Winter is right around the corner. Which means cold and flu season! What do you do to prepare for winter’s colds and flu?
Do you make your own medicine? Learning how to make herbal remedies is a good way to work on your self reliance. Today we’re talking about herbal remedies that you need to make now, to get ready for winter!
Foraging in the fall typically involves berries, roots, and nuts. In the fall, when the foliage begins to die back, plants shift their energy into their roots to prepare them to survive the cold, harsh winter. That means that the medicinal value of most plants lies in the roots in the fall.
Fall and hunting season is our family’s favorite season. While the Hubs is hunting for deer and elk, I am usually “hunting” for herbal remedies to use in my apothecary. Here are 20 herbs that you should forage in the fall, to get ready for winter.
Herbs to forage now for herbal remedies
There are several types of herbs that you can forage for, right now, to get ready for cold and flu season. If you don’t get them now, you won’t have them when you need them. So get out there, while the weather is still nice, and forage for your own medicine!
This is one of my favorite herbs to forage! It grows prolifically here, in the high desert of southwest Idaho. I gather leaves and flowers every year.
The root is medicinal, though I haven’t used it myself. The flowers are helpful for infusing in oil to use as an ear ache remedy. And the leaves are a wonderfully healing lung medicine, helpful for coughs, colds, flu, and bronchitis. It is truly one of the best respiratory herbs out there. I have a very detailed post and YouTube video on identifying and using mullein.
Pick the leaves and flowers now, while they are still vibrant, and dry them in the dehydrator. When stored in a glass jar, they can last a year or more.
Another favorite of mine, I take some time nearly every time I go to the mountains in the fall to pick some wild elderberries. And in the spring I pick elderflowers.
Both the berries and the flowers are medicinal and very helpful, but the leaves and bark are considered toxic. Elderberry has gained a lot of popularity in recent years due to its fantastic antiviral properties. Since this is one of my favorites, I also have a detailed post and YouTube video on elderberry as well.
You need to pick the berries in the summer and early fall, and need to either make them into an elderberry syrup, or elderberry tincture. Elderberries can be frozen for a while before you make the medicine, but some preparations need some time to make. For instance, with elderberry tincture (or elixir), it needs about a month to infuse in alcohol.
While the elderberries are ripe and very dark blue, pick them by the bunch and put them straight in the freezer. When you are ready to use them, take them out of the freezer. The berries will easily fall off the branches. Then you can either dehydrate the berries for a tincture, or boil them in water to start an elderberry syrup.
Goldenrod is a helpful herb for seasonal allergies, although a lot of people mistakenly blame it for their allergies. Ironically, most of the time these allergies are caused by ragweed, which is often confused with goldenrod. This herb is most helpful for allergies through tincturing.
If you harvest goldenrod flowers now, while they are fresh and vibrant, you can then dehydrate them to use later. They can be stored in a glass jar for about a year or so.
Black walnut is a powerful anti-fungal herb. The nuts of the tree get ripe in late fall, but they should be harvested before the nuts fall to the ground. They take a bit of work and preparation to use, so you need to give yourself time to make this medicine.
The hull is actually the medicinal part of a black walnut. After harvesting black walnuts, you will need to allow the hull to dry out some. After it has dried out a bit, you can crack the hulls with a hammer or a rock. The hulls are often very, very hard. Some people even drive over them in their cars!
The hull needs to be broken up more and can be put in the dehydrator to fully cure. Then it should be ground up into a powder to be used as medicine.
Burdock is valuable as a liver cleanser, as well as an aid to those with diabetes and high blood pressure. It is also edible. The easiest and preferred way to use burdock is in a tincture. Most roots are more difficult to extract the medicine out of, so the best way is to tincture them. Steeping the root in 90 to 100 proof alcohol for about 4 weeks extracts the most medicine from roots.
Burdock root can be gathered now, while all of the energy is in the root. Then it can be dehydrated, or used immediately.
Dandelion is another notable liver cleanser and diuretic. It is a bitter herb, and as such, helps with digestive issues. People often use a combination of dandelion and chicory root as a healthy, caffeine-free coffee substitute. Dandelion root is easily made into a tea. If you roast the dandelion root prior to making your tea, it brings out a slightly spicy, smokey flavor.
In the fall, the plant’s energy goes into the roots to develop a strong root system that will survive the winter. So now is the perfect time to harvest it! Pull up the dandelions by the root, rinse, and dehydrate. Or, if you’re going to use as a coffee substitute, roast in the oven until a rich cocoa brown, then store in an air-tight jar.
Chicory is a lovely tonic herb. It has delicate purple flowers in the spring and summer, but the fall is when it’s really powerful! This root is helpful for upset stomach, liver problems, constipation, and high blood pressure.
Roasting the root and making a tea of it (sometimes with the addition of dandelion) is the best way to use this lovely herb. It is a great substitute for those who shouldn’t have coffee due to anxiety, high blood pressure, and rapid heartbeat.
This root should be gathered, rinsed, and dehydrated or roasted. When it is completely dry, it can be stored in air-tight jars.
