Fall Equinox Herbs for Health & Harvesting
On September 22 we experienced the Fall Equinox, the second time of year when there is an equal amount of dark hours and daylight hours. The other instance of this is around March 20, with the Spring Equinox. And as we move into fall, we are of course shifting into days filled with more darkness than light. I like to think of fall as a time when, psychologically, we start to go within ourselves and reflect on what our body needs. We look at how and where we want our next season to go. It’s a time to evaluate, reflect, and foster deep thought. And physically we are transitioning from our vibrant, outdoor time to more time indoors and getting cozy.
Because fall is the time of harvest for many foods, it’s only natural that we begin to focus on nourishing our bodies with heartier foods like potatoes, squash, corn, etc. The winter brings cold and harsh conditions in many parts of the world. It’s important for us to build up our bodies in preparation, and this can mean immune boosting foods that feed our blood and nourish our bodies. Eating within the season is something we think of when we find particular foods in the grocery store during certain times of the year. But when we really explore the rhythm of nature aligning with our biology we realize that as the season changes, so does the needs of our body.
To the herbalist and wild crafter, fall conjures up images of berries ready to be picked, roots to be dug up, and teas to be made! It’s a special time whether you are venturing into the woods to seek harvest, or walking out your back door into your own garden. Fall is the time to notice when the leaves of plants are dying back, as this signifies that the plant is sending more energy into the roots now, which is an excellent time to harvest root vegetables and herbs. My grandfather, a potato farmer, taught me this.
Three Plants and Herbs to Collect in the Fall
Arctium, more commonly known as burdock root, is found worldwide, and while you can harvest it in the spring as well, it makes a nice complement to other herbs harvested in the fall. In the summer, the leaves of the burdock plant are so big that the majority of the plant’s energy and nutrients are in the leaves. In the fall, look for the birds landing in and around the plant; that means it’s dying and thus the right time to harvest the roots.
Digging up burdock root can take a while, but it’s worth the effort. I tend to think it tastes like carrot or parsnip and has an earthy flavor overall. Don’t peel the skin! It’s good for you. Speaking of good for you, burdock is an alterative–it helps to clean the blood and gives support to the liver. Your liver is your blood portal and burdock is a helpful detox, especially if your diet perhaps isn’t the best, you take medications, or you drink alcohol.
There are several ways to enjoy burdock. My favorite way is to roast it and eat it like you would a carrot. You can also chop it up, dry it, and put it in tea. It’s particularly good when added to chai tea, just mix it with cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorn and ginger. Or it’s great as a detox tea with dandelion root, or blended with licorice or chamomile tea. With something like burdock that doesn’t really taste great on its own, you can look to complement it with other herbs and still enjoy the unique benefits of the chosen plant. For instance, burdock can be mixed with other fall herbs such as hawthorn berries . . .
Hawthorn Berries and Leaves
Hawthorn berries come from the hawthorn tree, naturally, and their color is bright red–blood red in fact. This is noteworthy because like many things in nature, their color can indicate how they can be helpful to our body. Hawthorn berries have been shown to help cardiac function, regulate blood pressure, and increase circulation.
The leaves of the hawthorn tree are perfect for a fall herbal tea and now is the time to harvest them! The dried, hardened berries can also be used in tea, as well as in a fresh whiskey tincture, or as a circulatory tonic. Additionally, hawthorn pairs well with warming herbs, which I will discuss in a moment.
September is the time for elderberries! They can be used as herbal medicine for the coming winter and cold and flu season. You only want to use the dried berries of the plant; the leaves are toxic. A great way to incorporate elderberries is as a syrup. This little berry has been shown in various studies to be effective on eleven strains of the flu! I make an ImmuniTea and Elderberry Syrup that contains elderberries that is great for immune system support.
Did you know elderberries are considered a ‘shadow’ herb? A shadow herb is one that supports up to work with the darker sides of ourselves. Meaning–habits we do not like about ourselves, depression, self-loathing or low self esteem. How can you learn to love those darker parts of yourself and relieve some of the pain? As I talked about before, fall is a good time to reflect on things like this, and an ingredient like elderberries can aide in this reflection.
Rocky Mountain Herbs in Season
Here in the Rockies, there are three plants/herbs that are starting to come out and are ready for harvesting: osha, juniper berries, and rosehips. Be on the lookout for these as you explore and you will be able to add to your fall equinox herb collection. Take precaution with harvesting osha, it’s an at-risk plant designated by United Plant Savers an organization that focuses on medicinal plant conservation, and you may only take 10% of the plant population. In some cases, that means there is not enough to harvest so you will need to leave it be.
Lastly, when you are wild crafting, ensure you are doing it where herbicides are not sprayed, and check with your local jurisdiction or land management agency for the area you are crafting within to understand what is permissible for collection.
P.S. We had so much fun with our backyard Elderberry Harvest Party in September. Hope you can join next year!