Tag Archives: herbs

Getting down to the Roots of Autumn

Autumn has arrived and that means Winter is just around the bend. Everywhere around us the world is changing, preparing for the cold. Bears are getting fat for hibernation, Squirrels are hoarding acorns, and the trees if you haven’t noticed are putting on a show of greens, oranges, reds and browns. And though we might not often think about it many herbs are also getting ready for the coming cold, stealing their energy from above to be stored in their roots below. This storing of energy, vitamins, nutrients and such make it the perfect time to dig them up and make some medicine!

And as you can guess the conundrum with harvesting roots in the fall is the lack of aerial parts to identify, or sometimes what is left looks quite different from the plant that was growing in the summer. This is when knowing your plants during every season comes in handy. A great book to help in this area is Lauren Browns book “Weeds in Winter”. Some plants such as Pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa) need to be found in summer and marked with a GPS or flag so after they die back they can be found. Others leave a hint of themselves behind, Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) for example leaves a 4-6 foot tall candelabra sticking up high into the air, marking where it grows,Black Cohosh while Burdock (Arctium lappa) often leaves dried and withered leaves,stalks and burrs. The other important thing to know is what the root your looking for actually looks like, digging up the wrong root can have terrible consequences. Its always useful to have someone knowledgeable about plants with you when harvesting roots. But in lieu of that I recommend  Doug Elliotts book “Wild Roots” for a reference guide. His book is full of beautiful and detailed illustrations, descriptions and little stories about all kinds of roots and herbs.

There are many types of roots, some are taproots that  go straight down for a ways such as Burdock, some are just clumps of jumbled roots beneath the soil or deep in the soil, while others are spindly and thread like. Some of the roots you can dig with a hand or a hand shovel.  The taproots and other deep roots require a full sized shovel or soil knife to dig them up. The goal when digging out roots is to get the whole root and to disturb the plants around it as little as possible. Often I cut off a portion of root with a root bud (The pointy piece of root sticking upwards) to replant in the hole I dug.  Always remember to fill the hole in and leave it as if you were never there.  Always use your judgement when wild crafting, as not to over harvest or wipe out a stand of plants.

Black Cohosh Root buds
Black Cohosh Root buds

Once you get yourroots and are sure they are the right ones,its a matter of what you wanted them for that will determine the next step. Many people harvest root cuttings to cultivate herbal plants in their gardens or local forests. Plants tend to grow far easier from root cuttings versus seeds. If this is the case keep theroots dirty and moist, then find a suitable location for that plant and put it back in the earth with the pointy root bud facing up. Ifyour using the roots for medicine then take them home and clean the,m up with water and a toothbrush being sure to remove all the dirt and debris as well as roots from other plants that may have gotten mixed in. Next take your clippers and cut them up into small pieces, do this as soon as possible because most roots will start to harden and dry making them near impossible to cut. The next step depends on what roots you harvested, some roots make good teas while others are used for tinctures.RichoCechs book “Making Plant Medicine” is a great reference for determining what you’d like to do. Some are dried for teas and others are used fresh for tinctures. If using roots for a tea make a decoction rather than the typical infusion, bring water to a boil, add roots, cover and turn to a simmer for 20-20 minutes.  If your roots are for tinctures they are most often used fresh, and made with varying proofs of alcohol. “Making Plant Medicine” has many recipes for a variety of herbs.

Calamus Root
Calamus Root

This only scratches the surface of  roots, if your looking for more information on them I highly recommend Doug Elliotts book “Wild Roots” . It can be bought from his website here

Also Richo Cechs book “Making Plant Medicine” can be bought here

Or check your local Library!

Blood Root

Elder and its Flowers and Berries

So as anyone can see I’m a bit of a slacker when it comes to keeping these internet posts up to date and getting this website up and running, Especially with it being so nice out here in Western Pennsylvania, But I’m gonna try to get on the ball and post at the very least once a month….

It feels like autumn right now here in Pennsylvania which gets me thinking of Elder Berries, and since Elder Flowers just finished blooming I thought I’d ramble a bit about this Ancient Herb

The Elder is an ancient tree that has been held sacred by many cultures for thousands of years. The Celts considered it a symbol of life and death, holding it in such high reverence that to cut it down or burn it was sure to bring bad luck. Many Celts planted the tree around their homes for good luck, as well as carrying it on their person in the form of an amulet to bring good luck, healthy children, prospeElderberriesrity and a happy marriage.

These days Elder is most well know for the berries it produces in the late summer and early autumn, often used to make delicious jams and Pies. But there is alot more to elderberries than just their taste. The berries of this tree are full of flavanoids that help to protect cells against invading viruses such as the common cold and Flu. These small berries are also packed full of vitamin c, Iron, and Beta Carotene, making them an excellent winter time treat when made into a syrup.


