As the golden hues of autumn paint the landscape and the crisp air carries the scent of fallen leaves, nature readies itself for the colder months ahead.
Many cultures have recognized the fall as a prime time to harvest autumn medicinal roots and herbs. These gifts from the ground, often overlooked in their humble appearance, pack potent medicinal benefits, addressing issues that accompany the changing seasons.
Roots and Herbs to Harvest in Autumn
Before we transition from the vibrancy of summer to the stillness of winter, let’s explore some of autumn’s herbal roots and plants and discover how they can support our well-being.
- Scientific Name: Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia
- Compounds: Alkamides, chicoric acid, polysaccharides, and flavonoids.
- Regions: Native to North America, especially the eastern and central parts.
- Plant Type: Perennial herb with purple blooms resembling daisies.
Echinacea, often recognized by its vibrant purple petals, has a rich long history of use in Native American medicine. As one of the classic medicinal plants, echinacea’s popularity in modern herbal practices hasn’t waned thanks to its bounty of proven benefits.
- Echinacea has been shown to enhance the immune response, making it an ally during cold and flu season.
- The presence of natural compounds, like alkamides, helps in reducing inflammation in the body.
- Echinacea can aid in wound healing and reduce skin inflammation thanks to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
- It can provide relief from respiratory conditions, assisting in easing symptoms like bronchitis and other respiratory infections.
- The plant’s rich flavonoid content makes it a natural antioxidant, helping to combat oxidative stress in the body.
- When harvesting flowers, look for mature plants in full bloom. For echinacea roots, you’ll want to wait at least two growing seasons and harvest in fall once the plants have gone dormant, as it’s when the medicinal compounds are most concentrated.
- Ensure to pick from areas free of pesticides and other chemicals for the purest harvest.
- Scientific Name: Valeriana officinalis
- Compounds: Valerenic acid, isovaleric acid, and a variety of antioxidants.
- Regions: Native to Europe and Asia; however, it now grows in various parts of North America as well.
- Plant Type: Perennial flower with sweet-smelling pink or white flowers.
Valerian root’s tall feathery stems and sweet-smelling blossoms have a long history in traditional medicine, especially within European cultures. Known predominantly for its calming and sleep-inducing properties, valerian root’s benefits extend beyond just its sedative effects.
- Valerian has been commonly used to treat insomnia and anxiety, helping to induce sleep and improve its quality.
- It has been used to alleviate symptoms of digestive discomfort, such as cramps and bloating.
- The compounds in valerian can help reduce the level of stress hormones in the body, promoting relaxation.
- Some studies suggest that valerian can help lower blood pressure.
- Regular use can potentially reduce the frequency and severity of mood swings, particularly for those with mood disorders.
- Valerian Root is best harvested in the fall. Wait for the greenery to yellow and die.
- The older the plant, the more potent the herbal roots tend to be. Usually, plants over two years old are preferred for medicinal harvesting.
- When digging up the root, be prepared for its strong, distinctive odor, which is often compared to worn socks!
- Scientific Name: Arctium lappa
- Compounds: Inulin, mucilage, tannins, and flavonoids.
- Regions: Native to Europe and Asia, but now naturalized in North America.
- Plant Type: Biennial known for its large, heart-shaped leaves and spiky purple florets.
Burdock Root is a hardy plant with long, slender roots and bur-like seeds. While its rough exterior might not suggest it, the root of the burdock is packed with beneficial compounds that have made it a staple in folk medicine and herbal preparations for centuries.
- Burdock root is renowned for its blood-purifying properties, assisting the body in eliminating toxins.
- Its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties can help in treating skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
- The inulin content acts as a prebiotic, promoting healthy gut flora.
- Burdock can increase urine production, helping in the removal of waste from the body.
- The best time to harvest burdock root is in the fall of its first year or the spring of its second year.
- Choose roots from plants that have not yet flowered.
- Clean thoroughly after harvesting, as the roots tend to gather a lot of soil.
- Scientific Name: Taraxacum officinale
- Compounds: Inulin, sesquiterpene lactones, flavonoids, and phenolic acids.
- Regions: Indigenous to Europe and Asia but has since become widespread in many parts of the world.
- Plant Type: Perennial herb with recognizable yellow blooms and serrated leaves.
