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How to Harvest and Use Medicine From Nature, Part 1 - Identifying and Harvesting

Updated: May 22

The history of medicine precedes that of the modern pharmaceutical industry by many centuries. Our medicine has relied on the medicinal qualities found in nature for thousands of years. Although the number of people who have knowledge of these natural medicines has greatly diminished, herbal medicine still works today, just as it has throughout history. There is a somber possibility that one day, medicine may only be accessible through herbs and foraging. Growing/foraging the necessary plants and learning how to turn those plants into usable medicine is an essential skill in self-sufficiency.

“All herbal medicines start as living beings. They are not always what most people traditionally think of as herbs. Medicines come from trees, flowers, roots, mushrooms, lichens, and more. While those who are interested in herbal medicines tend to grow an herb garden, some are harvested from plants that grow in the wild. It is a useful skill to learn how to identify medicine in the wild.”  - The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies Pg. 33.

When identifying plants, it is vital to look at pictures that portray plants in each stage of their life cycle. You can use identification apps on your smartphone until you’re familiar enough with the plants in your local area. You may be confident enough to know flower identification, but when the blossom is not there, can you identify the plant? If you’re uncertain of a plant before the bud blossoms, this gravely limits the amount of time for harvest. Before harvesting herbs, it is imperative to know what part of the plant will be used for medicinal purposes. The chemical composition of a plant cannot be assumed to be the same across the entire plant. Often, only specific parts of the plant will provide what you need while other parts of the plant may not be of much use to your ailment or even toxic!

After the morning dew has gone, but before the hot sun can dry out the essential oils, is the best time to harvest an herb. Take only what you need from nature and leave the rest. Steer clear of harvesting the whole plant unless the entire plant is needed. This will make the probability that the herb to be there next time you need it more likely.

Again, be certain to know the part of the plant you need. To harvest leaves, you will usually cut off small branches. Small branches are easier to dry out. For flowers, harvest them as soon as possible after they are in full bloom. For only the seeds, you must wait until the seed pod dries on the stem before harvesting. This often looks like a bump or pod in the stem (or near the blossom) that is filled with seeds. Certain roots are harvested best in the off-season before the nutrients of the plant are given to the rest of the plant during its blooming season. They should be dug up diligently.

I will end this article with a gentle reminder only to harvest what is needed - don’t get greedy. If you are cutting part of a stem, the general rule is to leave at least 3 inches of a healthy stem, including two (preferably more) sets of leaves on it. Never cut below the area where the leaves are located. It might surprise you to learn many plants can be cut down to a third of its original size without dying.

“Always reseed, replant, and tend the wild when possible. Harvest ethically and with great care.” - The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies Pg. 34.


Links and Resources: Nicole Apelian, Ph.D. & Claude Davis, The Lost Book Of Herbal Remedies. Copyrighted by Global Brother SRL © 2019


About Me:

Hello, my name is Shannon. I joined FireKeepers International as a volunteer in 2023. In

2014, I began the Master Herbalist program at Trinity School of Natural Health and

completed the program in September of 2017. Since then, my main studies have been

Biblical truths, astronomy and the Hebrew language. I am a born and raised

“Michigander,” currently living in one of Northern Michigan’s beautiful national forests.

When I’m not keeping busy with the homestead, you can find me out in nature or

hibernating in my cabin.

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