Harvesting Fall Herbs
The cooler weather is here at last and September is rapidly approaching and with it, the final harvests for this season. Depending on where you live, fall harvesting can start in September and go into December but for those of us in southern Ontario, we’re looking at a September through October harvest. Herbs are one of the many things that get harvested much later in the season now that all that energy has been spent on growing lush, healthy leaves, the plants turn inward and bring that energy down into their roots. That means that now is the time to prepare to harvest those lovely roots! Knowing when to harvest a plant is the second most important part of growing your own medicine, only second to knowing what to grow! You can easily harvest plants incorrectly and end up with weak or even toxic medicines! Not all parts of the plants are used either with certain herbs, so understanding the importance of harvesting is essential for anyone wanting to use nature to help them heal and live a full life. So what are some of these fall harvested herbs? Four of the most commonly found herbs in southern Ontario that are best harvested at this time of year include:
Those beautiful blueish purple flowers you see growing along the road and in fields, they just might be chicory! Chicory is a wonderful, powerful medicine that grows all over this region and was actually used by ancient Egyptians as a medicine, vegetable crop and a coffee substitute. Today, it is still used for these exact purposes. It makes a fantastic caffeine free coffee substitute that promotes healthy digestion (when taken in moderation). Medicinally, chicory contains inulin which has been proven to promote healthy weight loss, stimulate a healthy gut and is rich in magnesium and vitamin B6, both of which are powerful nutrients for brain health. It’s a wonderful herb to be harvesting at this time of year.
Ah, these fantastic plants have been used for centuries upon centuries for their powerful medicine. First introduced to North America by European colonialists, it has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Like chicory root, dandelion is caffeine free and another excellent coffee substitute. This is one of my personal favorite herbs because of how excellent it is for treating various digestive issues, cancer (check out some amazing research being done at The University of Waterloo!), and diabetes. This root is powerful and the flowers are some of the most important plants for the ecosystem as they play a major role in being one of the first food sources for bees in the spring. This is a plant that will connect you with the rhythms of the earth, it will ground you and help to heal you.
Just like chicory and dandelion before, burdock root is another excellent coffee substitute and has powerful medicine. Used by German herbalist, Hildegard of Bingen, for as a cancer treatment, this herb has made its way around the world as an essential for every herbalist. It’s a gentle herb that can help with so many things including cancer, appetite loss, bladder infections and so much more. It might surprise you to know that this plant grows all over the Niagara region and across Canada.
This beautiful plant can be seen along roads standing elegantly with their grass-like yellow flowers waving in the wind. Golden rod reminds me of paintings the way the bushy brushes of the flowers dance in the breeze and always takes me back to peaceful days walking barefoot through the fields. This gentle herb is powerful for treating kidney stones and urinary tract infections along with a multitude of other issues such as reducing inflammation, joint pain, and muscle spasms. This is the heb of the Sun, powerful and healing, and perfect for harvesting in the fall. Once the flowers are in full bloom, it’s the best time to get out there and start harvesting. For this one, instead of digging up the roots, you’ll want to harvest the flowers by cutting the stalk about one foot down from the tip of the flower until you get to the leaf. Try to harvest ones that have lots of open and unopened flowers, a good mix is ideal.
For chicory, dandelion, and burdock, you will want to harvest the roots. To do this, you’ll want to dig quite deeply as all of these herbs have very strong, deep roots. Be sure to only take what you need, never take in excess. Also ensure that you are aware of the environment around the herbs, what kinds of pollutants they’ve been exposed to and make sure that you wash them before drying! To substitute any of these roots for coffee, begin by keeping ⅓ of the coffee grounds before transitioning completely to the herbs.
As with everything you put into your body, there can be benefits and negatives and herbal remedies are no exception. Just because it’s natural, does not mean it is safe for you. Please always consult a medical professional before taking herbal supplements. This information is not meant as a recommendation, dosage, or treatment and you should always speak with your doctor or a certified herbalist.