Wildcrafting seems to be a big buzz word lately. You may even see “wildcrafted” on the package of some of the store-bought herbs you own. Do you know what that truly means? Do you practice it yourself? What is sustainable wildcrafting?
What is Wildcrafting
Wildcrafting means gathering herbs that grow in the wild on public lands and harvesting in an environmentally sustainable way. You want to harvest less than 10% of an existing stand. You should never harvest more than you can process and use, inadvertently depleting a local stand for others who could benefit. Remember, humans are not the only ones who depend on plants for survival.
Wildcrafting is not just harvesting herbs, but doing so in a way that shows you value your stewardship over the land. It is a spiritual experience. Whether you connect with the plants themselves or with a supreme being who made them, you should be conscious of the life force you are taking.
Traditionally, indigenous people have planted roots or seeds as a way to give back to the plant that gave so much. Today we can take steps to give back to the land by re-seeding, cleaning up trash, and doing things that keep the environment alive. We always want to leave the land better than we found it by helping the plants thrive and making their habitat a nice place for them rather than a trash laden wasteland.
Respect the Plants
Use plants when they want to be used. Use a weed that comes back easily before one that takes years to regenerate for example. Pick a weedy plant before a non-weedy plant. Invasives should be picked before difficult to seed plants. Only pick plants uncommon to your bioregion if there is a specific pressing need and never pick federally endangered plants. Use blown off or damaged plants whenever you can so they don’t go to waste.
Please refer to your state’s list of federally endangered plants before wildcrafting. A plant may seem plentiful in a certain area but be endangered overall so use caution. Always make sure you 100% correctly identify a plant before harvesting it to use medicinally or leaving it be if it is a protected species.
Leaves are best harvested in spring just as the flower buds begin to appear whereas roots are best harvested in the fall when they send their nutrients to their roots. Be aware of when certain plants should be harvested because some don’t follow the traditional pattern. You can find this information online or in regional plant guides.
Taking parts of plants that are not at their prime during the wrong time of year is a disservice to both plant and herbalist. You will not be able to have as strong of medicine and the plant will not be able to flourish. Do yourself both a favor and pick when the part of the plant you wish to acquire is the most healthy and fruitful.
Enjoy getting your hands dirty. I don’t want it to sound so intimidating that you never try to wildcraft. Now is a great time to dig roots in my area. In fact I just took my kids out to harvest some yesterday. Take the family. Smell the plants around you and surround yourself with nature. We hole ourselves up in front of screens far too often. Have fun wildcrafting!