Pagan Paths

The monthly musings of a Druid Herbalist living in New England.


  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Wildcrafting Herbs - Know Your Roots!

 (photo of Burdock plant by Christian Fischer)

It is early October as I write this. Farm stands and store shelves are groaning with local produce; glowing pumpkins of all sizes and colors, varieties of apples, apple cider and pies, jams and jellies made from local fruits and berries, broccoli, garlic, fennel and grapes, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, beets, cauliflower, chard, celery, kale, leeks and lettuce, mushrooms of all kinds, onions, parsley and pears, potatoes, peas and turnips. Local fruits and vegetables displayed in rows like rough jewels to be taken home to be cut, refined and processed.

Meanwhile, Nature continues to bestow her bounty in fields and forests, to those who have an eye to see the wealth.

Know your Roots

Fall is the time to gather roots. When harvesting roots from the ground be sure to scrub off the dirt, then soak them in water with vinegar or sea salt (a few tablespoons per gallon of water) to remove parasites, for about twenty minutes, before you rinse and chop.

Burdock (Arctium lappa)( see images here:

“A weed is a plant whose uses have yet to be appreciated” and Burdock is one of those “weeds”. In Japan the root is grown as a vegetable called “Gobo”.

Burdock is a biennial, meaning that the flowers and seeds appear in the second year. Dig out the root of a first year plant in the fall, or a second year plant in the spring because by the time the flowers appear it is too late to take the roots. Clean it carefully and soak in salt water or vinegar water for about 20 minutes to remove parasites. Then soak again in fresh, clear water for about 10 minutes to improve the taste. Chop and sauté the roots after that.

Burdock is considered a gentle blood and liver cleanser. Think of it for skin eruptions such as acne. (The fresh leaf tea can be used as an external wash for sores, acne, poison ivy and poison oak).

In my experience Burdock root tea or capsules should be taken to relieve poison ivy which is actually a systemic condition. Burdock helps to clear the poison ivy toxins from the blood via the liver.

To make the tea: simmer 1 tsp. root per cup of water, for about 20 minutes or grate the fresh root, add half as much water as you have of root, squeeze out the liquid and drink up to 1 cup a day in teaspoon doses.

Goldenrod (Solidago odora, S. virgaurea and other species) (see pictures here: is still available in the early fall. Add the flowers to muffins, pancakes, soups and vegetable stir fries. The flowers and leaves when taken in herbal teas can benefit skin conditions such as eczema as well as arthritis, colds and flu, hemorrhoids, and urinary tract infections. Externally the tea can be applied to cuts and insect bites.

To make the tea: steep a teaspoon of flowers per cup of freshly boiled water for about 10 minutes. Adults (average 150 pounds) can take up to 2 cups a day. Adjust amounts for children, depending on body weight.

The leaves of Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago odora) (see image here;  make a nice tasting beverage tea; add them to other medicinal teas to improve taste. The leaf tea helps with fevers, stomach cramps, colds, coughs, diarrhea and measles. It makes an external wash for rheumatic conditions and can be used in compresses for headaches. It is diuretic and emmenagogue. The leaves have been used in salves for insect stings.

Caution: Be careful to gather leaves without signs of fungus or mold

Goldenrod roots

Once the cold autumn air has caused the plant to die back, the sap returns to the roots which can be washed, dried and eaten in soups, or ground into bread mixes. The powdered, dried root is applied to wounds. The roots and flowers are also used to make salves and poultices for burns, sore joints and old sores.

(Caution: goldenrod may help milder kidney conditions but those with severe kidney problems or who might be pregnant should avoid this herb)

Cat Tail, Bulrush (Typha spp.) (see pictures here

These pond dwellers have been termed “the supermarket of the swamp” due to their availability for food and medicine all year. In spring cut the new shoots and peel them open. The center reveals a delicate pale green vegetable that when steamed resembles hearts of palm. In the early summer the young flower heads are boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. When the pollen appears in the summer it can be collected and added to flour. Native Americans used the fuzz to diaper babies (packed into a buckskin diaper), to line moccasins and to stuff pillows.

