Identifying and Harvesting Wild Plants

Always ensure you have the correct species of plant. Take an identification book with you and if in any doubt, do not collect.

Harvest your chosen plants on a dry preferably sunny day. Do not wash leaves and flowers as this can cause them to rot when drying. Pick before midday when the dew has dried. Shake off any insects but expect a certain amount to crawl off around your kitchen when they are drying.

Do not pick plants from busy roadsides, cemeteries or other polluted areas and think about how often dogs are walked nearby!

Never harvest an entire patch or colony of any plant to ensure a new crop next year…. if the patch is small and isolated, leave it alone entirely or you may end up wiping out a whole population of plants (esp. if digging roots). You could also sprinkle some of the seeds to help the plants out.

Remember it is illegal to dig up many wild flowers from the wild, so consider the 'weeds' in your own gardens (dandelion etc) and allow a medicinal patch to flourish. This is also excellent for wildlife and pest control and if you garden organically you are sure of their quality.

When and how to harvest:

  • Leaves eg. nettle, dandelion
    Pick when young, fresh and vibrant preferably in spring, avoiding old, tattered and dusty leaves. Tie into small bunches and hang upside down in a warm dry environment such as a kitchen, airing cupboard etc. Or spread out thinly on a tray lined with newspaper.
  • Whole plant / aerial parts eg. st.johns wort, yarrow
    Cut just above ground when flowers are nearly open or fully open, avoid plants whose flowers have 'gone over'. Dry in the same way as leaves.
  • Roots eg. dandelion, comfrey, dock
    Dig up in late autumn or early spring when the plant has died back. Then the goodness of the plant is stored in the root and medicinal properties are strongest. Wash thoroughly and cut into small pieces when fresh. Lay pieces out on a tray or plate lined with newspaper or kitchen roll and put in an airing cupboard or other dry warm place.
  • Flowers eg. marigold, red clover, elder
    Pick when the flower is just about fully open, avoiding flowers that have faded. Place the whole flowers face down on a tray or plate lined with paper and make sure flowers are not touching. Dry in a warm place.
  • Berries eg. elder, hawthorn
    Pick when fully ripe or just under on a dry day. Do not wash, just lay on a plate or tray lined with newspaper or kitchen roll and spread out well. Handle very carefully as some berries are very easily damaged and will rot and spread to others. Place in the airing cupboard or other dry warm place. Berries such as elder come in bunches on stalks; these can be pulled gently from the stalks before, or even easier, after drying.
  • Seeds eg. milk thistle, sunflower, fennel
    Collect the seeds when the pods are dried and brown, this will ensure the seeds are fully ripe and should be sufficiently dried to store immediately. To avoid them rotting however, lay on a tray of newspaper in a dry spot for a day or so before storing in an airtight jar.
  • Bark eg. oak, wild cherry, willow
    Harvest in spring when the bark is full of sap. Use a sharp knife to cut small patches of bark. Never remove the bark in circular strips that run around the entire branch or trunk, this could kill the tree. Cut into small manageable pieces and lay on a tray in a warm dry place.

Check your drying plant material daily. Pick out and discard any rotting or damaged pieces as rot will quickly spread and ruin your entire batch. When you are sure that your herbs are completely dry (this may take a week or more if the drying heat is low), transfer to a glass or crockery jar with a tight fitting lid. Store in a dry place away from direct sunlight and heat. Check after the first few days to see if mould is occurring. If it is, pull out the herb and re-dry after discarding the affected material. Keep checking for mould in the first week or so. Herbs should last about a year if kept in good conditions but can remain viable for several years.

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