Wild rose hips
Rose hips, the fruit that is left on the rose bush after the flowers die, boast some of the highest amounts of Vitamin C. They are a great immune booster, and so nice to sip on when you’re feeling under the weather. Gathered after a frost or two, they are sweeter. Dehydrate them to make an easy, vitamin C-packed tea any time of year!
Once the rose hips are fully dried, they can be stored in a jar for up to a year. Put them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes to extract the goodness of the hips for tea.
Marshmallow root is full of mucilage, which is a “gooey” type substance that helps coat sore throats and soothe irritated tummies. It is also super helpful for making dry coughs more productive, and calming urinary tract inflammation. This is another root that is easy to make a tea out of, and it tastes good, especially with the addition of peppermint.
Gather the marshmallow roots, rinse, and dehydrate. When all the moisture is gone, store in an air-tight jar for up to a year.
Cherry bark makes a fantastic herbal cough syrup. The bark of the cherry tree is an expectorant, with the added bonus of being a mild sedative, so it is super valuable to have on hand for cold and flu season. It will suppress your cough, dry up excess mucus, and help you sleep. Kind of like a natural herbal Nyquil!
Pull pieces of cherry bark off the tree and dehydrate. Store in an air-tight container. It should last a year or more.
Hawthorn is a fantastic heart heath herb. The berries are typically used to treat arrhythmias, heart palpitations, poor circulation, and low blood pressure. Hawthorn is also high in antioxidants, which can help improve the body’s response to stress. The berries ripen in the fall and stay good until after a few frosts, and they make a lovely medicinal syrup.
Pick the berries, and dehydrate them fully. Store in a jar for up to a year.
Pine needles are another wonderful immune booster, and once were used as a cure for scurvy. They have insanely high amounts of Vitamin C, and are a good expectorant, which makes them a soothing tea for colds. Pine needle tea also helps relieve chest congestion, and soothes sore throats. Keep pine needles in mind when you’re hunting and come down with a cough!
Pull off the most vibrant-looking needles from the tree. This will usually be the newest growth, at the ends of the branches. Air dry them for a couple of days, then put them in an air-tight container. Pine needles will be good for up to a year.
Pine sap is antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory. It is used in many salves and ointments. If you get injured in the woods while foraging, you can even just put some tree sap on a wound. It will help seal it up and provide anti-bacterial protection. Added to salves, pine sap is helpful for eczema. Pine sap also has drawing properties, and can pull the poison out of bites and stings.
To gather pine sap, find a spot where a tree has been injured. Sap will be seeping out of the wound. Scoop it directly into a jar. If some is crystallized, that’s ok. It can be heated when you are going to use it, to turn it into liquid again.
You may know these as the traditional flavoring for gin. But juniper berries are medicinal as well! They are a digestive, kidney, and bladder stimulant, and they are antibiotic as well. They are helpful for bladder infections, and even bronchitis. These little powerhouses are helpful for eczema and rashes when prepared in a cream or salve. And amazingly, they show great anti-cancer benefits!
Pick the berries and dehydrate them. They can be stored in an jar for about a year.
The leaves of the chickweed are the medicinal parts. It is wonderful for complaints such as poor digestion, constipation, and stomach upset. Chickweed is anti-inflammatory, and a valuable lymph and blood cleanser. It is useful as a general tonic. Chickweed is also useful in poultices and salves, as it is really healing for skin.
Pick the chickweed leaves and allow them to air dry. Once they are crunchy, you can store them in air-tight jars until they are needed. They will last about a year, until you can gather more.
Plantain (the herb, not the banana-like vegetable) is most noted for its amazing skin healing properties. It is wonderful for wounds and bites or stings, due to its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-fungal effects. A salve made from plantain leaf should be in every home apothecary. It is the best natural “Neosporin”.
Pick plantain leaves and let them air dry. Store in an air-tight jar or container for up to a year. Or, put them into an oil right after drying to infuse. This oil can be used to make a salve.
Yarrow is extremely helpful against bleeding, both externally and internally. It aids in bleeding from cuts, as well as painful, heavy menstruation. Dried, powdered yarrow is a natural “Quick Clot” that should be in every herbalist’s arsenal.
Fun fact: soldiers used to carry yarrow in pouches around their neck. It can stop bleeding quickly, and prevents wounds from getting infected. It is also mildly sedative and has some pain-relieving properties when taken internally.
Gather the ferny leaves and flowers and allow to air dry. Keep them in an air-tight container until ready to use. They will stay good longer in their whole form. If you want a powder, allow to dry thoroughly and grind with a coffee grinder or herb grinder. The powder will stay good for 6 months to a year.
Stinging nettle and stinging nettle root
Stinging nettle root is fantastic for prostate health. It is also helpful for ulcers, bleeding in the intestinal tract, and to ease arthritis pain.
Ironically, this herb, that is known for stinging the skin, can be made into a gel or cream that is actually very soothing to the skin. The important thing to note with stinging nettle, is that very hot water is necessary to remove the “hairs” that are the irritating parts of the plant.