Before the berries arrive, around about the beginning of July the flowers of Elder begin to blossom, tiny little things in giant clusters of off white to cream color. Much like the berries the flowers are also used medicinally as well as for food. Medicinally the flowers are used internally in the form of a tincture or a tea to help expel toxins from the body through sweating and flushing out the urinary tract. Elder FlowersThey also relieve heat, and help clear dampness and infection, making these flowers an excellent herb for upper respiratory ailments. Remember if you pick the flowers you wont get the berries!

Recently I picked some Elder Flowers and made a Medicinal Tincture or Extract to use when Cold and Flu season arrives. The other fun thing I did with the flowers was to make an Elder Flower “Fizz”, or soda. I cracked open a bottle of it the other day for the first time and it was great tasting so I thought I would share the recipe.  It makes a Big Batch.

Elder Fizz

24 Cups of Hot water, , 3 Cups of Sugar, 2 tbsp white wine Vinegar, 15-20 large Elder Flower clusters, juice of 4 lemons and Zest.

Mix 3 cups of sugar and vinegar into the Hot water. Add the Lemon juice and Zest. Mix in the Elder Flowers, Remove as much stem from them as possible and make sure no bugs are on the flowers. Stir it all up untill the sugar is dissolved. Cover with Cheese cloth and let sit for 2-4 days. On the second day check the mixture, bubble should have formed from the natural yeast on the flowers fermenting. If there are no bubbles you can add a little bit of yeast. On the fifth day strain out the mixture and pour it into clean and sterile jars or bottles. Let sit for 2 weeks occasionally cracking the lids to release pressure.  Put in the fridge to Cool and Enjoy.

Now here are a few more things about Elder that are useful to know…Don’t eat the Red Elder berries they are a different type and some are poisonous. Don’t use the leaves or branches they will make you throw up. Its best to cook the ripe berries before eating a whole lot of them because they have a laxative effect.  Also Remember with any plant you are going to harvest make sure you have the right plant!


General Info about Sambucus nigra

Common Name: Elder
Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle)
Other Names: Blood Elder, Tree of Medicine, Viking Elder, Tree of music
Etymology: Sambucus comes from the greek word “Sackbut”, a musical instrument made from elder, The common name “Elder” comes from the Anglo Saxon word Aeld, “Fire”, in reference to the young hollow stems being blown into to start a fire.

Description: Small deciduous trees, soft wood, grow to a height of 5-25 feet. Grows in clumps, Divided leaves into 5-11 leaflets, Opposite pairs, shiny above, duller below. Small white flowers in clusters, Purplish to black berries,
Range: Sambucus nigra is native to Europe while Sambucus canedensis is native to North America

Weighing Elder flowers for Tincture

Parts Used: Flowers and Berries
Blooming: Early Summer
Harvest: Flowers in Early Summer, Berries in the Late summer
Edibility: Both the flowers and Berries are edible

Constituents: Flower: Flavonoids (Rutin, Quercitin, Kaempferol) Essential oils, Phytosterols (Sitosterol, stigmasterol, campestrol), Viburnic acid, Phenolic compounds (Chlorogenic acid, Caffeic Acid, p-coumaric acid), Triterpenes (Ursolic Acid, 30 B hydroxursolic acid, Oleanolic acid, a-amyrin, B-amyrin, Free esterified solids, fixed oils) Tannins.
Berry: Beta Carotene, Vitamin C, iron, Potassium, Tyrosine, Alkaloids (Sambucine, hydrocyanic acid)

Actions: Flower: Alterative, Anti-catarrhal, Anti-Inflammatory, Antirhuematic, Aniseptic, anti-spasmodic, anti-tumor, astringent, Carminative, Decongestant, diaphoretic, Digestive, Diuretic, Expectorant, Laxative, Nervine, Stimulant.
Berry: Alterative, Laxative, Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-spasmodic, Antiviral, Antiseptic, Digestive, Nervine.


Elder Tincture
Elder Tincture








Slow Progress and New Tinctures!

Greetings, Summer is in full swing and its hot sunshine has been Luring me outside far more than in, hence the slow progression of the Compass Rose Herbals Site. But on the upside, The herbs are Growing, Tinctures are brewing, and plants are Drying. Coming up soon I will have tinctures of Skullcap, Mimosa Flowers, California Poppy, Dandelion, Licorice root, Astragulus Root, Oregon Grape Root, and Damiana ready to be pressed Bottled and up for sale. Also Coming soon will be Tea Blends as well as Specific Combination Tinctures for what ails ya. Check back for more updates…