Often dismissed as a mere lawn invader, the dandelion is a treasured medicinal plant. Research has produced evidence that the whole plant has medicinal benefits, from the sunny yellow bloom to the intricate roots.
- Dandelion has been used to enhance liver function and prevent liver disease.
- The mild laxative effect can assist in digestion and relieve minor digestive disorders.
- Dandelion tea promotes the removal of excess fluid, supporting kidney function.
- The rich phenolic acids and flavonoids help to neutralize free radicals.
- Some research suggests the root can help in managing blood sugar levels, making it potentially beneficial in the treatment of diabetes.
- Early fall, post-flowering, is the prime time for harvesting dandelion roots, as they are richest in nutrients then. The roots run deep and can be quite tenacious, so work gently but persistently during harvesting.
- Avoid dandelions from roadsides due to potential pollution.
- Scientific Name: Astragalus membranaceus
- Compounds: Saponins, flavonoids, and polysaccharides.
- Regions: Native to China and parts of Mongolia.
- Plant Type: Perennial herb commonly found in mountainous regions.
Astragalus root has carved a significant space for itself within both traditional and modern herbal medicine. It is a cure-all herb in traditional Chinese medicine, often applied externally in the form of skin creams for its anti-aging effects.
- Astragalus is renowned for its immune-enhancing properties, bolstering the body’s defenses against various illnesses. Warning: Do not take astragalus without speaking to your healthcare provider if you have an acute infection, an autoimmune condition, or are currently taking drugs to suppress your immune system.
- There is some evidence that the roots may improve heart function and reduce symptoms of heart disease.
- Astragalus can provide relief from respiratory conditions, assisting in easing symptoms like asthma and chronic bronchitis.
- Helps the body resist different stressors, whether physical, mental, or emotional.
- Astragalus is typically harvested in its fourth year for optimum medicinal properties.
- Once harvested, the root should be sliced and dried for storage and usage.
- Ensure you’re sourcing or growing the correct species, as there are many varieties of Astragalus, and not all have the same medicinal attributes.
- Scientific Name: Urtica dioica
- Compounds: Silicic acid, tannins, flavonoids, sterols, and a variety of minerals.
- Regions: Widely spread across Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North America.
- Plant Type: Perennial herb characterized by its stinging hairs.
Despite its fearsome reputation for causing a tingling sensation upon contact, nettle is a powerhouse of nutrients and medicinal qualities. While the plant’s sting can be off-putting, once processed (dried, cooked, or steeped), the sting disappears, leaving behind only the good stuff.
- Nettle can reduce inflammation to alleviate pain and soreness.
- The rich mineral content can boost hair growth and combat issues like dandruff.
- Nettle root is beneficial for prostate health and can aid in reducing symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia.
- It can help treat stomach problems like acid reflux, gas, and bloating.
- Some evidence suggests that nettle can reduce symptoms of hay fever and other allergic reactions.
- The best time to harvest nettle for its roots is in the autumn, while spring is ideal for its leaves.
- Always wear gloves when handling raw nettle to avoid its sting. After harvesting, you can dry, freeze, or cook them immediately to neutralize the stinging hairs.
- Scientific Name: Zingiber officinale
- Compounds: Gingerol, shogaol, zingerone, and a wide range of essential oils.
- Regions: Indigenous to Southeast Asia but now cultivated in various parts of the world.
- Plant Type: Perennial herb known for its thick, knotted underground stem or rhizome.
Ginger, with its spicy aroma and distinct flavor, is a staple in kitchens around the world. Beyond its culinary uses, ginger has a rich history in various traditional medicinal practices, primarily Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.
- Ginger can alleviate gastrointestinal irritation, stimulate saliva, and suppress gastric contractions, aiding in digestion.
- It’s highly effective against nausea, especially morning sickness and post-operative or chemotherapy-induced nausea.
- Gingerol has potent anti-inflammatory effects, which can help with conditions like osteoarthritis.
- Consuming ginger may reduce muscle pain and soreness.
- Ginger can be harvested starting from its seventh month. However, waiting until the plant is around 8-10 months old will yield a more flavorful root due to its more potent essential oil content.
- After harvesting, the root can be dried, powdered, or used fresh. Store fresh ginger in a cool, dry place.
- Scientific Name: Curcuma longa
- Compounds: Curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, and various essential oils.
- Regions: Native to South Asia and Southeast Asia.
