Harvesting medicinal herbs is not difficult but there are some precautions you must take to ensure safety and quality.
Do you know your herbs well? Do you know what areas are good to harvest? Do you know which plants you must leave undisturbed because they are on the list of endangered species? Before setting out to harvest medicinal herbs, consider the following 11 tips for harvesting medicinal herbs.
11 Tips for harvesting medicinal herbs
- Begin small – As a beginner, pick only a few plants that you are sure you can correctly identify and safely use.
- Find your treasure spot – Find an area where your desired herbs grow undisturbed and healthy. Be sure that this spot is away from fields, highways, busy streets, beaten trails, dumped garbage and excessive pollution.
- Harvest only young, intact and clean parts of healthy plants – It is very important to choose the healthiest plants and then harvest only the healthiest and cleanest plant parts. You must harvest clean plants because when you wash medicinal herbs, you remove important compounds. Washing also promotes molding.
- Be safe – Only harvest herbs you are 100% sure you can identify. If necessary, take along a plant identification book and a magnifying glass.
- Only harvest as many plants as you need – Never harvest more than what you need and never harvest the whole plant. Instead, take only what you need to allow the plants to recover and reproduce. You’ll want them there in the following year so you can harvest again!
- Pinch off the top parts with your fingers – Pinching off instead of clipping with scissors unless you’re harvesting very hard plants like Yarrow and St. John’s Wort which pinching off might cause some uprooting! You can clip Nettles with scissors if you want to avoid stung fingers.
- Watch the weather – Weather conditions are very important during harvest. After strong rain and a dry spell, the plants usually have less phytonutrients and are, therefore, not in the ideal condition for harvesting.
- Watch the clock – The time of day is very important to harvest medicinal herbs for the highest therapeutic grade. This is because the amount of chemical compounds in a plant varies throughout the day. You should harvest plants with essential oils shortly before blooming or in full bloom before noon. Throughout the morning, plants produce essential oils to protect themselves from the sun. As it gets hotter, the plants release their oils into the air. So pick essential-oil-rich plants before the sun becomes too hot. Harvest seeds at noon because at this time the amount of phytonutrients is at its highest. You should harvest roots early in the morning because many important chemical components flow back to the roots in the night and return to the tips of the plant in the morning.
- Avoid the beaten path – Don’t harvest in areas where people walk their dogs. Not only it’s disgusting to use unwashed pooped-on herbs, it’s also unsafe. Furthermore, the poop “fertilizes” the plants which, then, tend to grow very large at the expense of flavor and medicinal properties. For this reason you should never fertilize your garden herbs (unless you have potted herbs). While wildcrafting, go further away from the trail and towards the wilderness to harvest your medicinal herbs.
- Avoid harvesting near fields – The areas surrounding fields are often over fertilized and sprayed with pesticides. A definite no go.
- Don’t harvest in conservation areas – These areas are exclusively for flora and fauna to exist without human intervention. Respect that!