Fall is the best time of the year to dig roots to be used as herbal medicine. They have been compacting nutrients and other healing properties all summer long, so now roots are vigorous and large.
When digging roots, be sure that you identify them correctly. If you are unsure of what you are digging, leave it alone. Instead, wait until next year when the plant tops make identification easier. However, if you are able to identify the plant, dig away. Only gather herbal roots which are in large stands of plants. Just dig a few or cut off part of a root, leaving the majority of it intact. If you leave most of the root intact, replant the plant and water it well for a week or so and it will continue living.
Preserving herbal roots
Wash your roots carefully. Either dry them on a screen in a warm place, or in a food dehydrator. Some roots become very hard when dried. I usually cut the roots into slices or coarsely chop them prior to drying so that they are easier to use later. In general, I do not powder them until I am ready to use them as they last longer if not powdered. If you do choose to powder them, use a coffee grinder reserved just for preparing herbs.
You may desire to tincture your roots instead of drying them. Simply cover them with vodka. Have the vodka cover the roots by one inch. You may leave them whole if you like, but I almost always chop them. Canning jars are great for tincturing. Keep the jar covered. Shake it at least daily for a minimum of two weeks. I have left roots in vodka for years sometimes. The result is an amazingly potent tincture. Strain out the tincture. You can use a press or simply pour the contents of the jar over a bowel lined with several layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze as much liquid from the roots as you can. Place the roots in your compost pile. You may use the tincture as is or filter it through a coffee filter for a clearer product.
Herbal roots for health
Burdock root is easy to identify. It is a mild flavored herb which is great for liver and digestive health. It protects the liver and is a good treatment for constipation. Burdock is a deep cleaning herb which helps to remove toxins from the entire body. It is a fabulous herb to use if you have any kind of skin problem as it clears up blemishes and reduces inflammation when consumed regularly.
Another valuable herb is dandelion root. It also aids the digestive tract, the gallbladder and the liver. Dandelion root is not as tasty as burdock. It is a stronger laxative than burdock. Dandelion root improves the tone of the digestive tissues.
Comfrey root cannot be beat for relieving skin disorders. Experts recommend that it only be used externally; however it has been used internally by many people. My daughter-in-law makes her own baby wipes and salves to prevent diaper rash. Comfrey is an ingredient in both. My granddaughter has never had the slightest hint of a diaper rash. I believe that is partly due to the action of comfrey root. It is the most emollient herb that I am aware of.
When you dig comfrey root, cut it into pieces as it becomes quite hard when dried. You can place fresh or dried herb in a mason jar and cover it with olive oil. Fresh is best. Follow the tincturing instructions above as the procedure is similar. Keep your oil in a warm place or a sunny window while the herb is in the oil. I don’t let the herb stay in the oil for more than three weeks. You may use the oil as is after a couple of weeks or use it as a base for making herbal salves. Comfrey lubricates the skin, promotes healing, and is very soothing to inflamed areas
Dig up horseradish for eating as well as for healing. Horseradish is great for preventing and getting rid of common winter ills such as colds, bronchitis and sinus infections. It is good for circulation too.
Depending upon your region, you may have barberry or Oregon grape growing wild. The roots of both of these plants contain many healing substances which fight infections; tone the tissues of the body; and enhance the health of the immune system.
Simply cut off pieces of the roots. Leave the plant intact. I prefer to tincture these plants. The Oregon grape root may be used as-is. The bark of the root of barberry is the most active part, so you may choose to peel the bark off and preserve that or use the entire section of root.
Both of these plants are rich in a compound called berberine. Berberine is also found in the herb goldenseal. Never harvest wild goldenseal. It is an endangered plant.
Goldenseal is illegal to gather from the wild. I rarely use goldenseal, preferring to use barberry instead. If you want to use goldenseal occasionally, only purchase cultivated organic goldenseal roots.
Another root that should not be harvested from the wild, as it is endangered, is ginseng. Like goldenseal, harvesting is illegal. If you purchase ginseng, be sure that you get it from a reputable grower. I know of people who gather roots and sell them as ginseng. The plants are not ginseng nor are the people protecting endangered plants.
Echinacea should not be dug in the wild either. If you grow your own, be sure to replant more than you harvest. Roots must be a minimum of three years old prior to harvesting.
Just like roots reach deeply into the ground, they heal the deep tissues and organs of the body. There are many more herbal roots available to dig. Chicory, valerian, angelica and elecampane are just a few of many useful roots. Herbal roots are rarely the tastiest of the herbs, but they are among the most valuable and versatile plants that you can harvest for ensuring that you are prepared for a healthy winter.