Local Medicine Making: Add these Foundation Plants to your List to Harvest

As I write this on April 14th, the maples are just beginning to bud out, tiny, green rosettes of Motherwort unfurl at the base of last year’s spent stalks, non-native honeysuckle and buckthorn in the forest understory are already beginning to leaf out. In the next few weeks the green world will burst into being and it will be time to begin making medicine in earnest.

I’ve compiled the following list of local plants for the upper midwestern herbal student and medicine maker to get to know and use in your life and healing practice.  They are the foundation of our regional practice of herbal medicine.

All are native or naturalized.  All are abundant with limited concerns with respect to wildcrafting.  These plants are also overwhelmingly safe and low-toxicity.  In many cases, like Linden, Raspberry, Violets and Chickweed, Horsetail and Goldenrod, it is not  very important that you distinguish between different members of the genus.  In other cases, such as Shepherd’s Purse and Cleavers, for example, if you were to harvest a different member of the genus is would do no harm.  Elderberry (black) is the only plant on this list where it is considered important to not use other species in the genus (avoid the red).

Black Walnut: nut hull, when ripe, late summer

Burdock: root primarily,(1st year plant fall harvested) seed and leaf used by some

Chickweed: aerial parts, anytime it’s green and health



Cleavers: aerial parts, early to mid spring whenever available?May. This plant does yellow and die back as the season heats up. Don’t procrasinate!

Catnip:  leaves, before flowering, early to mid spring/May, possibly again in the fall if the plants put out a flush of fall leaves

Dandelion, leaf (whenever available)and root(fall)

dandelion close up

Elder: blossom (usually June)and berry (when ripe, usually late July to early/mid August)

Goldenrod:  flowering tops, usually early/mid August

Horsetail: aerial parts, field horsetail usually early to mid spring/May, scouring rush throughout the growing season

Lady’s Thumb:  aerial parts, flowering or not,whenever available

Linden: blossoms, usually mid to late June

Motherwort: leaves, when lush, before flowering in early spring or again in fall

Mullein:  leaves, first year rosette, spring, blossoms when flowering, root used by some, fall harvested

Nettle: aerial parts, early spring/May, before flowering and going to seed.

Pineapple Weed: blossoms, mid summer, anytime in bloom

Plantain: leaves, anytime during plant’s life cycle

Raspberry Leaf:  leaf, leaves from 1st year non-fruiting canes are larger, darker and lusher, but any may be used

Red Clover: blossoms, mid spring to early summer

Shepherd’s Purse:  aerial parts, before, during or after flowering, mid spring

St. John’s Wort: flowering tops, blooms around solstice and blossoms available for about 2 weeks

Sweet Leaf:  blossoms, July

sweet leaf
Sweet Leaf (Monarda fistulosa)


Violet:  blossom, May, leaf anytime they look lush and not dried out and ratty, some history of use of the root

Yarrow:  blossoms, blooms variable and repeat blooms,

Yellow Dock: root , fall

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