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Snake Root, Echinacea or Purple Coneflower is a North American perennial that is indigenous to the central plains where it grows on road banks, prairies, fields and in dry, open woods; it belongs to the Aster, or Daisy family. It is called snake root because it grows from a thick black root that Indians used to treat snake bites.
Echinacea's name is derived from the Greek, echinos, meaning "hedgehog" or "sea urchin," referring to the sharp pointed bracts of the receptacles, giving the herb one of its many common names, "Hedgehog." Other common names include Red Sunflower, Purple Coneflower, Black Sampson, Hedgehog, Coneflower, Snake Root, Sampson Root, Rudbeckia, Comb Flower, and Indian Head.
There are three species of this genus that include many of the same applications and properties (E. purpurea, E. angustifolia and E. pallida).
Native shamans were said to fashion small totems from the snake root to wear about their persons to strengthen their magic powers and inner defenses during rituals and to keep away negative or infectious spirits and energies. Burning snake root was used for room clearing and around sick people, who would often have the flowers and leaves as well sprinkled on their beds.
Early settlers were impressed with Snake Root or Echinacea and brought it back to Europe, where it became a popular garden plant which exists now in many different hybrid shapes and colours. Echinacea is one of the most widely sold herbal remedies in the world today.