How We Harvest Our Herbs Based on Seasons + the Moon’s Cycle
- Published on: 04 September, 2020
- Last update: 03 November, 2020
You obviously know by now how much I love plant medicine. I find it so incredibly comforting to think about how much nature truly wants to help us mere humans (even if it’s tough on us, too, to make us stronger). Everything we need to nourish ourselves is growing somewhere in the wild, and we just need to learn to speak the language. How amazing is that?
Nature wants to feed us, of course, but as many of you who have tried growing your own food know, gardening can be hard. It takes a lot of love, intention, creativity, and intuition to be able to (literally) enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Harvesting (aka foraging aka wildcrafting) is basically the exact opposite, but requires just as much care to be done in an ethical and effective way. You don’t need a green thumb to harvest medicinal herbs because Mother Nature knows what she’s doing, and she doesn’t need our interference — plants actually tend to get stronger and more potent when they’re stressed out by the elements and their natural habitat!
So, why would you want to start harvesting your own herbs in the first place? Because this centuries-old practice helps connect us with the essence of the Earth…and you the greatest human survival skill (in my opinion) is to be able to recognize and properly utilize the medicine growing all around you.
Those of you already dabbling with herbs, I see you—lavender and mint in your tea for relaxation or turmeric tinctures for pain. But what about the herbs you’ve never even heard of or thought to take? Gingko, valerian, milk thistle, mugwort… I could go on and on, especially about the plants we see as “weeds“!
I’m here to make plant medicine easy and accessible by formulating powerful products that incorporate some of these lesser known herbs. But I want so much more for you, too. My products are just the beginning of what herbs can do for you, especially when the plants become your ‘friends’ — like my teacher Richard says, sometimes the medicine you need is simply sitting with the plant, not taking it. I fully believe that intimately understanding herbs and the power they have on the human condition (everything from hormonal to physical) will change the way you experience the world. My goal is to give you the tools you need to experience plant medicine to its fullest extent, and part of that includes the education about how to go out on your own and meet them.
That’s why I want to empower you to interact with herbs in more ways than simply buying a tincture or taking a capsule—to discover which herbs and in which forms work best for YOU. Join me, nerd out, and dive deeper into the wonderful world of herbalism.
Three years ago, I started to really deepen my practice of spending time with herbs in the wild for the first time, and it was incredible. During my first adventures, I fell in LOVE with mugwort—a releasing plant used in womens’ medicine, digestive medicine, and dream medicine (prepare for WILD dreams if you use it for this, though!)
Even though I had been obsessively studying herbs for years before that, this was my first intense wildcrafting experience thanks to my school. The excitement, the satisfaction, and the appreciation that comes from meeting plants in their purest state and actually extracting their medicine myself—just WOW.
Ethical Harvesting is Key
Before you start harvesting on your own, it is incredibly important to earn how to do it with integrity. I do recommend taking a class in person or online from a clinical herbalist who can go more in depth than this blog post can, but for now I want to share how I personally go about this process for my home apothecary and formulas based on what I learned from those who came before me. Consider nature, other people, and your own health when choosing where, what, and how to harvest.
Integrity + Nature
Harvesting is really a sacred transaction between you and nature. Herbalists believe, firstly, that you don’t find the herbs—the herbs find you. Simply ask nature for what you need and be grateful in your acceptance of it. This relationship can and should be beautiful, and we encourage following a code of ethics:
- Only harvest from a healthy and large stand of plants
- Never harvest more than ¼ of a plant stand
- You must come across a plant 4 times before harvesting
“Never taking the first means never taking the last,” bringing me to the next point…
Integrity + Other People
Remember the book, The Giving Tree? By the end of the book, the tree is fruitless, branchless, and depleted to just a stump. If the boy had only taken what he truly needed, the tree could have continued to provide both for him and for others in the future. Keep that story in mind when harvesting. Take only what you need, making sure there’s enough for others when they need it.
Integrity + Your Health
I’m not only proud, but also deeply dedicated to the harvesting practices we use for every herb that goes into every product. We only harvest and source herbs that are free of chemical pesticides (you can read more about that here), because in order for herbs to do what they’re intended to do for your body, they need to be grown safely with care.
Chemicals, pesticides, and pollution can all mess with the integrity of the plants and might end up harming you (because remember, many plants are here to actually clean up the earth; just as they give us precious oxygen, they also remove things like heavy metals from the ground as one of their many acts of service). So even though you might be able to find herbs in your backyard or the park down the street, these possibly polluted or contaminated areas aren’t the best options if they’re regularly sprayed with glyphosate or other pesticides. Put the wild in wildcrafting and try to choose more untouched areas like woods, fields, mountains, or hills to find nature’s best medicine. The more unruly, the better! We want to see a lot of different species and “weeds” all around because that means weed killer is less likely to be found there.
