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.
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