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Harvest bark on a day that is dry enough for there to be no surface water present on the branches. Usually it’s best to prune what is needed from the tree or shrub, (taking care not to butcher it!) and complete the preparation in a convenient work area. The reason for this approach (apart from convenience!) is that removing the bark from a living branch will kill it anyway. Certainly no bark should ever be removed from the trunk or main boughs of mature trees. Having gathered the prunings, remove any twigs and immature (green) growth, then cut the branches into a series of straight sticks of manageable length to facilitate stripping.

Some barks need to be dried before further preparation, especially those containing anthraquinone laxatives such as Cascara and Alder Buckthorn, which should be dried and then stored for at least two years to avoid an excessively cathartic action. As this is a list of tinctures made from fresh herbs, these will not be covered here, although the principles are the same.

Barberry bark, Berberis vulgaris1:2 30%, 2 -3 weeks

The native Barberry can be harvested either in late autumn or early spring. Beware of the vicious spines when handling – these and any leaf stems can usually be knocked off with the back of a knife during preparation. Cut close to the base, and discard top growth where it becomes thinner than 1cm. Strip by whittling and scraping with a small kitchen- or pen-knife. Also note that the yellow berberine will stain the hands (and anything else) and is very hard to remove. The best quality is derived from the root bark. Dig up the whole plant and trim off the roots to derive sections not less than 0.5cm thick. Clean off the soil, allow any surface water to dry, then whittle and scrape off the root bark. This can be incorporated with the stem bark if you wish. Leave at least a third of the roots intact if you’re going to replant the shrub.

The evergreen American Oregon Grape, B. aquifolium (syn. Mahonia aquifolium) grows well in the UK, and can be prepared in all respects the same as Barberry.

Cherry bark, Prunus serontina, P. avium. – 1:2 30%, 14 days

Cherry bark can be harvested at any time, but ideally in the autumn after leaf drop, or just before budding in early spring. Prune off small branches, (1cm – 4cm), aiming to thin the upper growth without spoiling the shape of the tree. Larger branches should have a proprietary sealant applied to the cut end to avoid diseasing the tree. Discard twiggy growth. Stripping Cherry Bark is achieved by a painstaking mixture of whittling and scraping with a hand-knife. Be sure to get all the inner bark which is the most potent part.

Textbooks always recommend the Wild Cherry, Prunus serontina, a native of America but easily grown in the UK. However, experiments with modern cultivars of P. avium, the Sweet Cherry, show that a very good result can be derived from prunings of these fruiting garden subjects, having enjoyed the cherries earlier in the year. Whether other species or ornamental Flowering Cherries are viable is open to experimentation.

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