Cat Tail Roots

In the fall when the plants have started to brown and die back, it is time to gather the roots. One difficulty is that you must find cat tails growing in non-polluted water, which may require hiking away from roads. The roots can be simmered to make a diuretic tea or cooked until soft, then mashed and cooled and applied to wounds, sores, burns, and other skin eruptions. You can also add the softened roots to poultices for skin healing.

Marshmallow  (Althaea officinalis)

(see pictures here: )

The flower buds, flowers and very young leaves can be cooked and eaten in the spring or used to make a tea for coughs and sore throats.

Marshmallow Roots

In the fall we turn to the roots which are demulcent (soothing to tissues) and thus helpful for sore throat and coughs. The root tea can be used in douches and as a soothing eye wash (be sure to simmer for 20 minutes or more and then strain through an organic coffee filter if you plan to use it in your eyes), colitis and stomach ulcers.

Add the roots to poultices and salves for skin irritations, burns and wounds.

You can also grate the cleaned fresh roots (soak the roots in cold water with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or sea salt for about 20 minutes to remove parasites, then rinse), mix with honey, and spread on a cloth. Apply to minor burns, wounds and skin irritations for about an hour and then discard.

To make the root tea: peel the roots then simmer 1 tsp. root per cup of water, for 20 minutes

To make the flower and leaf tea: steep 2 tsp. flower and leaf per cup of boiled water, for about 5 minutes

Yellow Dock, Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) (see images here

In very early spring the leaves are edible. Bring to a simmer and pour off the water twice before consuming. Caution: do not eat large amounts as it can irritate the kidneys.

Yellow Dock Roots

The roots of this herb are cleansing to the blood and liver, meaning they will help clear skin problems such as acne. The root tea is a gentle, iron rich laxative suitable for pregnant women.

The roots can be added to healing salves or dried and powdered and applied to cuts.

To make the root tea: simmer 1 tsp. per cup of water for 20 minutes. Adults (150 pounds) can take up to 2 cups a day. Adjust for body weight in children.

False Solomon’s Seal, False Spikenard (Maianthemum racemosum,Smilacina racemosa, Vagnera racemosa ) (see image here:

This plant can be easily distinguished from True Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) (see image here: ) . The “True” variety has a line of bell shaped flowers all along the stalk while the “False” has a cluster of flowers at the end of the stalk. “True” Solomon’s Seal root is used in poultices for bruises and wounds but it is an endangered species in the wild so I do not recommend wild crafting this plant.

False Solomon’s Seal Root

The mashed roots can be applied to swellings and boils, itching and bleeding. They are anti-inflammatory and can be chopped and simmered in honey to make a syrup for coughs and sore throats (use 1 part root to 4 parts honey, simmer gently until the roots are very soft, strain)

Native Americans used the root tea for conditions such as constipation, rheumatism, stomach problems, menstrual issues and coughs. Caution: The tea can be a strong laxative for some people. Try a small amount and see how it affects you first!

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) (see images here:

The tender leaves of this plant are actually quite tasty and very edible if gathered in early spring when they first appear (when they are six inches long or less). Simmer and pour off the water twice, then serve with butter. Note* This plant can be easily confused with False Hellebore (Veratrum viride)(see image here: ) which is poisonous. Use your nose – False Hellebore does not have that wonderfully stinky smell!

Seek the roots of Skunk Cabbage very late fall or very early spring. A denizen of swamps, streams and boggy grounds, these roots are a classic remedy for wet lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. The roots are also used for nervous problems, depression, rheumatic conditions and swellings. The roots have pain-relieving qualities and cause relaxation of tissues.

The roots can be simmered in oil to make a salve for ring worm, sores and swellings.

To make the tea: steep 1 tsp. per cup of freshly boiled water for about 20 minutes. Take up to 1 cup a day in tablespoon doses.

Tincture: tincture the roots in vodka for about 8 days and keep on hand for asthma and coughs. Take 3-15 drops in water.

 For more detailed info on herb and tree medicine please see all my books at where you can purchase a signed copy with a personal note!


