In the Garden
Get down and dirty in the garden

Wildcrafting: An Age-Old Practice Gaining Popularity!

woman in forest 

Wildcrafting simply means harvesting wild plants in their natural habitats. While harvesting wild plants for food and medicine has transpired since there have been people on earth, it fell out of favor during the mid-20th century, as common health practices gave way to relatively inexpensive modern medical conveniences of over the counter pharmaceuticals and easily accessible doctor visits.

In the 1970s, the back-to-the-land movement presented a culture of folks who brought back the old and, seemingly, more healthy ways; however, this was not the mainstream. For decades, herbal medicine has been counter culture. In the advent of today’s social media and its far reach, it’s become “boho” to wild harvest plants for medicine. With the rising popularity of herbal medicine, wildcrafting has come to the forefront of social consciousness.

With that new popularity, there has been a resurgence of folks foraging plants for home use, small herbal businesses, and commercial trades. To harvest sustainably and with clarity of purpose, it is important to know some valuable rules.

Wildcrafting is about harvesting wild plants in a wide variety of environments. What is central is to locate clean land, free of garbage and herbicide or biosolid use. The result is healthy plants with strong medicine. Personally, I prefer to forage as far away from the masses and their footprints as possible. Finding new harvesting places is always so much fun for me. I call it herbal reconnaissance. The land where one forages is held very dear as the wealth of herbal medicine, exquisite views, fresh air, sun, and clean water all combine to create incredible harvesting experiences, without worrying whether others will come behind to harvest in the same stands. Wildcrafting locations are sacred and a privilege to the person who took the time to find them.

field with purple flowers and mountains

When harvesting any plant in the wild, please follow these simple rules:

1. Keep in mind that it is of utmost importance to be 100 percent certain of plant identification before doing ANY harvesting. Pictures or artists’ renderings of plants in field guides and identification apps don’t always provide enough information to correctly identify a plant in the wild. There are look-alike plants, which can be confusing to both the novice and experienced. Knowing the plants is the difference between healing and harming. If you are unsure of the identification of a plant, take classes from reputable wildcrafters, or best yet, take one with you on your harvesting searches until you become adept at identifying plants on your own.

2. Take time to get to know your weeds! It is the gatherer’s responsibility to research the intended plants before harvesting, examine the habitats in which they live and the relationship the plants have with the neighboring wildlife, their medicinal constituents, and her/his impact on the stands and surrounding environment. Find out what part of the plant is used, when the best time of year is to harvest, cautions, and concerns. Never harvest a plant before knowing its medicine. This is how plants get collected and thrown away, or incorrect or mediocre medicine is made that can harm or be ineffective.

3. Harvest only enough for your needs. If you are uncertain about how much plant matter you’ll require in a year, start small and gain experience. Make a small amount of medicine and spend time learning its effectiveness. It’s better to harvest less and use it all, than to harvest too much and waste the lives of the plants. In the next appropriate season, you can harvest more. In the meantime, there may be other plants of similar or equal health applications that can be utilized that are ready for harvest in the upcoming seasons. Additionally, make sure to process the harvest either in the field, or as soon as possible. Plants that are left on the porch awaiting processing are plants that are swiftly losing their medicinal and nutritional value.

Happy harvesting, my friends, and as always, I’m Wild About Plants!

Check back to learn more about wildcrafting specific plants, their actions on the body, how to prepare them for best medicinal potency and applications, and recipes for using your harvested bounty.

Photos by Suzanne Tabert

How to Incorporate Pantone’s Color of the Year Into Your Outdoor Space

Ultra Violet, Pantone’s color of the year, is a spectacular color for any outdoor space and is associated with both serenity and royalty. Whether you’re looking to create a relaxing oasis or a posh, ritzy environment, violet is the way to go. Here are some tips to easily incorporate it into your backyard.

pantone 2018 color of the year ultra violet
Screenshot via Pantone

1. Varietal Plants

There are hundreds of plants that come in violent hues. Don’t limit yourself to one type of plant, especially because many flowers may bloom in different colors, or only bloom violet for a short time throughout the year. Select spiked purple flowers, like salvia or Veronica, or integrate dark lupines to create a massive statement.

Other favorite flowers include violets, irises, and hydrangeas. You might also want to consider plants native to your region that have the ultra violet addition you’re looking for. Woodland phlox, that’s a native plant from Charlotte, NC, is a great example of an herbaceous flower that’s easy to maintain for easterners.

If you live in a drought-prone area like Texas or Arizona, add cool purple toned succulents for a low maintenance and trendy container garden. Even resilient succulents come in this popular shade. Black 'Zwartkop', Sedum, and Aeonium Cashmere all come in shades of violet and make for great accents. Whatever type of plant you choose, integrate a variety for multiple shades and bloom times.

2. Moving Past “Just Plants”

Don’t restrict yourself by thinking violet just has to be showcased through your plants. You can also integrate this bold color by painting gates, doors, sheds, or other items. This is a great option if you live in a snow prone area, because your plants will be dead or dormant for much of the year, not showcasing their vibrant purple shades.

By painting, you’ll have color that pops year-round. You may not want to paint everything purple, as this could be overwhelming—just pick one or two statement pieces. Be sure to select nontoxic paints to avoid exposure to nasty chemicals like VOCs.

3. Make a Splash with Containers

Containers are a long-time backyard favorite for many gardeners with limited space. Add color to your outdoor space by planting violet plants in neutral containers, or neutral plants in violet containers. Violet works well in both cool and warm color schemes, meaning that you can easily integrate a variety of containers with violet hues without overwhelming or contrasting with anything else you might have planted.

4. Plant on a Trellis

A trellis will help you add a splash of violet to the side of your house—without having to repaint. Install an eco-friendly wooden trellis and select a climbing plant, such as clematis, to create a lush living screen.

5. Don’t Forget the Groundcover

Groundcovers won’t take up much space, but they will draw your visitors’ eyes to them instantly. Plant a purple cover between flowers or shrubs. This will add a new dimension to your landscaping, and help keep the soil healthy, as groundcovers help to cycle nutrients between plantings. Popular violet toned groundcovers include Purple Heart and bugbane. By incorporating a groundcover, you’ll fill blank and hard to plant spaces. That will also help you cut down on the amount you need to mow your lawn–saving time, energy, and gasoline.

6. Light It Up

If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you won’t want to limit yourself to enjoy your new outdoor space during just the daytime hours. If you want to be extra creative, add lighting in violet hues, either through the bulbs or the fixtures. The most eco-friendly options are solar path lights and landscape lighting, both of which collect power from the sun during the day and don't require additional electricity. You might also consider soy or beeswax candles.

7. Edible Garden

Purple foods are now popping up everywhere, and the GMG refers to purple as “the new color of health.” Purple foods tend to contain more antioxidants, which fight cancer, prevent decline from aging, reduce obesity, and protect the heart. Plant a few purple foods in your garden for a pop of color and an extra dose of vitamins. Fill your garden with fruits and vegetables including blackberries, goji berries eggplant, plums, cabbage, or acai berries.

8. Cozy Textiles

Symbolically, purple is known to be a comforting shade, promoting relaxation and contemplation. If your newly planted shrubs, flowers, or succulents don’t do it for you, you can incorporate additional cozy elements to your outdoor space. Hand-crocheted rugs, pillows, and throw blankets are eco-friendly and will provide a touch of violet in a more frivolous way.

Violet is the color of unconventionality and brilliance. While it can be challenging to incorporate this bold color, it will certainly be worth it. Push your creative boundaries by outfitting your outdoor space with Pantone’s lustrous color of the year.