This is the time of the year that I like to harvest Usnea lichen, which many folks will recognize as a mossy plant growing on the bark of its host tree. Usnea is a mixed blessing, honestly. If there is a lot of Usnea growing in the forest, it is an obvious sign of a woods in distress. Usnea is parasitic, in that it attached itself to the vascular system of its host tree. If there is too much Usnea it will eventually weaken its host tree and kill it. However, it is always a welcome sign for me as an herbalist to see some Usnea growing in the woods because this plant is a wonderful antimicrobial herb. I harvest it in fall when we are hiking in the autumn color or in winter from my snow shoes. I tincture Usnea because it is not very water-soluble and more constituents will be made available through an alcohol water traditional tincture.
This is also the time of the year when it is best to prepare fresh plant preparations of ginger rhizome and turmeric root. These are both tropical plants, but they can easily be grown as houseplants. They are harvested in January or February and then the plant goes dormant for a rest period of a couple of months. If you were living in a tropical place like Costa Rica or Hawaii, this would be the time of the year that the ginger and turmeric are harvested on farms. Because of this, this is the best time of the year to purchase those plants in the produce section of a natural foods market or an ethnic food market, because it is sure to be fresher and not from cold storage. If you are growing your own as houseplants (or perhaps you live in a tropical climate and have these plants in your yard-space), this is a good time to harvest your own rhizomes or roots. To do this, simply cut back the tops to about 4-6″ above the soil. Then remove the entire plant from the pot and gently remove all the soil. From the exposed roots, you will want to first re-plant a generous portion of rhizome or root in the pot(freshly washed and with fresh soil). Now use care not to water this plant too much until it begins to actively grow again in later spring…remember it is dormant and won’t use much water or fertilizer until it comes out of dormancy. By handling the plant in this way, you will always have a fresh supply or ginger and turmeric for your personal needs.
From the remaining harvested ginger rhizomes, I like to prepare a ginger vinegar. This is my favorite way to work with ginger medicinally. Ginger vinegar is excellent to calm and soothe nausea and other types of digestive discomfort. It helps to calm down an upset stomach from such things as over-eating, motion sickness, altitude sickness, etc. It has been suggested to pregnant moms for centuries to calm morning sickness. I also really love ginger tea, so I always try to slice and dry some of the rhizome to use in brewing tea throughout the year. It is truly delicious! turmeric is another great culinary herb, and can be sliced and dried, later ground in a spice mill, to use in cooking. I use my fresh turmeric root in a traditional tincture form and I also dry some and then infuse it in olive oil to later be prepared into creams and salves. Turmeric is well-recognized for its superb anti-inflammatory benefits, both topically and internally. Beware, though, turmeric root is bright orange and it will stain your clothes and your skin. That is a small problem to deal with in comparison to the benefits I gain from using it.
You can find information on how to make a traditional tincture or an herbal vinegar and infused herbal oils on the herbal information page of this blog.
On another note…only two more weeks until my new book, Homegrown Herbs, will be in the warehouse and ready to ship to bookstores. It is going to be wonderful to have it in the hands of readers and I hope you will find it practical and useful in every way, plus beautiful and enjoyable to read. This book is filled with gardening information on for herbs, plus it has substantial chapters on cooking with herbs, preparing them to use in your home as bath herbs, creams, even how to make cat toys with herbs. Professor, our maine coon cat highly recommends that part of the book…so much so that he even has his photo on the page! Anyway, this new book is all about making herbs a part of your daily lifestyle, in every facet of your life. I’m going to post pictures of the books I’ve written on the page of this blog called “About Us”. I hope you will check it out when you get a quick minute.