Lust, John, The Herb Book, Bantam, New York, 1974 (accessed 10/1/13)


Last modified on

Ellen Evert Hopman is a founding member of The Order of the White Oak (Ord Na Darach Gile, and its former Co-Chief, a Bard of the Gorsedd of Caer Abiri, and a Druidess of the Druid Clan of Dana. She was Vice President of The Henge of Keltria, an international Druid Fellowship, for nine years.

Hopman has been a teacher of Herbalism since 1983 and of Druidism since 1990 and is a professional member of The American Herbalists Guild. Her newest herbal is THE SECRET MEDICINES OF YOUR KITCHEN, about making home remedies from foods and spices already on your shelf.

Other publications include; Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey (Llewellyn, February 2008); The Druid Isle (Llewellyn, April 2010); Priestess of the Fire Temple (Llewellyn, 2012); The Secret Medicines of Your Kitchen (mPowr Publishing, 2012), A Druid's Herbal for Sacred Tree Medicine; (Inner Traditions - Bear and Company, June 2008); Being a Pagan: Druids, Wiccans, and Witches Today (Destiny Books, 2001); People of the Earth: The New Pagans Speak Out (Inner Traditions, 1995, currently out of print); Walking the World in Wonder - A Children's Herbal (Healing Arts Press, 2000); A Druid's Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year (Destiny Books, 1994); and Tree Medicine-Tree Magic (Phoenix Publishing, Inc., 1992, currently out of
print). DVD's; Celtic Cosmology, Gifts from the Healing Earth, Vol I and Vol II (herbal healing); and Pagans - the Wheel of the Year.

Her books, DVDs and speaking engagements can be seen online at:


  • Jo Herndon
    Jo Herndon Saturday, 05 October 2013

    Hi Ellen...thought I'd drop in for a perusal. Nicely done blog, kudos. :)

    Quick question - have you dried cattail roots? I have two huge areas of cattail 'swamp' nearby, and have used them in other ways, but never tried drying the roots.

  • Ellen Evert Hopman
    Ellen Evert Hopman Saturday, 05 October 2013

    I have never tried to dry the roots, let me know how it goes if you do. One of the beauties of Cat Tail is the roots are available all winter, under the ice. If you know the water is clean, why not use them fresh from the pond? Or you can gather the fresh roots now, clean them carefully as I outlined in the blog, and then freeze them for later use. That will make them available for poultices all winter!

  • Beth Sage Owens
    Beth Sage Owens Sunday, 06 October 2013

    The locals around here tell me that roots can be harvested in any month that has a "R" in it's spelling:) Quaint, but somewhat true....I tend to think that when you are harvesting roots (for me--echinecea and comfrey) you should wait til you have a cold snap. What do you think?

  • Ellen Evert Hopman
    Ellen Evert Hopman Monday, 07 October 2013

    The idea is to gather roots when the plant has started to die back. That is when the sap, juices and other good stuff are sent down to the roots for the winter. Some say wait for a hard freeze but I say just wait until the plant dies back.

  • Beth Sage Owens
    Beth Sage Owens Sunday, 06 October 2013

    And another thing maybe someone has some advice for me in? Are monster-truck sized, 3 year old horseradish roots still good for bringing up, or do you think they may have turned kinda "woody"?

  • Ellen Evert Hopman
    Ellen Evert Hopman Monday, 07 October 2013

    I have no experience with three year old horse radish roots. Best thing would be to dig one up and taste it!

  • Elizabeth Creely
    Elizabeth Creely Tuesday, 08 October 2013

    Lovely! I enjoyed reading this and appreciated the distinction (and warning) the difference between False Hellbore and Skunk Cabbage. I was in the high Sierra's here in California in August and I kept getting the two plants mixed up- not so easy to tell at first glance, for sure.

  • Jamie
    Jamie Wednesday, 09 October 2013

    Ms. Hopman,

    I second that! There is a definite patch of skunk cabbage in the swamp behind our house, but I had no idea that skunk cabbage had a poisonous look-a-like.

    Thank you again for another great article. Because we are both New Englanders, I actually see a number of the plants you discuss on a regular basis.

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information