Meet Echinacea, one of our most popular herbs especially during the long months of immune season. We grow our own on our Certified Organic farm in southern Oregon. Bold and brightly-colored, it grows chest high in the heat of late July.
Echinacea attracts a range of pollinators. By midday, the fields are abuzz. There’s an audible hum as you meander down the flowering rows. Bees zipping this way and that. Butterflies gently flapping overhead. Night brings a bit of quiet. Many male bumblebees simply land on a flower and sleep for the night. When we arrive to the fields on leaf and flower harvest day, we find a number of bees gently resting on ray flowers. Seeing a bee resting brings a delightful sense of stillness that belies the busy day ahead.
It’s harvest day and the first one to the fields is Dave. He heads out about 20 minutes ahead of the rest of the crew. He cuts the chest-high plants at their base. With the Echinacea cut, the team sets out into the field and begins bundling the stalks by hand. Below Cara and Emily bend to gather their next bundles. Depending on how many plants you pick up, an armful of fresh-cut Echinacea can be a heavy bouquet.
Khalsa and Katy carefully gather the fresh-cut Echinacea plants in the early morning light. It’s only 7:15 AM and the temperature is already on the rise. A comfortable morning will soon give way to a sweltering afternoon.
It’s 8 AM and Aimee, Emily, and Cara are still gathering fresh-cut plants into bundles. By now the bees are active and the fields are alive with sound. Bees buzz, cicadas click and the sprinklers have turned on in a nearby field.
The team loads their bundles into the wagon, careful to lay them all in the same direction. Piled high, the Echinacea smells fresh and green. It’s a rich scent of mid-summer on our organic farm.
Mark stops the wagon long enough for the crew to load up the wagon behind. Aimee, Dave and Khalsa each have bundles waiting for the wagon when he gets there. A longtime employee, Mark is a veteran of many Echinacea leaf and flower harvests.
From the fields, Mark drives the wagon to our processing table under an awning alongside the barn. The crew has been sure to line up all the flowers facing the same direction to make it easier during this next step. But in the meantime, while the flowers are still in the wagon, the brimming bouquet makes for an arresting burst of color.
Today is the Echinacea leaf and flower harvest. That means we have to separate the leaves and flowers from the stem. That process happens as soon as the plants arrive at the barn. The crew follows Mark and the wagon and sets to work around the table. Facing each other, they work from the same piles—sharing stories and laughs as they go.
Jaimee and Kate share a smile as they strip the leaves and flowers.
Carefully, Kay and Laura strip the Echinacea stalks. They drop the stalks to the floor and set each leaf and flower on the table. The table is covered with cotton sheets for easy, gentle gathering once this load is done.
Echinacea stems are discarded but not wasted. The stem is the only part of the plant we do not extract for any of our products. These stalks go into our compost to help the next generation of herbs grow.
From the farm, we take the fresh stripped loads of Echinacea leaves and flowers down the road to our processing facility. There, the first step is to weigh each bundle and lay them out on our Quality Assurance Receiving Area, a place we call ‘the slab.’ Before the Echinacea can go to the next step, it first has to go through a careful quality inspection. Once that’s complete, it’s time for extraction. We extract Echinacea leaves and flowers fresh. That means extraction begins the same morning as the harvest.
Echinacea leaf and flower is the first of three Echinacea harvests we do each year. In the early fall, we harvest Echinacea seed. Then as the fall grows cool, we dig up and harvest Echinacea roots.
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