As summer comes to an end our suppliers are getting busy with harvesting many of the wonderful herbs they grow for our combinations. The end of summer and beginning of fall is a time of abundance, when the bounty of the gardens is at their highest. It’s time to reap and enjoy what has been labored over all season!
But not all plants should be harvested at the same time. When to harvest depends on the particular plant and what portion of the plant is being used. Flowers, leaves, seeds, roots, bark and fruit all ripen or mature at different times for different plants. Follow these guidelines to ensure that you obtain the most medicinally potent herbs from your gardens and in the wild.
The best time to harvest herbs is in the morning as the essential oils in the plants are at their highest concentration. Harvest plants before the sun gets too hot but after it has had time to dry the dew on the leaves.
You can pick leaves and aerial parts throughout the growing season as they mature, although many leaves are best just before the flowers bloom. The leaves are most potent then, before the plant moves its energy to creating flowers. Stop making large harvests of perennial herbs in late summer or fall. This will allow time for new growth to harden and gather carbohydrates in preparation for winter.
Flowers should be gathered by hand just when they are opening.
Berries and other fruits are usually picked in mid to late summer or early fall depending on when they ripen.
Roots should be dug as soon as the leaves of the plant have begun to die down, usually in late fall. Sometimes roots are harvested the following spring to allow the plant to produce seed and propagate in that first season.
Seeds are often harvested in early and late fall depending on when they ripen. Collect them when the seed heads are turning brown and before the seeds fall out.
Barks of trees are generally taken in spring to early summer or late fall after the leaves have dropped. New bark forms in spring and is easy to separate from the tree. Likewise, branches are easy to take from the tree in late fall when the tree’s energy moves to the truck and roots while it ‘shuts things down’ for winter. Always remove branches from the tree as opposed to stripping bark from the tree itself and leaving a bare spot.
Lavender flowers are harvested during the summer months.
Yarrow leaves and flowers are gathered in mid to late summer when the plant is in full flower.
Cayenne peppers are picked in late summer or even early fall when the fruits are bright red and full.
Wormwood, peppermint, oregano, thyme and basil leaves are cut at any time during the growing season. They are most flavorful though, just before the flowers bloom. Taking 25% or less of the plant will allow it to grow further for additional harvests during the same season.
Harvest young Nettle leaves in mid to late spring before the plant flowers. It is not recommended to consume the leaves after the plant has flowered because they develop a compound that may irritate the kidneys.
Milk Thistle seeds should be harvested when they are a deep brown color. Light brown seeds are not medicinally potent.
Dandelion roots are at their best in early spring or late fall. The whole plant may be picked throughout the season.
Black Walnut trees mature from September to October. Pick the hulls from the tree when green to ensure maximum potency.
For Wild Cherry Bark or White Willow Bark cut small, young branches from the tree and strip the bark (including the inner bark) from those branches. Take new branches in the spring or late fall.
Following the seasons for harvesting herbs maintains the integrity of the plant and allows for the most potent herbs. It also respects the plant and protects it for next year’s harvest. Happy Harvesting!