Thoughts on Roots and a Root Harvesting Mindset

I ask, “How many of you have a hard time gathering the roots of the echinacea, the rudbeckia, the black and blue cohosh, the wild ginger…oh goodness help us all…the Ginseng?”

Do we innately sense the seriousness of that harvest?

Right now, social media is bursting with memes, webinars, EBooks, and workshops sharing the message of late Autumn and Early Winter is the time to dig up and dry roots; make root tinctures such as valerian and nettle; concoct root drinks such as burdock beer, dandelion coffee, and sloe gin or wine.

As we all head out with trowel, basket, and spade in hand to gather our root medicine, I have been thinking about the mindset we must take during the journey.

Harvesting leaves, stems, berries, and most flowers are fairly gentle to plants, and in some cases, actually stimulate healthy growth.

But, with root harvests, the harvesting takes on a different tone – a sense of permanence – a finality – one of which we, in a sense, have become the purveyor of their death (unless leaving a piece).

Just as the life force of plants plummets below ground, deserting the topside world and traveling the labyrinthian pathways of roots and rhizomes which form the map of the underground, the season of root harvest begins.

As Autumn unfolds, plants focus the source of their nourishment away from the sun, rain, and air toward the earth, fattening their roots with the “quiet and still” minerals and starches pulled from the plant’s uppermost parts, the earth and the water in the soil.

The plants develop elaborate mazes of roots, their generous girth offering more body surface to the touch of the soil (one study measured a rye plant’s seasonal growth at 387 miles!).

In addition, the root anchors the plant to the ground, holding it firm in the face of storms and protecting its life in situations where the exposed plant body is torn and destroyed. And, as winter looms, roots serve as a storage chamber, preserving food for the plant’s dormant period in the form of starch.

For the herbalist, the late Fall months of October and November are optimal months for garnering potent root medicine from the plants as well as harnessing starches and sugars which keep us nourished through green-slim winter months as the cultures of old knew.

So, when embarking on this excursion, one must “uproot” flippancy, hurry and casualness for you are “giving death.” And, yes, with this death, life will be created through the medicines made with the attentiveness that initiates the deep healing within. But, we must harvest with such appreciation of that gift.

Mindful root digging, pulling the root as a whole or bringing it to the surface as it should be done (think Burdock…think Solomon’s Seal), nurtures deep respect and an attitude of partnership. We take the time and the effort to see the plant’s story of strength and vulnerability detailed in its scars. We quiet our thinking and listen.

It is, in some way, a ceremony of thankfulness for it is of that season. It is, in other ways, a ceremony of good-byes for it is of that season as well.

As a messenger of the dark soil, the underworld as some may call it, roots bring to the human body, during the darkest of months, the hidden nutrients of soil – the hidden heartbeat of the deep – the hidden rhythm of time. Even in Traditional Chinese Medicine, roots are considered robust forms of chi, the life force, expanding our reservoir of energy and connecting us to the earth.

Roots are best used to reach the “root causes” of syndromes, chronic problems, and diseases – uprooting the sources of the disturbance and sharing the minerals and vitamins to restore tired organs and overworked systems of the body. The lymphatic system. The Gall Bladder. The Blood Stream. The Small Intestine. All of these are rejuvenated by the root’s actions of absorption, anchoring, conduction, and storage.

So, as we bottle, shake, and share, the medicine gathered in the coming days from the ground below – it is important that we understand and respect the system from which it was taken – for we are harnessing the power to break rock; the strength to dig deep; and, the energy to spread wide.

All of that in a bottle…or tea. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

It did for me. ?

? Autumn Grounding Root Tonic Tea

2 parts burdock root

2 parts dandelion root

1/2 part licorice root



Use enough root to cover the bottom of your pot. Fill with water. The less water you use and the more you simmer the herbs, the more potent and possibly bitter the mixture will be. It should be about 1 part herb to 3 parts water, letting the brew simmer for an hour.

In honor of a friend who taught me well through actions not words…LQ

Inspiration Sources: Herbal Rituals & Wild Roots