(I've decided I DESPISE the FCK editor...no matter how perfect it looks when I hit 'send', it always messes up everything...grrrr)
FANTASTIC QUESTIONS! I'll happily report what the greatest herbalist that ever lived (Dr. Christopher) has to save on this subject.
GENERAL GATHERING RULES
Although each herb is different and requires unique handling, there are some general principles to follow when gathering herbs. These follow; the more specific instructions accompany the information on each herb.
For a number of good reasons you should gather your own herbs. First, you are assured of their freshness and potency. You also know for certain the source of the herbs; you know they are clean, pure and wholesome. Important in the long run is an increasing knowledge of plants and their medicinal uses; in the case of famine or communication's shutdown you would still be able to secure medicine for your family. In such situations, sickness abounds and you will have vital knowledge for helping others.
Don't expect to be able to recognize every herb you wish to use immediately, however. A good help in expanding your recognition of medicinal plants, in addition to classes which may be available in your area, is to obtain a copy from your State Extension services of "Weeds of Utah" or "Weeds of California," or whatever state. Use such booklet in connection with this herb handout to increase your knowledge. However, if in doubt, do not use the herb. Some varieties which resemble medicinal herbs are poisonous.
Generally, the wild plants contain greater medicinal potency and are preferred to cultivated plants, as these wild herbs grow selectively in a habitat compatible to their botanical virtues; also, plants that grow in higher, dry soils, that are exposed to clean air and plenty of sunshine, will generally contain greater medicinal potency than the cultivated varieties, and greater than those which grow in low, moist, shady or confined places. But do not exclude those plants which grow best with moisture. Some cultivated herbal varieties must be cultivated to obtain any sizeable marketable quantity, and though the wild herbs may possess greater potency, do not hesitate to use cultivated variety when the wild types are unavailable. Both wild and cultivated varieties are useful.
The herbs are generally gathered according to their particular growth cycle: annuals, biennials, or perennials.
These plants have one growing season--the seed germinates, the plant flowers and bears fruit, and then dies.
These plants germinate and establish a good root system during the first year, flower and bear fruit at the end of the second year, and then die. A good example of this would be burdock, wherein the first year a very powerful root is developed, but no blossom or seed. During the second year, the blossoms come and the seeds are gathered, but at this time the root is pithy and almost worthless.
These plants live and bear fruit a number of years before they die.
General Gathering Rules
The value retention in a medicinal herb is affected by the weather and the time, place and method of collection.
Herbal plants must be gathered in dry weather, as herbs collected in moist or rainy periods are generally weaker and more apt to spoil; soaking herbs in water would have the same effect.
Time of day:
Gather in the cool of the morning after the dew has evaporated, or in the evening before the dew forms on the plant. Gather before the sun is high, for the sun causes the leaves to droop, and some of the plant's valuable oils are released into the atmosphere.
Where to gather:
Preferably gather wild plants from high, dry soils, exposed to clean air and abundant sunshine.
Gathering plant parts:
In all cases, gathering must be selective according to the type of plant and the part to be used.
And petals. (Such as sambucus, lavender, clover, camomile, coltsfoot.) Gather when about to open from the bud, but any lengthy delay will result in loss of the essential oils. With larger flowers, the petals should be removed before drying. With some flowers, only the petals are preserved and the colorless claws are cut away, but flowers having an odorless calyx are entirely preserved. When the flowers are too small to pick singly, cut with part of the stalk.
(Such as rosemary, eucalyptus, uva ursi, senna, buchu.) Gather as soon as fully matured, before flowering or after maturation of the fruit. The medicinal value shifts in the growing stages from the leaf again. Take care to gather the leaves when the potency is highest in that particular part. Never totally strip any herb when gathering leaves; avoid damage to the plant.
Take a few leaves from this area and from that area, and get ample, but do not rob any bush or tree of all its leaves. The large leaves appearing before the stalk appears usually are more juicy and valuable than those that extend later from the stalk, as the former have the full nourishment of the root, but these often lose their value and die as the stalk begins to rise. Annuals: Gather when about to flower or in flower.
Leaves on stalks or stems should be stripped as soon as possible, and all other leaves should be cut close to the root.
Leaves should be shaken clean and not washed; they may be wiped.
Roots: or radices.
(Such as comfrey, sarsaparillas, poke, ginseng.) The roots of annuals and biennials usually have limited value, whereas the roots of perennials possess great virtue, which generally increases in potency over the years. Roots are usually gathered in the early part of spring (last of February, early part of March) when the plant juices are concentrated.
Roots of annuals: Gather before the flowering season and not after, because then the root becomes less active.
Biennial roots: Gather in the autumn of the first year, after the foliage has fallen; use only seedling roots, when the full medicinal strength becomes concentrated.
Perennial roots: Gather in autumn after the leaves and flowers (or tops) are fully matured, or in the springtime before growth period commences--the gathering in the fall after the sap returns to the roots and in the spring before the sap begins to run. If the root is covered by tough bark (such as pareira, ipecac), it should be peeled while fresh, wherein it slips easily and does not adhere.
GENERAL DRYING INSTRUCTIONS
Spread a thin layer of the herb on a drying screen (ordinary window screens covered with cheesecloth, fiberglass screening) mounted on saw horses or legs, placed in racks, propped on chairs, etc., to permit free air circulation both over and under, turning the herb occasionally. Drying should be done in the shade, never in direct sunlight, as quickly as possible so that both the volatile principles and leaf color are retained (three to four days are usually sufficient). Herbs that are dried too slowly (not enough warmth, too much moisture in the air) or with too much heat (direct sunlight), will lose active principles or the volatile particles.
