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Specifics in gathering herbs

Updated on June 13, 2012
Buds | Source

Gathering and drying of buds

Blossoming of buds at March and April marks the beginning of spring and awakening of nature. At exactly this time, some buds need to be gathered, before they become ;) ... flowers. This is the time when they are most rich in nutrients, clays and balms.

When there are light green lines and markings on their scales, the buds are ready for gathering. Just one more day (or even few hours) and they will blossom, opening completely.

Buds of Birch, Poplar, Willow, Aspen and other spring trees that have lots of buds in clusters are collected with the young branches (shoots) and dried in a bouquet hanged upside down. When completely dry, they are crumbled manually from the shoots.

Elder Berry (Sambucus Nigra L.)
Elder Berry (Sambucus Nigra L.) | Source

Gathering and drying of blossoms.

Blossoms are another area that needs the knowledge "When to gather".

Chamomile, yellow St. John's Wort (normal type), Lime and Sundew are gathered fully blossomed, while some herbs like Howthorn, Hebra hydropiperis or red John's Wort need to be gathered before the blossom is completely open.

Blossoms of Compositae (Asteraceae) group of blossoms are always gathered in the beginning, when the flower basket is still young and fresh. They are cut manually and gathered loosely in baskets, because machine gathering or specific tools will damage the flower. This is very important for easily damaged flowers like Poppy, Mullein or Peony.

Peppermint ready for gathering
Peppermint ready for gathering | Source

Gathering and drying of leaves.

Some herb leaves can be gathered all the year, from their blossoming until they wither and die but the best time is when they blossom.

Leaves are gathered manually by one, or with a whole shoot for easier drying. (form a bouquet and use lacing to keep them together and then hang them in a windy room far from direct sunlight). If they cannot be gathered with shoots or branches, they are collected one-by-one and packed loosely in a basket without stuffing.

In rare cases, when you have clean herb garden that has been kept from weeds and parasites, you may also HARVEST the herbs with a sickle and then remove the leaves with one easy move (grab the branch base with one hand and thumb and index finger of the other hand. Pull the holding hand while breaking all leaves free with your 2 fingers)

If the herbs are not cleanly cultivated and you collect them in the wild - have a good check for worms, bugs and other pests. If you bring them home with the herbs, they will eat EVERYTHING before it's even dry.

Be aware of look-alikes:

  • Stinking nightshade (Hyoscyamus niger) can be mistaken with Datura, which is poisonous.
  • Coltsfoot can be mistaken with Butterbur (toxic to liver when ingested directly)
  • Bearberry can be mistaken with Cranberry (okay, nothing bad about Cranberry, but Bearberry is mild diuretic)
  • And lots of others.

Leaves containing glycosides are better dried first (warm air flow), because the glycosides are better preserved this way. It is most important for herbs that are beneficial for the heart and blood system.

Young branch (shoot)
Young branch (shoot) | Source

Gathering and drying of shoots

Shoots are called they young branches with light green stem, without bark. With the leaves and the blossoms. They are cut with a length of no more than 10 cm (~8 inches) from the top of the branch (where the buds or blossoms are).

Shoots covered with young bark, partly eaten, dirty or damaged are not gathered.

After gathering, the shoots are collected to bouquets and laced together. In case of False Hellebore (Adonis Vernalis L.) or Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus) are better spread alone, without lacing in groups, because they easily get moldy and spoil.

Good temeperature for most shoots is 40 to 70 C (104-158F). They are considered dry, when below 15% moisture is left in them or when you try to bend them - they easily break.

Because of the nature and size of branches (8 inches), they are better kept in boxes or paper bags in a room that is not moist and not prone to mold.

Bulbs | Source

Pulling bulbs and roots

All underground parts of a plant should be gathered at Autumn, when seeds and fruits have already fallen on the ground and the plant starts sleeping or withers. This is important for the normal cycle of the herb. At spirng, new herb will grow from the seeds.

Because of this, it is a bit hard to find the right herbs, because they are hard to distinguish when dry or dying. You can cheat a bit. 1-2 weeks before the plant goes in its last stage, you can detach the seed sacs and spread them around, before gathering the bulbs or roots of the plant.