- Plant Type: Perennial herb belonging to the ginger family, with bright orange flesh beneath its brown skin.
Turmeric is characterized by its vibrant orange hue and has been an indispensable cure-all, particularly in Indian Ayurvedic traditions. While turmeric has several active ingredients and essential oil components, many of its benefits come from its rich curcumin content.
- Evidence shows that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has powerful anti-inflammatory effects comparable to some pharmaceuticals without the side effects.
- Apart from being a potent antioxidant itself, turmeric boosts the body’s own antioxidant enzymes.
- Curcumin has been linked to increased brain levels of the growth hormone Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which supports brain function and reduces the risk of brain diseases.
- Regularly eating turmeric or turmeric supplements are often used as part of arthritis treatment plans due to their ability to reduce inflammation.
- Turmeric can improve the function of the lining of blood vessels, promoting healthy hearts.
- Turmeric is typically ready for harvesting 8-10 months after planting when the leaves and stems start to turn brown and dry. Dig around the plant to gently unearth the rhizomes. They can be deep, so dig carefully to avoid cutting them.
- After harvesting, clean the roots and dry them if they are not to be used immediately. For longer preservation, turmeric can be boiled, dried, and then ground into a powder.
- Store fresh turmeric in a cool, dry place, or refrigerate it.
- Scientific Name: Glycyrrhiza glabra
- Compounds: Glycyrrhizin, flavonoids, anethole, and various phytoestrogens.
- Regions: Native to southern Europe and parts of Asia.
- Plant Type: Perennial herb, recognized by its sweet flavor.
For thousands of years, licorice root has been cherished in many ancient civilizations, from the Egyptians to the Chinese, for its medicinal use and naturally sweet taste. Its name is derived from the Greek words meaning “sweet root.”
- Licorice root can help soothe gastrointestinal problems. In cases of food poisoning, stomach ulcers, and heartburn, it can speed up the repair of the stomach lining.
- It assists in loosening mucus within the airways and clearing out the bronchial tubes.
- Licorice supplements can support adrenal function, especially in individuals who’ve recently stopped using corticosteroid treatments.
- Its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties can be effective in treating skin conditions like eczema and acne.
- Evidence shows that the glycyrrhizin in licorice may reduce the chance of developing liver disease.
- Licorice roots are typically harvested when the plants are about three or four years old.
- Fall is the ideal time to harvest, as the roots will have stored a significant amount of energy after summer.
- After digging up, the roots should be washed, dried, and can then be stored for later use. For medicinal purposes, they are often used to make teas, tinctures, or powders.
- Avoid prolonged or excessive consumption, as excessive glycyrrhizin can lead to side effects.
- Scientific Name: Althaea officinalis
- Compounds: Mucilage, flavonoids, pectin, and various polysaccharides.
- Regions: Native to Europe, particularly in wet and marshy environments.
- Plant Type: Perennial herb with pale pink or white flowers and broad, rounded leaves.
Historically, marshmallow has been used as an herbal medicine long before it lent its name to the sweet confectionery treat. Ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans, utilized the mucilaginous properties of the root for both its medicinal and culinary purposes.
- The mucilaginous nature of marshmallow root can soothe the stomach lining and intestinal tract, alleviating symptoms of gastritis, acid reflux, and ulcers.
- Research shows that marshmallow roots can boost immune activity and fight bacterial infections.
- Acts as a natural cough suppressant and helps in relieving sore throat and dry coughs.
- Its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties can be effective in treating skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and minor burns.
- Used traditionally in herbal preparations to soothe urinary tract infections and bladder infections due to its anti-inflammatory effects.
- Marshmallow roots are best harvested in late autumn, after the plant has died back, or in early spring before the new growth starts. Use a spade or garden fork to gently unearth the roots.
- Once harvested, wash the root thoroughly and then cut it into smaller pieces for drying. Dried root can be stored and later used for making herbal tea, tinctures, or poultices.
Roots and Herbs for Common Fall Discomforts
If you’re looking for a medicinal herb to treat a specific fall discomfort, here are some of the most helpful plants for the treatment of everything from arthritis to anxiety.
As the days grow colder and shorter, many individuals experience an uptick in pain and inflammation.
- White Willow Bark (Salix alba):
- Contains salicin, which the body converts into salicylic acid, acting similarly to aspirin.
