botanicalconeflower.jpg (c) 2007 Val Webb

They lasted all through the blistering heat of our Alabama summer, but today I finally cut back the remaining purple coneflowers and brought some inside to paint. Here is the resulting gouache-and-colored-pencil artwork. I painted them on a sheet of deliciously rough amate’ paper, which we brought back from the public market in San Miguel last month. 

The purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea for my friends at the Herb Society) is my all-time favorite flower. There is something whimsical about these big, spiny blooms who share their name origin — echinos — with the Greek word for hedgehog.  And despite the fact that the FDA officially reports its clinical efficacy as “unproven,” echinacea has a long history of medicinal use around the world. Archaeological digs have unearthed evidence of its popularity as a wound treatment among Plains Indians more than 400 years ago.  It was widely used as an antimicrobial in the United States until the introduction of antibiotics, and the rise of the pharmaceutical industry, in the early 20th century. But in Germany, where herbal medicines are regulated by the government, echinacea is still an approved treatment for colds, respiratory and urinary tract infections and slow-healing wounds.

And it’s a lot of fun to draw.