|This article is about the current version of DF.|
Shrubs and their growths can be gathered by designating them by →. If successful, a herbalist will get a stack of 1 to 5 plants. Shrubs that have useful growths will always yield one of that growth upon gathering.
Herbalists can also gather plants by designating a gathering zone by →. In this case, they will gather from shrubs, trees and the ground where fruit has fallen, using a stepladder to reach the tree branches whenever needed. Gathering zones can be configured to enable or disable all of these. Trees yield a substantially larger number of growths than shrubs - as many as a stack of 15 in some cases.
Most fruiting plants will bear fruit only in mid-to-late summer. Ripening is not yet a feature, so fruits can be used for brewing and eating at any time when they can be gathered.
Herbalists are often used to help with food production in an early fortress, as they do not require farm plots or other setup. While plant gathering is less efficient than farming, it provides a relatively immediate payoff in comparison, especially in a region where fruit trees grow. Plant gathering is also an excellent way to acquire above-ground plants in order to bootstrap above-ground farming (the only alternative is to wait for a human or elven caravan and hope they brought seeds).
Above ground, this skill works best in areas with thick vegetation like forests, where an abundance of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs grow. It is less useful in sparsely vegetated biomes like deserts or badlands, and is completely useless in mountain and polar biomes which do not have shrubs or trees. Underground, plant gathering can be a high-risk activity in the caverns, and production can be easily outstripped by farms. However, once a non-dry cavern has been opened, underground shrubs will begin to appear on all underground soil or muddy tiles. Herbalists can continue to gather from these to supplement your farming production, at no risk.
The number of plants in the stack that a herbalist gathers depends on skill, the same as with quality levels in earlier versions - for every 'bump' in quality, there is one more plant, starting with 0-1 and capped at 5.
When a herbalist picks some plants, they will carry them to the food stockpile themself, even if their food hauling labor is disabled. Herbalists can carry more than one type of item if gathering from a plant that yields multiple usable growths. When gathering from trees, a herbalist will let the item/stack drop to the ground, to be carried to a stockpile by haulers.
Plants gathered by herbalists can be eaten or processed to provide seeds which can then be planted in farms. For this reason, it is popular (if not necessary) to gather above ground plants early in a fort's existence if one wants to grow above ground crops.
Speed of training
Dwarves gain experience in plant gathering every time they pick over a shrub whether they are successful at harvesting anything or not. Training a completely unskilled dwarf to legendary status in this skill requires the harvesting of 600 plants, and can be done in less than a couple of years. A legendary herbalist not suffering from any skill penalties will never fail to harvest a stack of four or five plants.