Dry in a dust-free room, at mild temperature, and away from direct sunlight (an attic with cross-ventilation is especially good). The herbs may be spread out on a drying screen, or they may be tied in small bundles and hung with the flower heads downward from a line or cord stretched across the room (this is especially good for leafy foliage and when the whole herb is dried). When a drying rack is used, turning the herb occasionally will prevent molding; and in all instances, the herb must be crackly-dry (snap or crumble at slight bending or pressure) before storing, or else the moisture remaining in the herb will cause molding. Those herbs dried on a line or cord should be removed as soon as fully dried, for they will attract dust and insects.
Oven drying is generally poor because of the difficulty in accurately regulating the temperature and, if done improperly, the oils evaporate and the herb becomes scorched. But when controlled, artificial drying is possible (under 100 degrees F.), infinitely more value will be retained by this quick drying process. The herbs dried quickly will have little odor when they are perfectly dry, but after a period of time some moisture is absorbed again from the atmosphere and they regain their proper odor. When artificial heat is being used (such as an electric burner or a gas burner), have a fan with an automatic switch, so that whenever the heat is on, the fan is on, and whenever the fan is off, the heat automatically stops. The fan may also be operated by itself. A thermostat would do this automatically.
Separate and label:
Be sure to keep all herbs separated and labeled during the drying process as the dried herbs look different from the green plant, and in most cases, identification will be most difficult.
Dry similar to leaves.
Flowers are usually used fresh, but can be preserved in the form of syrup (as cloves or poppy), in conserves (cowslip), or dried, although the drying must be done quickly and carefully. Flowers are dried variously--some use only the petals, some are preserved in the whole head, others retain the leaves about them, while still others remove the flower and use only the hip. Flowers should not be exposed to direct sunlight during drying, and the addition of a slight degree of artificial warmth is best to hasten the process. A good test for flowers is that medicinal value is lost when the color and odor are gone.
Leaves: Pluck from the stem (except those with small leaflets such as thyme and wintry savory). Spread loosely upon a drying rack away from direct sunlight (allowing free air circulation over and under), and stir sufficiently to avoid molding.
Most roots may be dried and preserved for a period of time, but certain roots lose their medicinal virtues by drying (such as poke root), and must be used fresh or kept buried in the sand or covered with soil to keep them from deteriorating rapidly. The roots to be dried should be cleaned (a brush is excellent or a little cold water may be used) and the decayed matter, fibers, and little roots removed and, with the exception of certain resinous roots, the worm-eaten roots should be discarded. The thick and strong roots should be split, cut, and sliced immediately into small pieces (while the roots are yet green and fresh), as this will hasten the drying and curing process, and after mold. If the root is covered by a tough bark, peel it off immediately; the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be. Non-aromatic roots (consisting principally of fibers or a small top) may be dried artificially with heat under 100 degrees F.- aromatic roots should be dried in a current of cold air and turned frequently. It is always better to dry roots in a dark room, as sunlight will turn the lighter hue to a darker and more unsightly one. Before storing roots in some appropriate container, always test for dryness, which is--if they snap in two when slightly bent, then they are thoroughly dried.
Place in a tight appropriate container, not made of formaldehyde or certain damaging plastic types, and seal with sealing wax to keep the air from getting to the herb. Be sure to wrap bottle well for storage, placing sufficient padding between, because broken glass from violent jarring, earthquakes, moving, etc., is dangerous. The stored herbs should always be labeled and dated, and then placed in some organized manner into an herbal medicine chest, cabinet, or closet.
For preserving herbs for long periods of time, the parts and plants should be put into liquid extract, tincture or syrup form. The tincture form will keep indefinitely as long as it is in a dark place, in colored glass bottles (the three-ounce size is good for the average need and easy handling) that should be well-stoppered and sealed.
In most cases, where the herb will be used within the year, just place it into a tight can or other appropriate, closed container. Then I if you desire to keep these herbs the second year, be sure to seal those cans not in current use. Sealing is done by filling the can as full as possible to crowd out oxygen, and then sealing with wax. While the foregoing procedure is generally good for nearly all herbs, there are a few specifics (such as poke root) which lose medicinal potency on the same day they are gathered, so herbs of this type must be put immediately into tincture form.
STORAGE OF OILS
The oils must be stored in brown bottles or in cans, and sealed tightly, kept out of the sun and out of extreme heat.
STORAGE IN POWDER FORM
The length of time that a powdered form will keep depends upon storage conditions; it will last up to a year or more and retain almost full potency when stored in a fairly cool place. Those powders containing oils (such as cayenne) should be put in a container that can be hermetically sealed or waxed (such as a honey can), never placed in paper. A waxed carton, cellophane or plastic container is all right, but the recommended procedure is to store in a can or bottle, and then seal. Powdered herbs generally do not need refrigeration, as the covered powder at room temperature should keep well six months to a year, and when hermetically sealed, it should keep two or three years.
I have always felt that a glass canning jar with lid substitutes adequately for the 'wax sealing'. I store my herbs in their original packaging and/or glass jars (tightly sealed and 'burped of air' in the resealable foil or non-toxic plastic bags); they are kept in a dark, cool closet, inside of large Rubbermaid type tubs. I dry the herbs I wildcraft in a dehydrator at 95 degrees (or I tincture them immediately fresh). And if I wildcraft anything I'm using for any herbal preparation I sell, I soak them in a strong solution of bentonite clay and RO filtered water to remove any toxic residue (and 'chemtrail dust') before using or drying.
However, if I wildcraft 'just for the eating' and using myself, I generally just hose them off, dry them on a towel, and munch away. I'm SO jealous, it's still the early stages of spring here, and nothing has started doing much more than peeping out it's little leaves to see if it's safe to come out yet (we almost always get one last 'snow dump' in early April. :(
Thanks for the opportunity to share the wisdom of Dr. Christopher :::moment of silence please:::