- Can help alleviate headaches, muscle pain, and arthritis-induced discomfort.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa):
- These herbal roots are rich in curcumin, which has potent anti-inflammatory effects.
- Effective in the treatment of joint pain, muscle soreness, and inflammation.
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale):
- Contains gingerol, which possesses anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
- Useful in treating muscle pain, menstrual problems, and osteoarthritis.
With the fall season comes a drop in humidity, leading to drier air and, consequently, drier skin. Eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions can flare up during this time.
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis):
- Contains flavonoids and carotenoids beneficial for skin health.
- Helps in treating wounds, burns, eczema, and acne.
- Marshmallow Root (Althaea officinalis):
- High mucilaginous content helps soothe skin irritation and insect bites.
- Effective in treating conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and minor burns.
- Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra):
- Contains compounds that can reduce skin redness and irritation.
- Assists in treating conditions like allergic reaction-related dermatitis, rosacea, and eczema.
With the arrival of fall, the inevitable cold and flu season looms. A combination of cooler temperatures and increased time spent indoors can contribute to a higher susceptibility to various respiratory infections and ailments, which you can alleviate with these herbs and roots:
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea):
- Contains alkamides, which can stimulate the immune system.
- Popularly used to shorten the duration of the common cold and flu.
- Try “Ain’t No Time to Get Sick” botanical extract with echinacea root, elderberry, red root, ginger, and oregon grape root.
- Astragalus Root (Astragalus membranaceus):
- Rich in polysaccharides known for their immune-boosting properties.
- Traditionally used in Chinese medicine to strengthen the body against diseases.
- Marshmallow Root (Althaea officinalis):
- Its soothing properties can alleviate sore throats and dry coughs.
- Aids in loosening mucus within the airways.
Mood and Mental Well-Being
The shorter days and longer nights of fall can sometimes affect our mood and mental well-being. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression related to the change in seasons, starts in the fall for many. Herbal roots and supplements can help support mood stabilization, relieve anxiety, and bring mental clarity.
- St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum):
- Contains hypericin, known to improve mood and decrease anxiety.
- Often used as a natural treatment for depression.
- Note: St. John’s Wort is a powerful hepatic, which means it will “clean” any drugs out of the liver. Do not take St. John’s Wort internally if you are on any medications, particularly contraceptives, psychiatric medications, and life-saving medications. Those with photosensitivity or rosacea should also avoid it.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa):
- Curcumin can cross the blood-brain barrier and has been linked to neuroprotective benefits.
- Supports brain health, potentially aiding in the management of mood disorders.
- Ginger Root (Zingiber officinale):
- Has a range of bioactive compounds that can support brain health.
- May have potential in enhancing cognitive functions and mood.
As the climate transitions and we prepare for winter, we need to boost the immune system to combat potential threats. A strong immune response can make all the difference, and these herbs can be an ally in this effort.
Be sure to check out our Immune Support Gift Set, with 1 oz. each of “Ain’t Not Time to Get Sick,” “Replenisher,” “Lung Support” for wet or dry cough, and “Make Ya Holler liquid extract blends.
- Elderberry (Sambucus nigra):
- Contains anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants and immune boosters.
- Often taken as a preventive measure during flu season and to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms.
- Try Cold Season Tea, with elderflower, peppermint, boneset, lemon balm, and yarrow
- Astragalus Root (Astragalus membranaceus):
- Rich in astragalosides and other saponins known for their immune-boosting properties.
- Helps increase the production of white blood cells, essential for fighting infections.
- Ginger Root (Zingiber officinale):
- Contains a range of phytochemicals like gingerol that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties.
- Supports the immune system by helping to kill off harmful pathogens.
Fall often means indulging in hearty meals and treats, which can sometimes lead to digestive discomfort. Maintaining a healthy digestive system is essential for overall health, and the following herbs can aid in digestion and soothe gastrointestinal issues.
- Peppermint (Mentha × Piperita):
- Contains menthol, which has antispasmodic properties.
- Helps in alleviating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), such as bloating and abdominal pain.
- Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla):
- Contains a range of antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects.
- When consumed as an herbal tea, it helps in soothing an upset stomach.
- Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra):
- Its soothing properties help to repair the stomach lining.
- The glycyrrhizin compound can also have mild laxative effects, aiding in digestion.
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