If you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse or cold frames, you can pick fresh, green, medicinal plants during winter. Our grocery stores have given us the ability to access beautiful, fresh culinary herbs all winter. This unfortunately, has caused us to overlook the bounty that is all around us, even under a blanket of snow.
Not only is it healthy for us to eat and use the medicines that are available to us during the winter, but it is also healthy for us to do the gathering.
Medicinal Plants to Harvest in Winter
The midwestern part of the United States is experiencing real winter, even as we speak. Temperatures are not expected to rise above freezing for the next week and we have snow on the ground. If you are someone who loves to gather food and medicinal plants from within your community, it could easily seem as though you’re on a forced holiday.
Winter doesn’t have to end your fun. In fact, some of our best options are only now ready for us to gather. Here are a few of my favorites:
This covers a lot of territory, but as long as the ground isn’t frozen I like to harvest burdock, dandelion, and horseradish as the snow is flying. These plants are best when the above ground plant has died back to the ground, pushing all the energy of the plant into the root. This makes late fall and early winter the prime time for harvest.
Pine (Pinus spp.)
During the Christmas season, many writers turned their attention to pine medicine. You may have heard about its use in a hand-made bath salt, but there is much more to be had from those beautiful pine needles.
Pine tree leaves (we call them needles) have been used for arthritis and gout since the time of Hippocrates. Just a handful tossed into a bath can bring relief to most any kind of soreness.
Poplar Buds (Populus spp.)
These buds can be gathered anytime now between the start of winter until bud break in the spring. If you have a poplar or cottonwood tree, look for the small, pointy ends of each stem. These buds are high in resins that are antiseptic and contain compounds that can stimulate local white blood cell activity.
Teas and tinctures made with these buds work on the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts, having a soothing and expectorant action. The poplar species also contains salicylic acid, the compound we know today as aspirin. It has a long association in natural and Western medicine alike.
We know this plant’s anti-fungal properties through our use of propolis, which is made from the resins collected from the Populus and Pinus species by the honeybee.
For Laryngitis and Bronchitis – Make a tincture by pouring 100-proof alcohol over the buds and allowing this to steep for 4-6 weeks. This tincture can be placed in a spray bottle and used to spritz onto an angry throat.
For Eczema and Psoriasis – Make a salve from an oil infused with the buds. (Make it just like the tincture above, only substitute extra virgin olive oil for the alcohol.) Rub onto almost any kind of rash.
Get out there and enjoy a brisk walk in the cold and see what you can find outdoors!