Gather the roots and leaves, and dehydrate. Store them in an air-tight jar until use. They will last about a year.
All parts of the echinacea plant are medicinal. Echinacea is a fantastic immune booster! It is commonly used as a cold preventative, but it also reduces inflammation and helps control blood sugar levels. The typical way of preparing echinacea is in a tincture. Many people take it daily during cold and flu season, to ward off illness.
Harvest the plants while still vibrant, before a killing frost. Air dry for a few days, then store them in an air-tight container. The dried plant parts can be put in high-proof alcohol to make a tincture for immune support.
Blackberry root is a toning, antiseptic herb, and can be used to control diarrhea. I’ve even heard it being used on calves that have scours (diarrhea)! It is super easy to turn the dried leaf into a intestine-toning tea. Dig up some roots now, before the winter freezes the ground.
Pull up the roots, and give them a gentle rinse. Dehydrate them, then keep in an air-tight container. They will keep for a year or more.
Why forage and prepare these now?
Fall is the perfect time to forage all of these herbal goodies. For berries and nuts, you must gather them when they are ripe, but not over ripe. Frosts will kill berries, and make the nuts fall to the ground, where they will rot. Leaves die back in the fall, and if they are too wilted and dried, they are not viewed as viable medicine. Roots are easy to dig up now, before the winter freezes the ground.
Lots of herbal remedies take some time to prepare. Tinctures take 4 to 6 weeks to make. Infused oils also take 4 weeks to infuse. Herbal vinegars need to “brew” for at least 2 weeks. In other words, it takes some time and preparation to have these herbal remedies ready for when you need them!
Herbal remedies to prepare now
A tincture is basically any herb or combination of herbs, steeped in high-proof alcohol (90 to 100 proof) for 4 to 6 weeks. The medicinal values of the herbs are infused into the alcohol, then are strained out to create an easy-to-use medicine. You only need a medicine dropper-full of this powerful medium, and they have an extremely long shelf life (many years!).
Examples: Echinacea tincture for immune support. Elderberry tincture to reduce the severity and length of time of colds. Thyme tincture to break up mucus and make coughs more productive. Hawthorn berry tincture for heart health. Burdock root tincture to cleanse the liver and control blood sugar levels.
Herb infused oils are the bases for most salves. You need to start them early if you are doing a slow infusion, which most herbalists favor. Infused oils are simply herbs that are infused in a quality oil (such as olive oil, avocado oil, or sunflower oil) for approximately 4 weeks.
After the infusion time, the herbs are strained from the oil, and the oil is either kept as-is for a soothing skin oil, or used in making a salve. The shelf life is dependent on the oil that is used, but typically they are good for up to about a year.
Examples: Plantain oil for open wounds, bites, scratches, and stings. Chickweed oil for eczema. Yarrow oil to prevent infection in cuts. Pine sap oil for a drawing salve. Black walnut oil for fungus treatment (athlete’s foot, ringworm, nail fungus). Mullein flower oil for ear aches and ear infections.
Herbal vinegars are an easy way to incorporate herbs into your daily diet. They can be used in salads, on grains, or even mixed into a drink. Herbal vinegars are simply herbs seeped in vinegar (apple cider, white, or rice vinegar) for at least 2 weeks. The herbs are then strained out, and the vinegar should be consumed within about 3 months.
Examples: Chickweed vinegar for a pleasant tasting tonic. Pine needle vinegar or rose hip vinegar for a delicious boost of vitamin C. Burdock root vinegar for controlling blood sugar levels and cleansing the liver. Juniper berry vinegar for a pleasant tasting diuretic.
Herbal syrups are wonderful to keep in your home apothecary. They taste great, and give you an easy way to take your medicine! These should be kept in the fridge, but last for a couple months. If you can some (make sure you follow safe canning practices!), they can be kept on the shelf until they are opened.
Examples: Elderberry syrup for immune boosting and shortening the duration and severity of colds. Rose hip syrup for a high dose of vitamin C, also for immune boosting. Cherry bark syrup for a soothing, homemade cough syrup. Hawthorn berry syrup for boosting heart health.
Loose leaf herbal tea
Any one of these herbs, and pretty much any other herb, can be dried (either by air or in a dehydrator) for loose leaf herbal tea. Drying completely and keeping in an airtight container preserves herbs for about a year, when you can then go forage some more!
If you keep your herbs separate, you can formulate your own herbal tea each time you make a cup. Or, if you’d like, you can customize your own blend and keep it, already mixed, in a separate container. You can even make your own tea bags if you’d like easier preparation. A tea baller is also a nice little tool if you use a lot of loose leaf tea.
Learning how to make your own herbal remedies is an important practice in self reliance. If you are preparing for disasters, shouldn’t that include learning to take care of medical issues as well? If there is ever a time when the SHTF, you won’t have much access to doctors. Knowing some herbal remedies can be the difference between life and death. Not only that, but it is so nice to know what’s in your medicine!
Do you have a favorite herbal remedy? Make sure you share in the comments!