Working with the plants in a respectful way and honoring their friendly spirits can increase the potency of the medicine you make as well as promote successful crops and business. Many cultures traditionally work with the plants in a prayerful way.
Three simple steps to harvest plants consciously are:
- Center yourself. Take a few deep breaths to calm your mind and body. Release any anxiety or sense of urgency about what you are doing. Be still and focus on your breathing until you feel calm and relaxed. Feel happy to be outside enjoying the healing gifts of nature.
- Connect with the plants. Gaze over the plant community where you want to gather. Speak your intention (for example) “ We are here today to gather the herbs that want to be made into a healing botanical oil for us to share with our families and community. Those that want to join our project make yourselves apparent to us.” Offer a gift of tobacco, a song, a prayer of thanks, or whatever is meaningful to you in advance for the plant’s service of enriching your life.
- Stay calm and connected. Go to the plants that attract you the most. Gather with thoughts of peace, beauty, and health in your mind. Continue with a prayerful attitude through all the steps of herbal medicine making.
- Collect only abundant species of native and nonnative plants that grow wild in your area.
- Never gather all you see. Be respectful of the animals that live there. Leave some of the flowers to re-seed the area.
- Have a sensitivity to the natural world. Walk gently on the earth and gather respectfully with thoughts of wellness, beauty, and peace. Enjoy being in nature.
- Be a steward of the land you are working with. Pick up trash and dispose of it properly.
- It is illegal to harvest in wilderness areas, state and national parks. Obtain permission from private land owners.
- Many states have restrictions on which plants you may harvest.
- Learn which plants are endangered. United Plant Savers is a nonprofit education corporation dedicated to preserving native medicinal plants. They have many useful books and posters.
- Gather seeds and cuttings. Never collect all the seeds, and don’t dig up all the roots.
- Once you’ve grown your own plants from wild seeds put a few plants back in the wild to restore their population.
I use gathering baskets when harvesting herbs and have used lightweight trash cans and grain bags when gathering seeds. Wear light-colored long sleeve shirt and long pants, hiking boots, sun hat, cotton gloves. Be sure to be prepared for any weather changes and take appropriate water and food.
To harvest the leaves of edible and medicinal herbs you will need scissors and a gathering basket. Gather the leaves of the plants early to mid summer when you see flower buds forming but before they bloom. At this time most of the plants healing power are in the leaves. The best time of day to gather is mid morning after the dew has left the leaves. Usually you can get 2-3 cuttings per season. Using scissors or simple garden shears, you can either select specific stems to cut or give the whole plant a trim by cutting the stem about 6″ from its base or 1/3 of the plant. Cut high enough up on the stem to leave some green leaves left so it can continue growing.
To dry the leaves of herbs you will need yarn or string. Separate the fresh-cut plants into bundles that are about 1″ in diameter. Hold a bundle in your hand with the ends stacked together. Wrap the string around several times then tie in a knot. Leave a couple of inches of string at the ends so you can hang the herbs for drying. A free-standing wooden clothes rack works well.
Dry for 3-5 days in a clean, dark place. Be sure they are completely dried by testing the leaves. They should be crisp and easily fall off the stem when pulled. Crumble with your hands or for uniform size, place in a blender on low-speed for a few seconds. Compost the stems. Store the dried herbs in a glass jar in a cupboard for up to 1 year. Label and date for future use.
Gather flowers during the summer in the morning once the sun has evaporated the dew off the flowers. For low growing plants flower tops can be snipped at the base near the blossom stem and dried on screens or in baskets. For plants with lots of leaves and flowers, snip flowers and leaves 4″ from the plant base.
Tie in bundles by the stem, and hang upside down in a well-ventilated place. Drying usually takes 3-5 days. To test dryness, the flower head should snap easily from stem. Cut the flowers off the stems with scissors. Flowers can be stored whole or chopped. Store each flower type in its own container until ready to use. Label & date for future use.
Gather Seeds in late summer. Gather by cutting the plant when the seeds start to turn brown, often 1-3 weeks after flowering. Place inside a paper bag with stem tips hanging out. Fasten the stems and bag closed with string. When the seeds are completely dry, store in an airtight container. Label and date the herbs for future use.
Gather Roots in the fall. When the plant top starts to die back, loosen dirt around the plant with a garden fork being careful not to damage the root. Rinse dirt off the roots in a bucket of water.
Many roots can dry really hard and then are difficult to break into smaller pieces. It is best to slice the roots into desirable size prior to drying. After cleaning the roots, slice with a sharp knife. If you can reserve a knife and cutting board just for herbal preparations that is good. Dry the roots on screens or in baskets. When the roots are completely dry, store in an airtight container, label and date the herbs for future use.
To attend a class about Identifying and Harvesting Local Edible and Medicinal Plants email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 208-883-9933