifty percent of your wild harvested seeds to the wild stand they were harvested from. Since wild Echinacea seeds do not usually fall far from their parent plants, sowing seeds in the fall or planting seedlings in the spring, provides greater distances between plants, as well as, improving growth and production rates per plant.
Harvest only the oldest roots, leaving behind the younger plants as your seed base for the next year. Wild roots growing in rocky limestone soils in drought conditions grow slower than cultivated roots. Therefore, 4 to 5 years is not uncommon for a root to reach full maturity in the wild. Anything younger yields little weight in comparison. Since it is often difficult to distinguish between the younger and older roots, we usually judge by the years a stand has been untouched or by the number of dormant flower stems remaining from previous years.
Replenishing the Supply:
When harvesting Echinacea herb and roots, it is imperative that the seeds or seed pods be scattered over the harvested portions of the field. This insures that the stand does not disappear from its established area. There is no need to harvest this portion of the plant, since the concentration of active properties is contained within the root and lower portion of the plant (the leaves).
Germination rates can be less than 30%, so supervise the drying and stratification of the seeds by exposing them to light and temperatures that fluctuate below 40 degrees. Start seeds 150 days before planting in their final spots by using 6" flats with controlled temperatures around 70 degrees.
A publication released in May 2004 by the Kansas State University contains more information on both harvesting and medicinal uses of Echinacea. Click here.