The Herbal Artist: When and How to Harvest Herbs from Garden

Reader Contribution by Staff
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Kiki Geary is the founder of Poppy Swap, an online marketplace that offers an amazing selection of handmade products from herbalists all over the country. If you love your local farmers’ market, Poppy Swap is for you! 

All parts of a plant can be used for medicinal preparations, but roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds all have different periods of maturation. So you can’t go picking flowers and assume that you can just grab the root and stem at the same time and get what you are looking for! Not only may the quality of the other parts be poorly formed but the content level of the effective properties you need for a plant’s medicine may vary at different phases of growth. So, collecting the individual parts at the proper time will have a very important impact on the therapeutic results. Here is brief overview of when to harvest herbs:

1. Tree and Root Barks

Collect tree barks in the late spring or early summer when the plants contain luxurious and ample sap. Barks collected at this time contain more nutrients and can be easily peeled off from the woody parts. If you are going for the bark below ground or the bark on the root of a plant, the best time for collection is autumn.

Photo courtesy Poppy Swap

2. Flowers

Flowers are at their peak when they are in buds or are just beginning to bloom. You will avoid any loss of fragrance or loss of petals if you catch them in this moment of their glory! It’s always best to collect the flowers in the early afternoon on a wind-free and bright day. They will be less damaged and can be dried in the sun or by air-drying when you get them home.

Photo courtesy Poppy Swap

3. Fruits

You might think that all fruits should be collected when they are ripe. But if a fruit (or its seed) is being used for its medicinal properties, it may be collected before it is ripe. An example of this is when tangerines are gathered when they are still green. When they are immature, their peels can be used as a potent digestive tonic. The fruit of the Luffae plant is even harvested after it has gotten old and yellow on the vine! Juicy fruits, like berries, which rot easily, should be collected in due time and dried or frozen quickly.

Photo courtesy Poppy Swap

4. Seeds and Kernels

Seeds and kernels are collected when they are completely mature and aged. Fruits that would crack and lose their seeds are collected on sunny days as soon as they are ripe but have not yet cracked.

5. Stems, Branches and Leaves

Most are collected when branches and leaves are in full bloom. This means leaves are generally collected in autumn and winter. For perennial plants, the aerial parts are cut and collected, for plants with weak and tender stems and branches, sometimes the whole rhizome is dug up.

6. Roots

It is advisable to collect medicinal roots in early spring before the plants put forth buds or sprout, or in late autumn when the aerial part of the plants begin to wither and die back. This is because during these two periods the plants are dormant and their nutrients are mostly stored in the roots. You will get the full power of the plant’s energy if you plan carefully.

ALWAYS remember to gather your plants with respect for the ecosystem. Make sure you only gather herbs and plants that have a resilient population and ONLY take the amount that you need! You may even want to visit with a plant in its natural habitat a few times before you decide to remove it so that you can better understand what kind of impact you will have and appreciate its life. You never know how you may be inspired by nature …

“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.” –Claude Monet 

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