“The woods and fields are a table always spread.”
~Henry David Thoreau
What was the poet and visionary talking about when he uttered those words? Wildcrafting, my friends. The wonderful world of wildcrafting.
Wildcrafting is the gathering of herbs, plants and fungi from the wild. It is the “gather” in the hunter-gatherer equation, and it is a practice that has sustained human life since time immemorial. Nowadays, it is a practiced by naturalists and hobbyists, the First Peoples, and has even evolved, (sadly), to become an industry.
There is a code of ethics in wildcrafting. Or else there would not be a “wild” left to “craft.”It is very important to be respectful of the natural environment with special reverence to the plants one gathers.
- Leave things better than you found them. Stay on trails whenever possible, pick up garbage when you see it and treat the area you are gathering in as if it were your grandmother’s house. 🙂
- Gather only what you need. In most cases, usually just the branches, foliage and flowers are taken, leaving the remaining plant in tact. Experienced wildcrafters will harvest in such a way that makes the plant grow better with increased productivity. In rare cases, when the whole plant is needed, the seeds of the plant will be left behind, insuring the continual growth and survival of the species. Taking just the top third of the plant is a good rule of thumb.
- Know the laws of where you intend to harvest, and if on private property be sure to get permission. Not all public lands allow wildcrafting, and National Parks are a big no-no.
- Be knowledgeable about what you are gathering. When in doubt–count it out. Do not gather plants, and especially fungi, that you are not 150 percent sure of the identification! Be responsible and stay alive and well.
- Take necessary precautions when going out alone. Animals and other humans are not always friendly. Have your wits about you and let someone know where you plan to forage.
- Protect at risk and rare wild herbs. Biodiversity is depending on you! The United Plant Savers organization is the authority on this.
- Don’t harvest from the first patch you see. Typically, that is the same patch that every other wildcrafter sees first. Go a bit further afield and spread out your collecting area, especially when collecting in a group. Many wildcrafters use a ratio of one in four or one in five, meaning for every plant harvested, four are left behind in that area.
- Harvest in clean areas. Near roadsides and industrial areas and buildings are not clean areas. A good rule of thumb is a buffer of 100-200 feet. I like to get as far away as possible from these industrial areas, especially when gathering for medicinal purposes, because one never knows what has been sprayed or leeched.
- Give thanks. Let the plants know you are grateful for their sacrifices. It might sound hippyish, but it’s just good practice.
For me, there is something very special about gathering the food my family and I will consume. I gather with intention and am grateful for the experience to do so. I even wildcraft in my very own backyard. I gather and dig dandelions medicinally, for culinary use, and of course, for wine 😉 In fact, dandelion greens were a staple during The Great Depression as a way to supplement families diets. (The link above is a sweet video of a 94 year-old woman recounting her Depression experience and showing viewers how to make dandelion salad. Clara is a true gem. Check her out!).
Urban wildcrafting is also an option for many, while it is harder to find a clean place to gather, it is possible. There is a lot of free food for the taking, if you know what you’re looking for. There are also many lectures and classes available on this topic. If you don’t know whee to look for this info, start by calling a health food store in your area.
My region abounds with ‘wilds’ to wildcraft. There are many different types of fungi, fruit, nuts and berries. The list of culinary and medicinal plants, herbs, and flowers is almost endless. There are also many different types of seaweeds, sea creatures to be had, and salt can also be harvested from the ocean’s waves. (The members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition attributed that resource to their survival).
It is a known fact that the people of the Pacific Northwest are indubitably blessed! 😉
Where or not you are an experienced wildcrafter, gathering food and connecting with the natural world is a rewarding experience. Just, please– harvest sustainably.
Want to know more?
- Herbal Knowledge Cards
- Wildcraft Board Game
- The Ethics of Wildcrafting
- What is Wildcrafting
- Ethical Wildcrafting