My Fall Harvest
and Good Winter Medicine
By Jenel Schaffer
Fall is my favorite time of year. I love when the air is crisp, and the sun still warm. The plants are pushing forth their last energy into the leaves and flowers before returning their energy to the roots. The hot and humid days of summer are past, making for wonderful long days for harvest. You can literally spend the whole day harvesting plants in the gorgeous sunshine, soaking in the pure energy of the sun, to make Vitamin D for the long months ahead when all life goes dormant.
I love all the seasons of the year, even winter has its purpose and beauty. I miss the plants in winter time, but I love warm cozy sits by the fire, with hot cups of tea. Tea is just not as fun in the summer, in fact I feel like I get rather tired of it. I prefer to eat everything fresh, and I do for the most part. In winter though- there is always a pot of tea warming on the stove, or kept warm in a tea cozy. When I am thoroughly missing the spring shoots, and summer sun, I will take out my dried herbs that I collected that year and remember each place and plant that I picked.
Every season has a different tune, and a different star of the show. Some years Basil outshines the rest, and others it is Thyme, or Lavender. This year Boneset and Goldenrod were the best and brightest plants in my locale. I really do not remember a year where they were as beautiful. In fact Basil was a bit sad, and my Comfrey had some sort of mold on the leaves. None of my Comfrey did well, and this is usually the plant I harvest the most. This year though- it was Goldenrod and Boneset.
It is funny how nature seems to know what we need. I have a feeling that these two plants will be very close friends this winter. I put away many jars of Boneset. If you are blessed to have this plant growing near you, cut it when the leaves are bright green and the flowers just start blossoming white. You will know when the energy looks the best. I dry mine in big paper bags, and it does not take very long. It should only take about a week before you can put away for storage. Do not leave your plants in the paper bags too long, the delicate oils can be absorbed by the paper if the plants remain in the bags longer than necessary.
I cut so much Boneset that I have had to work on putting the dried herb in jars a little each day. I take my blender and blend up the leaves, stems and flowers until they are kind of roughly cut. In fact, the stems do not chop up well. I wind up breaking the stems into small pieces which I place in clean, empty quart jars, along with the finely chopped leaves and flowers (which do chop well). The Goldenrod dries even more quickly than Boneset, and I usually just break up the pieces of flowers, stem and leaf by hand and pack in their own quart jars. Remember to always label your herbs with date, locale, and the name of the plant.
This year I decided that in preparation for winter colds, flus and other mystery illness, I was going to make a tincture to stop all sickness in its tracks. Nature seems to have provided me with an abundance of Goldenrod and Boneset so that is what I made my tincture from. Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, is an excellent herb for colds and flu and to break fevers. According to Nicole Apelian, Ph.D. in The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies, “people who are given boneset early in the disease process have milder symptoms and get well faster.”
Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis is the most prevalent species of Goldenrod and the one I use. This plant is an amazing herb, with so many varied uses. If you have access to an abundance of Goldenrod, harvest with care and dry for many special purposes. When combined with Boneset I know I have a powerful formula for winter colds. The astringent and antiseptic properties of Goldenrod make it useful for the entire genito-urinary tract, as well as the kidneys. These eliminatory channels need to be functioning optimally to keep any infection out of the blood stream. I always add kidney/ urinary herbs to my daily tonics if I feel a cold coming on.
Harvest time is indeed upon us, and I am always reminded of the story of the ant and the grasshopper. The ant was busy during the long beautiful days before winter gathering what was needed for the cold days ahead, but the grasshopper wanted to play in the sun and relax and enjoy the last days of summer. When winter came, the ant was ready and was able to be comfortable, warm and well fed, but the grasshopper only had memories of the warm days gone by, and very little food to last the harsh winter. It may be tempting to avoid taking time to collect the precious plants of the season, believing you will just order what you need when the time comes, but I have found the hard way that when I fail to prepare, I put myself through unnecessary extra stress. So, take the time and walk outside today with a basket and a smile and see what nature has to offer.
I am a native of Pennsylvania, but my heart is in the mountains of Vermont. I am an Herbalist, Certified Art Educator and hold a B.A. in Anthropology. I have always been drawn to plants and nature. My favorite time of year is Spring when the plants come alive again. I love to revisit my favorite wild herbs. I am also a mother of 5 children, and a homeschool mom, as well as a published writer.