There are two times of year that are considered optimal for digging medicine roots, Spring and Autumn. The reason for this is both because it is a folk way that was practiced as an aspect of seasonal living by Earth-based cultures and as part of our understanding of plant phsyiology. Biennial and perennial plants use their roots to store nutrients throughout the Winter. In the Spring the roots retain these rich, essentials until the plant is signaled by the sun and temperature shift that it's time to send it's vital energy upward toward the emergence of sprouts and buds. After the plant has flowered and produced seeds, the lowering of the sun and the first frosts signal it to send it's life force back into the roots. If the plant is biennial (has a two year life-cycle) we can gather the root any time during the Spring or Fall of the first year and the Spring of the second year. For perennials roots are gathered during the Spring or Fall, and, with perennial roots, many plants have certain years that are considered optimal for root harvesting. Such, as with Echinacea, it is generally considered best to harvest it after it's at least 3 years old and after about 7 years old, I have found, the roots become more fiberous and woody so are not optimal.
As with all herbal medicine making, I consider root digging to be a sacred activity, and, root digging in particular, a sacred activity of the highest order. The roots of a plant are the containers, the vessels, the medicine bags that hold all of the synthesized nutrients medicinal compounds, basically the sunlight, generated during the Summer. Roots, in their living luminescence, are enfolded beneath the surface of the soils and snows to wait for the time to rebirth. This is in every sense a gestation period when the deep codes of life are restored and regenerated.. The roots are enwombed beneath the surface within the and when I gather them, as I dig, my perspective is not one of pulling or ripping up, but of midwifing the subterrean, the beings of the underworld, the origins of green depth.
And the Earth, dug into, shoveled, torn. Root diggers. We. Make her sacrifice.
Below is a video of myself and my friend/student Lydia harvesting some Burdock root. Burdock requires a fair amount of patience to gather as its taproot really reaches down into soul of the soil. Once harvested, we scrub it with 3 water baths, chop, and either tincture or dry.