Root Harvesting

Most residents of the United States are familiar with the list of root vegetables common at the market. They include carrots, potatoes, turnips, sweet potatoes, yams and radishes.

The list of herbal roots is much longer and not as well known. The list found on www.localharvest.org contains over 40 varieties. Most are to be harvested in the autumn and some not until the plant is two or three years old. Fall harvesting is important because it is then that the plant draws down most of the nutrients to be stored in the root in preparation for winter.

If a person is a conscientious root harvester, they will assure that care is taken in harvesting. Searching for an abundant supply and leaving much of the field for future growth is important in assuring an ample supply is available the next fall.

Some Root Herbs and Their Uses

* Barberry
This herb contains the chemical berberine. Since its action in the test tube is found to slow the growth of bacteria, it may be useful to aid the immune system. Some of the potential uses are treatment of epilepsy, sore throat, diarrhea and psoriasis.

* Beth Root
The root of this plant has been used internally to ease childbirth pains or induce labor. Used externally, it may help heal wounds or snakebites.

* Ginseng
One of the better known herb roots, few know that it is native to Canada. Canada grows and harvests this root for export and sends quantities to China. One of the methods that can be used to grow ginseng is called the Wild-Simulated Method. That method is described on the web site www.wildgrown.com. If the root harvested is similar to the wild root, it is more valuable. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center – www.umm.com, some very interesting studies have been undertaken that found American ginseng “possessed powerful anti-cancer properties”. It may also be useful in treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and reducing glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

* Burdock
The University of Maryland Medical Center has this herb consisting of carbohydrates, volatile oils, plant sterols, tannins and fatty oils. “Researchers aren’t sure which active ingredients in burdock root are responsible for its healing properties, but the herb may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial effects. In fact, recent studies show that burdock contains phenolic acids, quercetin and luteolin — all powerful antioxidants.” The herb is considered a weed in the U.S., but is grown as a vegetable crop in Japan.

* Comfrey
This plant has been found to contain allantoin that promotes rapid healing. There is some discussion about whether it may harm a person if taken internally, but it can be safely used as an ointment on broken bones and strained ligaments.

Root harvesting does not end when the root is removed from the ground. The root should be washed and hand-dried soon after removing it from the ground. Care must be taken to be sure the root is dried and stored properly. Light and moisture are harmful to all herb roots when preparing them for storage.

All roots dry more successfully if they are sliced into smaller sections. The most successful way to dry and prepare them for storage is to use a dehydrator. That appliance maintains the proper temperature and removes the moisture from the roots as they dry. If you have an oven that will maintain a temperature of 80 to 90 degrees steadily, you may be able to use it successfully.

It is recommended that you refresh your supply of herb roots each fall. After one year, most begin to deteriorate.

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