In the herbal world, there are many conflicting opinions on the practice of wildcrafting. Wildcrafting has been done for all of time, one of the world's most ancient of arts, and while I could spend a good amount of time talking about all of the different arguments revolving around it, now is not the time. Today I want to talk about why I prefer wildcrafting (or the grow-your-own method, which is also wonderful!) as opposed to working with commercially grown herbs, and how I practice wildcrafting in a sustainable, respectful, and gracious way.
First thing's first...you may be wondering at this point "What is Wildcrafting?" Simply put, wildcrafting is the art of harvesting plant material in the wild. If we delve a little deeper, though, wildcrafting is so much more than just going out and harvesting plant material. It is forming a bond with the plants you work with on a daily basis...sharing a story with them. It is honoring the ground that those before us walked upon and learning from the intimate knowledge that they have embedded into the very soil that these plants now grow from. It is developing a sense of awe and respect for the land that you live on, and learning to nurture and care for it.
When we work with herbs that we have wildcrafted ourselves, we have actually physically and spiritually met, made a connection with, and gained permission from the plant itself. To me, this practice is so important to our ability to make powerful medicine. Yes, drinking a cup of tea from commercially grown rosebuds is beautiful and strong, and often times is the only option we have available to us - however, when we have sat with the rose bush where our petals have come from, there is something altogether different about that cup of tea. It has become something more personal...
The process of wildcrafting begins with learning the plants that are native to your region. Before you venture into the wilds, you must know what you are looking for. It is never acceptable to take plant material from the land when you do not know what it is - and unless you are 100% certain that you have identified the plant correctly, it is not safe to work with them for medicinal or edible purposes. So spend some time researching. Check out a few books on local flora from your local library, or browse some good native plant blogs + articles. Make a short list of a few plants that you are positive you can identify correctly, and then hit the trails.
This brings us to gaining permission. The first permission you must seek is from the landowner. Wildcrafting on someone's land without permission is stealing. Stealing is not only illegal, but morally wrong - and this wrong will come through in the medicine you make. After you have gained permission from the landowner and have correctly identified a plant that you wish to harvest from, it is time to ask permission from the plant itself. You don't have to do this out-loud (though sometimes it is helpful, even if it makes you feel a little silly) and it doesn't have to take a long time. If the plant is willing, you will know. I find that more often than not, this manifests in sort of a "gut feeling" - an internal knowing.
When we have permission from the plant, we may now proceed with harvesting. There are many guidelines that we can follow to ensure survival of the species and to be respectful to the land. If you must harvest the whole plant, only harvest from a large stand, and only take one or two plants per stand. If you are only harvesting part of the plant, do not harvest all of that part. For example, when I harvest Chaparral leaf, I do not cut the branch. Instead, I gently strip the leaves from one or two branches from different plants. Or when I harvest Prickly Poppy, I cut only one or two flowering branches from each plant so that it may continue to bloom and provide pollen for the bees and seeds so that the plant may continue to propogate. Never take more than you need.
Once you have harvested your plant material, it is important to thank the plant you harvested from, as well as the land that the plant came from. This can be as simple as just saying "thank you," or can be a more involved ritual, such as a prayer or an offering. It is so vital that you do not skip this step. Without thanking the plant, you are only taking from it and giving nothing in return, forming a toxic relationship with the plant and all that come after it. The next time you return you may be unable to find it again, or it may have become un-harvestable.
Wildcrafting, as I mentioned before, is an ancient art. When we practice this craft, we are following in the footsteps of our ancestors. The medicine makers that came before us. The more we work with wild plants, the more we will intuitively learn from the plants, not only just about themselves, but also about ourselves and our personal + past life experiences and history. Our ancestry.
So I will continue to work with and learn from the plants of the land of which I am a part of. I will continue to be a protector and a friend to them. I will continue to honor them with both my spiritual + physical practices. And I invite you to join me.
Blessings + Love,