September – my favourite month. Daytime temps just right for my temperate self and still with lovely long days with plenty of fabulous sunshine – we were still in shorts just yesterday. However, we can’t deny that Autumn’s round the corner - most plants are going to seed already as the plants’ energy we saw so abundantly in summer, together with the nutrients that once flowed through the aerial parts, are now returning down into their roots. This makes Autumn the perfect time to harvest and use many roots for wellness.
If you’re wondering what the right time is to begin harvesting the roots of your plants, here are some general guidelines.
- Digging up your annuals, when their cycle is completed, is a good way to gather roots.
- With perennials, you should wait until their third year, or later, to harvest them, when active compounds have more fully developed.
- Larger shrubs and bushes have many roots off-shooting the main taproot, so gathering small pieces of the offshoots allows the shrub or bush to live on.
- Also, bear in mind that sap rises and falls with the sun so early morning or evening is the best time to harvest for vitality and energy stores.
- Once you have gathered your roots, remove the soil and dirt – I like to use an old toothbrush - then wash gently to make sure the tiny root hairs remain intact as they also hold important constituents.
- Cutting/chopping roots can be nearly impossible when dry so it’s a good idea to cut or chop your roots while they’re still fresh. Once cut (and if you haven’t got a food dehydrator) dry the roots on a tray or screen out of direct sunlight or on the lowest setting in the oven with the door propped open. NB - some roots can absorb moisture from the air. Be sure to discard these roots if they become soft.
How to Use Roots in Herbal Preparations
Water makes a great extraction. Given enough time, water can dissolve anything. When using water-based herbal preparations, you’ll want to make only a small amount at a time and consume it within 24-48 hours, depending on the type of preparation. You’ll also want to make sure to refrigerate any unused extraction as cooler temperatures help to slow down bacterial growth.
- Overnight Infusions Overnight infusions are one of the easiest ways to utilize the qualities of herbal roots. Because the roots are soaking in their menstruum overnight (often 8 or more hours), water soluble constituents have ample time to be pulled out. Drink at room temperature the next morning or heat it to your preferred temp. Refrigerating what’s left for up to 24 hours.
- Decoctions This is a faster way to pull out the active constituents of roots (as well as seeds and barks) into your tea. To make a basic decoction, add 33g of herb to 1-litre of water in a saucepan. Bring to a slow, rolling boil then cover for 30-40 minutes, checking frequently to make sure your boil is still slow and soft. Decoctions can be ingested hot or cold or applied externally to the body, known as a fomentation.
Simple Ginger Decoction
33g dried ginger rhizome or 56g fresh chopped ginger (dried ginger is known to have more heating qualities)
1-litre quart of water
- Bring your ginger and water to a slow, rolling boil for 30-40 minutes, covered.
- Strain ginger from water and drink hot to induce internal warming, sweating, or digestive soothing.
- Apply ginger decoction topically with a cloth to aching body parts.
Autumn Decoction Formula
Like an infusion, a decoction can be made with one herb or several. Here’s a nutritive and warming Autumn decoction that supports digestion and the body’s natural detoxification system, especially the liver, while soothing the nervous system and recharging immunity, ideal for cooler autumn days and nights. If you’re feeling a cold coming on, increase the ginger in the formula, take a hot bath, and let yourself sweat. As the body temperature increases, it can support the body in battling the cold.
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) root
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome
- Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) berry
- Burdock (Arctium lappa) root
- Add honey, coconut milk and/or cinnamon for taste if desired
Feel free to experiment with different amounts of each herb depending on your wellness needs and taste preferences. This can also act as a base formula in which to add other immune supporting herbs during cold and flu season, such as Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia), Elecampane (Inula helenium), or Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) as an immunostimulant.
Traditional Fire Cider is a great way to use herbal roots to help tone the immune system as well as ward off a cold.
75g grated fresh horseradish root
75g or more fresh chopped onions
37g or more fresh chopped garlic
37g or more fresh grated ginger
Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
- Place herbs in a half-gallon jar and cover with enough raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar to cover the herbs by at least 3-4 inches. Cover tightly with a tight-fitting lid.
- Place the jar in a warm place and let sit for 3-4 weeks. It’s best to shake/stir the mixture every day to help in the maceration process.
- After 3-4 weeks, strain out the herbs and reserve the liquid.
- Add honey to taste as in your fire cider should taste hot, spicy, and sweet – I like to warm the honey first so it mixes in well.
- Bottle and serve! Fire cider will keep for up to 6 months refrigerated.