In my last blog entry, I introduced the topic of wildcrafting. Let’s go a bit further and explore where to go to find dynamic herbal medicine in the wild.
There is no experience quite like harvesting your own plants in the wild for medicine and food. Buying herbs in a store or through a mail order company never comes close in quality to what you can gather yourself. Locating harvest places outside of the footprint of others is nothing less than an enjoyable treasure hunt. I call it herbal reconnaissance. The vistas to be seen, birdsong, the calls of small animals, fresh air, bees buzzing, feet on the ground, and the occasional deer and waterfall all add up to an encounter that is like none other. The all-around beauty is exquisite, and the plants are the freshest you can possibly get. Nothing can beat a plant picked at the right time from a healthy stand for strong medicine and nutritional content. I teach my students that just being out in nature is healing in itself. That we get to harvest plants is a bonus for which we are always grateful.
Photo by Suzanne Tabert
One of the most frequent questions I hear from my students is where they can go to harvest plants in the wild. The places where I take students is off limits to them, their family, and friends. It’s the number one rule at the Cedar Mountain Herb School! Thinking it through, if the thousands of students I’ve taught over the last 30 years all came back to harvest at the same places where I’ve shared with them for study, and brought their friends, who bring their friends, where would the plants be? They would all be gone, and their ability to generously give of themselves for healing would be taken away. Respect the plants, the stands, the animals who also need the plants, and the time it took for the teacher/harvester to find the locations.
Planning is key before harvesting plants. Knowing the medicine of the plants, when to harvest for the best quality of constituents, what part of the plants, the harvesting tools needed, how long it takes to process them after picking, and best ways to preserve them are all things to make note of before any harvesting is done. After harvesting, look at the stand and ask yourself if there are clear signs of harvesting. If so, be more mindful of using a lighter touch.
Photo by Suzanne Tabert
Where to Go Wildcrafting
Check with your local Forest Service for topographical maps and locations where plant harvesting is allowed. Cultivate a friendly relationship with them, and they’ll often show you on the maps where to safely go, and what to expect while on the land.
Private land. Always check with the owners before entering private spaces and harvesting. For many years, my students and I enjoyed harvesting dandelions on an organic farm because I knocked on the owners’ door one spring day and asked permission. After they got over their initial shock that someone not only wanted to “weed” for them, but bring a crew, they heartily agreed to allow us access to 40 acres of prime organic riverbed soil. Digging dandelions there was so easy and fun! We were happy to know that the plants we dug were free of herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers, and they received the benefit of free labor. The vibe was great all the way around!
Photo by Suzanne Tabert
State Parks. Look up the regulations for harvesting in parks in your state. Rules can vary from state to state and park to park, so it’s best to know for sure what is allowed. In my state, harvesting up to a gallon of plant materials at a time is permissible at some parks and at certain times of the year. That means one-gallon total, not a gallon of each plant. Make sure to ask whether chemicals of any kind have been sprayed in the park where you wish to harvest. If so, do not harvest there. Plants take up and hold on to chemicals which we don’t want in our bodies, correct?
Tree farms. I have a key to the gates of 76,000 acres of land that has been a timber farm for 100 years. No other herb school or organization has been granted access to the land. The pioneer plants that sprout and thrive where trees have been cut are a wealth of herbal medicine. The trees on parts of the land that have not been harvested in decades provide so much fertility as the deciduous plants and conifers drop their leaves in the fall to decompose and add to the richness of the soil. The plants at the tree farm are happy and robust. I’ve fostered a very good relationship with the owners by respecting their rules and taking care of the land like it was my own.
Something to consider is to avoid harvesting in places where there are posted signs of chemical spraying and/or biosolids, where there is evidence that people have dumped vehicle liquids such as motor oil, antifreeze coolant, and transmission fluid on the ground, or other garbage. The plants growing near will be poisoned and rendered unusable for medicine or food.
Coming up soon, look forward to information on tools needed for harvesting, gathering tips, how much to harvest at any given time/place, and more. Until then, big love to you all, and as always, I’m Wild About Plants!