Spring is here and with the warm sunny days, our thoughts are turning to root harvesting.
It’s become urgent task before the new growth starts. The wild meadow at Innisfree is full of dried stalks from last season’s yellow dock plants. The roots have been biding their time underground all winter and are just about ready to burst forth with exuberant growth. This is the perfect time to harvest as they are easily visible, the earth is moist enough to give up the root easily when we dig, sometimes 12 to 18” down. It’s also dry enough to crumble off relatively easily and all the healing potential of the plant is captured in this root material.
After digging and a preliminary hosing off, the tedious job of scrubbing each and every root begins – getting into all the nooks and crannies. It isn’t so much that a grain or two of soil in a tea or tincture is a disaster, almost just a micro mineral source actually, one that will probably fall to the bottom of the teapot or tincture bottle anyway and not even be ingested. However, any grit or sand or soil on the plant will blunt the blades of the food processor we use to chop it.
Slicing and drying
We love our food processor! After going on for some time with a regular domestic model that finally died a death, we researched and purchased a much better-quality machine that is a dream to work with. It is a Kitchen Aide, a 16-cup beast that has the sharpest blades ever with plenty of power. It shreds through the roots so easily and the finished product is just awesome – thinly sliced for drying and good surface area exposure for extraction.
The cut roots are carefully spread out on racks in the dryer box and left for several days, with occasional stirring or turning. The box is made of plywood, maybe six feet tall, with racks about 2 ½ x 2 ½ feet. They are a simple wooden frame with plastic mesh (windows screen actually) that is quite fine so that flower petals or seeds don’t fall through too easily.
I chose plastic because I do not want damp herb against metal, and the heat in the box is not high enough to affect the plastic.
I can set the thermostat and airflow on the side of the box, aiming for a temperature of around 28C degrees for most herbs, a little higher if they’re not aromatics and a little lower if they are. The temperature is not as significant as the dry air moving across the plant material and sometimes in the spring, when the air is damp this can be a little challenging.
My box is set up in a cedar-lined herb store room in my barn and we also have a deep freezer in the barn, which produces enough heat to dry the air, so by keeping the door closed we can manage reasonably well.
Right now, it is filled with yellow dock as well as trays of stinging nettle. As the herbs dry, they take much less space, so we consolidate trays and add new herbs. Note: because moisture evaporates upwards, make sure to keep the fresh herb trays at the top, so no moisture seeps into the herb trays that are dry. (dry on the bottom, fresh at the top)
When the herbs are properly dried, they are bagged and labeled and placed for 48 hours in the deep freeze which will kill off any bugs, bug eggs or larvae that maybe attached as part of a natural and organic harvest. Although most of this will have come off through the harvesting and drying process, we still don’t want anything hatching in our storage room, so we take this extra precaution. We not only do this with our own herbs, but also with all the dried herbs that we purchased from various suppliers.
These are all little tricks that we have learned by experience and they help us too provide the very best quality herbal remedies that we can.