Biodynamic Harvesting (Basically, Timing Is Everything)
Patience and timing are going to be your harvesting virtues. Don’t expect to go out one morning and come back with everything you need to stock up your medicine cabinet. (But hey, on that note: you can check out THIS IG post if you’re looking to buy your herbs in bulk from reputable suppliers!) What I’m trying to say is that herbs all have their own prime time—meaning the right season, the right moon cycle, and the right time of day. There’s A LOT to consider!
Just like fruits and veggies, there’s a season for every herb—or every part of the herb. While an herb might technically grow all year round, it’s going to be at its most potent and most beneficial during a certain season. Here’s a quick guide:
- Early Spring – roots and barks
- Mid to Late Spring – leaves (before or during early flowering)
- Summer – flowers, some leaves
- Late Summer – seeds, resins, saps
- Fall – roots, barks, sweet saps
- Winter – depends where you live (if you’re in a really cold climate, winter’s probably gonna be your off season; milder climates may be similar to fall harvesting)
In late summer and into fall, the energy and medicine of the plants travels down into the roots and seeds to prepare for creating new life when warmth one day returns. The plant is contracted, rather than expanded, and all of its magic is found deep in the earth within its roots and internal network. As humans, we too are contracted during the colder months, asked to go within and conserve our energy for the action-driven summer and spring when we can expand and shine once again. This is when we also plant our roots and nourish ourselves on a deep, internal level.
In the spring and summer, the energy and medicine of the plant shoots up into the leaves and flowers as the sun pulls the plant up from the earth into its expansion phase. This is the perfect time to gather than harvest those beautiful solar flowers that bring light to the psyche. This is also the time to harvest essential-oil-rich leaves like mint and lemon balm, as the sunshine brings out the zest in the leaves right before the flowers pop. Harvesting along this cycle ensures you get the maximum concentration of phytochemicals.
Okay, I know that’s a suuuper general overview of seasonal harvesting, which may be hard to interpret if you’re at the very beginning of your herb journey. So first, let me just say that identification/field guides are just… *chef’s kiss*. You can bring a physical book with you or save screenshots from online guides. It helps to know what herbs look like, the botanical structure of their leaves, whether or not they have serrated edges, etc—otherwise you might just be wandering aimlessly in the wild (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!).
If you want to harvest with specific herbs in mind, here are a few of my Northeast US faves (that are beneficial for nearly everyone) from each season for inspo:
- Spring – dandelion (the flower, leaves, and root are all medicine)
- Summer – ginkgo (these trees are everywhere; harvest the leaves at the end of the summer when they start to turn slightly yellow)
- Fall – mugwort (great for digestion and menstrual cramps)
- Winter – pine needles (my teacher taught us that certain Native groups would drink pine needle tea in the winter as a source of Vitamin C to prevent scurvy)
2. The Sun
Most plants have a circadian rhythm and behave differently depending on the time of day. Different factors like moisture (morning dew vs. dry air), direct sunlight, and temperature can all affect how an herb expresses its phytochemicals throughout the day. Here’s where to start:
- Leaves – you want them fresh but not wet; grab them after the morning dew has evaporated but before the sun is strongest (somewhere between 8AM–noon, generally)
- Roots – first thing in the morning; energy concentrates throughout the night, so harvest these when they’re fully loaded
- Resins, Barks, Saps – late afternoon (noon–4PM); the heat from the sun helps activate these
- Flowering Tops – late morning (10AM–noon)
- Fruits, Berries, Seeds – late afternoon while the sun is out
3. The Moon
Similarly to how the moon and stars can tell you so much about yourself (aka of course I make decisions with my emotions; I’m a Leo with a Gemini moon), they can tell you a lot about herbs and their cycles.
The gravitational pull and positioning of the moon has a huge effect on the plants.
- When the moon is full, it draws energy to the uppermost part of the plant.
- When it’s a new moon, the energy is found deep within the roots and seeds.
And the cycle continues. (This is one of the moments in school that blew my mind – hope you think its just as cool!)
If this is piquing your interest, I really encourage you to give wildcrafting and foraging a shot. No matter where you live, plants are all around us. Start to take notice and see what comes up—it’s very likely that Mother Earth is trying to show you something.