Thursday, March 15, 2012

HARVESTING BIENNIAL ROOTS


Burdock has a two year life cycle
Most medicinal plants are either annuals with pharmacologically active aerial parts or perennials which may also have medicinal roots. A few important and accessible herbal remedies, however, are made from plants with a two year life cycle. The roots of such biennials need to be harvested either in late fall after the first season of growth or before flowering in the second spring.



Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) leaves and flowers are common herbal medicines, the former as a tea or tincture for hydrating the respiratory system, the latter as an oil infusion for middle ear infections. The root tincture is also beneficial, calming urinary tract inflammation and helping mechanical back pain.



Flowering mullein

Young mullein















Tincture of teazle root (Dipsacus sylvestris) is one of the few medicinal plants that can strengthen tendons in hypermobile joints or after an injury. It's also specific for Lyme arthritis, a joint infection caused by a tick bite, but should be used in conjunction with or after appropriate antibiotic treatment.


Young teazle
Flowering teazle


Burdock root is the most widely applicable of the biennials, acting as an alterative for gastrointestinal, respiratory, circulatory, and renal systems. Such widespread normalizing actions would usually merit the designation of adaptogen, though burdock isn't currently recognized as one.  It is, however, well known to bind herbal tincture formulas together, making the combination more palatable and improving the overall therapeutic effect.


Flowering burdock
Young burdock


Mullein, teazle, and burdock all grow in unmowed fields and disturbed ground by the side of roads. For these and other biennials, the root develops it's potency after the first summer and retains it until flowering in the second summer. Harvest these deep taproots in the first fall or second spring by using a root digging tool when the earth is moist after a rain.



HERBALIST'S NOTE: When harvesting medicinal plants near roads, be sure they are not within eyesight of the road surface to avoid toxicity from carbon monoxide, oil residue, and road salts.





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