There are of course, exceptions:

Deadly nightshade (Atropa Belladona) needs to be gathered at spring. If you wait until fall, there are too much alcaloids collected in the root. It is toxic and with very high values of Atropin. You don't need poison.

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) is also gathered at spring. At fall, this herb roots are a poison as strong as arsenic.

After gathering, the underground parts are cleaned with soft brush (no water) or manually by hand. Check thoroughly for parasites, half eaten or broken roots and bulbs.

Some bulbs and roots that are not supposed to be dried are allowed to be cleaned with warm water. Such roots are Orchis and Ginseng. Their roots are either conserved by heating or deep freezing.

Drying is done like the branches and shoots. At temperature 40-70 C in warm air flow. They are dry when bending the broad part breaks them. If a root needs to be peeled, this needs to be done before drying, because when dried, it is hard to remove the bark. The bigger roots are better be cleaved, so the inned parts are dried well too.

Seeds in fruit.
Seeds in fruit. | Source

Fruit and seeds gathering

Fruits are gathered when fully mature in baskets. Hurt, rotten, eaten or green fruits are better abandoned to the animals.

Seeds are also gathered, when their fruits are mature. If the fruit is attacked by pests - probably the seeds are ruined. Most pests (like worms) actually aim exactly at the core of the fruit.

Seeds that are not in the kernel of a fruit such as Sesame, Dill, Anasone, Coriander, Fennel, etc. CAN be harvested when they are formed and big enough. If you wait too long, they start to fall by themselves on the ground and gathering will be impossible without sand and dirt collected with them too. If you gather them while they are still with green outer shell, you can collect them in bouquets and brooms and dry them. After drying, they are easily crumbled beween your palms over a paper for easy funneling in jars or bags.

Seeds are dried very easy. It's normal natural process, that does not need much human intervention. Just don't pile too much seeds and don't dry them in moist room.

Fruits are not so easy. They are very easy to spoil and even house flies adore them, so you need to find a room with good ventilation or a pro-eqiupment. Good temperature is 45 to 100 C with constant air flow, so mold and moisture don't have a chance to spoil the fruits.

A fruit is dry, when if crushes in your fist, without leaving any marks on the palms. Again, fruit drying is not easy. Don't be angry on yourself if it does not happen the first time.

The most easy to dry fruit is the Rose Hip. It is also the most rich in Vitamin C fruit even when dried. Crush 10 fruits in a tea pot and you have the most potent herbal tea for the winter days. The cold, does not stand a chance ;)

Birch Bark
Birch Bark | Source

Bark gathering

is also not hard.

Bark is gathered mostly at autumn time, when the leaves and fruits are gathered or fallen. (Exceptions are of course present too)

Bark should be smooth from inside, without tree splinters and clean from outside, without spores and parasites.

Gathering is done by making horizontal cuts on every 10-12 inches and then one or two long vertical cuts are made to connect all horizontal cuts. After this, they are peeled by hand or knocked with wooden hammer (some barks are hard for hand peeling). AVOID metal tools. Iron breaks some important chemical compounds.

Barks are allowed to be dried under sunlight. Same rule is valid here - They are dry, when they break and crumble if you bend them.

Be sure to check them again after drying for parasites and spores. Some insecta larvae can live in the bark for 40 years (I am not kidding).

After drying, the bark is crumbled to smaller pieces and is kept in wooden or paper boxes.


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    • m0rd0r profile image

      Stoill Barzakov 5 years ago from Sofia, Bulgaria

      Thank you for your interest Miss Olive. Birch has a very useful bark.

      Bark of the Birch trees is very potent diuretic (they make your kidneys create more) and are used to treat smaller kidney stones.

      By drinking an infusion of thise barks, you can detach the stones and take them away naturally.

      This infustion is not to be taken lightly though. It can be painful process and you better speak with a physician first. (s)He will tell you if herbal treatment is suitable for you.

    • missolive profile image

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 5 years ago from Texas

      Very interesting topic. I love herbs. I have an herb garden and have always been fascinated by the idea of drying my own herbs. I look forward to reading the rest of this series. I am a bit confused though. You mentioned trees such as birch and poplar. Would the buds of these trees be considered an herb?

      Thank you for sharing and again, welcome to HubPages.