Learning to harvest your own weeds and herbs.

This is truly the way to go: fresh wild plants picked locally at their peak  will make the best remedies possible. Local plants will have a far great impact on your healing than herbs ordered in from a supplier, or herbs that are indigenous to another country.

The main problem comes from learning to identify them properly & not confusing a medicinal plant with another plant.

I offer weed walks during my herbalist classes to help my students learn to identify our local medicinal plants. We go out in spring, summer & fall to see the plants in each season.

If you are taking my herbalist course by distance, try to find someone offering a local weed walk.

Here’s some of the easier herbs to identify, although there may be look alikes. if you already have been on an herb walk with someone & feel comfortable identifying the plants, these pictures might help you remember some of the common plants you can harvest.

Dandelion leaves and root,




Red Clover


wild rose


yellow dock

Cleavers (it is sticky)




Barberry/Oregon Grape

St John’s wort  
(several look alike – sort of, look at the leaves)


Sometimes it is easy to confuse a medicinal plant with another plant, so you have to be careful.

Here’s an example:

Probably everyone thinks they can identify dandelion easily, but maybe not!

There are several plants that look like dandelion, and also have yellow blooms!

A good time to tell what a plant is is when it is in bloom. Although these other plants have yellow blooms, it is easier to tell which one is dandelion when they are in bloom.





Its fairly easy to tell all these apart when pointing out in person. I’m just saying, don’t rely on your field guide to distinguish plants that you will be using internally.

I have all 3 plants growing in my yard & my students compare them throughout the growing season, until they can tell them apart.

CAT'S EAR Hypochaeris radicata can be used medicinally & is edible. Medicinally it has similar uses to dandelion, but it less potent, so it tastes less bitter. You can eat the flower petals, leaves & bud stems.


Harvesting your own wild herbs and weeds can ensure that your herbs are fresher, richer in nutrients, and best of all, free from cost. By harvesting your own herbs you begin to learn things about the plants that help you to remember what they are useful for and get to know more about each plant. You will get to know the plant’s life cycle, the texture, shape of the leaves, the flowers, the scent of the plant, and where it grows, as you learn when and how to harvest the parts.

I prefer to use wild herbs whenever possible for myself and my animals. I use them for my infusions, tinctures, and raw in juices.

I have lots of the plants growing in my yard, by sprinkling some seeds collected in the fall you can get some plants to establish themselves in an area of your yard that you leave as ‘natural’. They don’t require watering or special soil. Usually once they establish you’ve got them forever.

I have plantain, dandelion, burdock, nettles, douglas fir, alder, aspen, thuja, violets, red clover, chickweed, st. john’s wort, barberry, salal, mullein, hawthorne, horsetail, probably about 40 different local medicinal plants.



These are the 2 most important points:

Be 100% sure of what you are harvesting, it might be best to just observe a plant throughout the growing season, see the flowers & seeds, this will help in identifying it.

Take only what you need, scatter harvesting, leave 80% of plant behind. Learn to harvest ethically, don’t pull up the whole plant if you only need the leaves. Don’t harvest the root if the leaves will do fine. Pick a little bit over a wide range of area.


Learning some basic botany will help too. Botany in a Day is a book that helps you distinguish between groupings of plants, and understand terms used in botany.

Just because you see a bird eating it, it is not safe for human consumption! In Texas I have seen a Mockingbird gobble back a whole bunch of red berries off a Poke plant. We can use Poke medicinally, but this needs to be done with knowledge & safety. Eating the berries in the wrong way can cause death.


Don’t harvest by roadside. Exhaust from vehicles will be on the plants.


I no longer tell others where I harvest because several times people have gone & taken all most all of the herb & it doesn’t grow there any more.


You may notice a difference in latin name between herbs in your herbs books & local ones. Get a local book on edible & medicinal herbs too

In the fall the energy of the plant moves down into the roots, that is the time to harvest roots: dandelion, comfrey. Harvest seeds when ripe.


Dry your plants in loose bundles, in the dark, where air circulates, not in direct heat.

Keep your leaves & plants as whole as possible to store them, crushing or grinding exposes them to air & breaks down constituents.

In the spring the energy of the plant moves up into the leaves, make spring infusions to get vitamins, minerals & chlorophyll after the winter. This is a great time to make spring infusions, either use the plants just in cold water, or in hot to make an infusion.

Tea tumblers like this are great for spring infusions. They are made of glass, and have a strainer in the top, so you can stuff the herbs in, pour hot or cold water over it and sip at it, the herbs stay in the lower part.



Any information presented here is for informational purposes only and not intended to take the place of diagnosis and treatment by a medical practitioner.

Copyright © 2002 Dragonfly Herbals