One of my favorite ways to learn more about herbalism is by exploring my own region. Identifying and learning to use plants this way makes me feel like I'm building an actual relationship with nature. Face-to-face interactions rather than online dating, if you will! While I love reading herbal books and connecting with other herbalists online to learn, nothing beats really getting out there and literally getting your hands dirty.
There is a bounty of edible and medicinal foliage, roots and seeds out there – just waiting to be found!
Wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting plants from their natural, or “wild” habitat, for food or medicinal purposes. It applies to uncultivated plants wherever they may be found, and is not necessarily limited to wilderness areas. Ethical considerations are often involved, such as protecting endangered species.
It's important to wildcraft responsibly. Consider the following as you venture out!
Know State Laws
It is illegal in many places to remove native plants. State parks, nature preserves, national parks and state forests may focus on photography and visual appreciation only. You can usually find this info on your state website. Searching “YOUR STATE foraging laws” is a good place to start.
Identify Endangered and At-Risk Plants
Learn the identity of medicinal and wild food plants that could be endangered, and allow those varieties to grow undisturbed. The habitats of at-risk plants should remain unadvertised which gives them the opportunity to reproduce successfully in seclusion.
I was thrilled to find Echinacea growing on a hill near my home a couple years ago, but there wasn't very much of it. I left it alone, even though I really wanted to harvest some! I was delighted to come back the next year and find the hillside covered with beautiful echinacea flowers.
Respect Natural Habitat
Take time to observe the plant in its native home. For instance, American Ginseng desires to grow in a mature wooded area that provides 80 percent shade. You will discover the north facing foliage where it has good drainage and organic matter that has turned to rich black humus.
Some ginseng states allow only harvest when the berries are red, the plant is at least five years old, and displays three to five prongs. Take three plant selections of ten and leave seven is the unspoken guide. Do the ginseng colony a favor, and remove the leaves on remaining plants to provide camouflage and over harvest. This act does not affect the plant growth.
Be mindful of soil and “tread lightly” in a plant's environment. For example, try to avoid compacting the soil of plants that may have thrived for decades in loose, nutrient-dense soil. The remaining plants will continue to prosper in a minimally disturbed environment.
Always get written permission from property owners to navigate their spaces. Because of herbicide contamination, power line cuts can be host to plants that are weakened. Heavily traveled roadways are another area of heavy metal pollution on foliage. Choose clean, strong plants for harvest.
Now that you're prepared to investigate nature, your hunt will be successful; ultimately, the forest's floors will display no evidence that you've even been there. This makes you an ethical explorer and earth friendly participator in the rich bonanza of free food and medicine. Happy trails to you!
Do you wildcraft? Share your experiences below!