Fall is approaching and it's time to find those plants that we want to harvest for their roots. August is a prime time to positively identify those herbs that will provide plant medicine for the next year. Roots are harvested in the fall or the spring (depending on the plant), after the green foliage has turned brown or has died back down to the ground, which is why you need to make sure you know where the plant was since it may be hard to identify dead.
Here is a list of plant roots that we harvest in the fall, and some things they may be good for:
Solomon’s Seal-Joint, soft tissue, ligaments
Marshmallow-Demulcent, sore throats
Yellow dock-Organ detox
When we harvest the roots of plants, we are essentially killing that plant. Therefore many people don’t harvest the roots of their plants. You have to make that decision-can you sacrifice that plant for the medicine that lies below. With perennials, we want to let that plant live and grow for at least 3 years before we think about digging. At the 3-year mark, the medicine is stronger in the root and the plant may have reproduced from the roots and the crown might be big enough to divide. Also, it will have had at least 2 seasons to set seed and produce baby plants around it, so that you can take the parent plant.
When digging up a whole plant, I like to take a garden fork and loosen the soil around it and then pry it up. This works great for fibrous roots like echinacea and valerian. When it comes to the long taproots of the burdock and yellow dock, a shovel may be best. These taproots can reach down up to 2 feet in the soil. If you don’t get the whole root, the plant may grow again from that piece left in the soil.
When a plant is big enough to divide, you can dig up the whole plant and try to tease apart the roots, but usually the plant can handle it if you just put a sharp shovel in the middle of a plant and slice it in half. I leave half in the ground and harvest the other half.
Wash and scrub roots well and get rid of all the dirt. Chop them up and dry them on a screen or in a dehydrator. When they are completely dry, store them in an airtight container in the dark.
You can now use your own roots to make a tea (decoction). Simply boil a tablespoon of roots per cup of water for 10-30 minutes. Remember, when making your decoction, to have the most surface area possibly, so grind those herbs to get ALL the benefits!