Herbs for the Autumn Equinox: Why celebrate the Autumn Equinox?

When the bounty of the harvest has come in, the leaves begin changing colors, and cool, brisk days replace the dead heat of summer, autumn is upon us! This time of the year marks the autumn equinox, when both day and night are equally long. For herbalists around the world, the fall equinox marks an important transition between summer and fall, a time to reap what has been sown. This is a time for harvesting summer’s abundance, planting new seeds for the spring, for contemplating new ideas, and for medicine-making.

Plant-based cleansing rituals during the autumn equinox help to address the energetic transformation of the season. In Native American tradition, smudging with sage, juniper, cedar, and sweet grass is thought to clear the air of negativity, bring vision, attract the spirit of ancestors, and guide us into the new season.

Herbalists like to harvest medicinal plants and create herbal medicines in conjunction with the lunar calendar when the medicinal power of the plant is at its peak. The New Moon is best for harvesting roots and leaves. The Full Moon, September’s Harvest Moon, is best for leaves, flowers, and seeds. When the timing aligns the harvest with the equinox, it can produce some amazing herbal medicine! This is a good time to start making herbal recipes like fire cider, a sweet vinegar mixture traditionally used to support our immune systems during the colder months.

THE AUTUMN EQUINOX – ROOTS: According to the Herbal Academy, “Fall is all about root medicine. As plants ready themselves for winter, many of them draw their energy down into the roots to wait out a season of cold and rest. Burdock, dandelion, butterfly weed, angelica, and licorice are just a few of the herbs we cherish for their medicine underground. With roots at their peak strength, ready to keep the plants vital and healthy until spring, now is the best time to harvest underground allies.”

No matter what season it is, it seems like there is always something new going on in the herbal scene. An exotic herb with promising new research, a new trend in self-care, or an up and coming herbalist that shows us fresh viewpoints and opinions that shape the future of herbalism widen our herbal horizons. But the timeless rhythm of drawing down and inwards, of setting aside nourishment until spring, never varies for the fall gardens and the wild plants around us. Perhaps fall is an ideal time for us, as herbalists, to return to our roots and herbal traditions.”

When harvesting roots:

  • Harvest from clean land away from roadsides.
  • Keep the plant’s whole life cycle in mind before harvesting.
  • When harvesting roots from a plant that has seeds, plant them.
  • Check the endangered plant list before foraging.   
  • Do not harvest roots from plants on the list.urcha
  • Purchase endangered roots from a sustainable grower.
  • Clean roots in the sink using a vegetable brush
  • Dry roots by slicing into thin slices and drying below 95 degrees.
  • Store roots in a cool, dry place out of direct light.

Burdock (Arctium lappa): A biennial, the root is harvested in the fall at the end of its first year or growth. In its second year of growth, burdock uses the energy reserves in its root to send up a tall flower spike. By the fall of its second year, burdock is putting out sticky burr seed packets, and the plant is dried out and dies back completely.

Burdock contains a prebiotic called inulin, a fiber which nourishes the gut microbiome and may improve digestion. The mildly bitter nature of burdock helps stimulate digestive secretions and may aid in appetite improvement and nutrient assimilation. As a gentle alterative, burdock is tonifying to the body as a whole. It is often used for detox support, as it encourages lymph flow and the removal of waste from the body. Burdock is especially useful for dry conditions where body tissues are in need of cleansing, moistening, and nourishment. It helps detoxify and normalize metabolic function and may calm external skin issues such as eczema, dandruff, and psoriasis.

Burdock is often included in tea blends and tinctures intended for liver and digestive support, but all parts may be consumed as a food. It can be added to salads, smoothies, sautéed as a vegetable, roasted and added to soups, stews, and stir-fries, and the seeds may also be eaten.

~~Ginger Winn

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