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Ethically wildcrafting

Do you feel the pull to connect with nature?

Let's explore the world of Ethical Wildcrafting.

By: Laura Murphy, owner/ Head Herbalist of Velvet Roots Apothecary

Before I delved into the world of herbalism, I found myself irresistibly drawn to the forest. I felt at home. No other feeling compared. Even now, the trees seem to talk, urging me to explore. Being surrounded by nature's beauty and wisdom can be a humbling experience. By learning about individual plants in their natural environment, we can truly relish in their unique qualities, providing a deeper appreciation for the world around us.

(Field of goldenrod in Pawling, NY)

What is wildcrafting?

Wildcrafting, harvesting plants, fungi, and other wild botanicals from their natural, or 'wild' habitat for the purpose of the edible or medicinal value that plant possesses.

What is the difference between foraging and wildcrafting?

Wildcrafting is harvesting local resources for medicinal needs, while foraging is the collection of wild food resources found in nature.

(Chicken of the woods in Carmel, NY)

How To Be A Responsible Wildcrafter

Cultivate a Relationship with Plants and Learn to Properly Identify:

Take a few moments to connect with your surrounding and observe if the plants communicate with you. Trust your intuition and remain attentive to any plants that capture your attention or that you feel drawn to.

This is a journey of exploration, so carpe diem, my friends!

Side note: Even though I can't prove this idea, the scent that attracts you the most is the one that holds the deepest emotional attachment within you.

It's important to study and understand each plant's unique characteristics. This will help you better understand the plant as a whole and improve your ability to identify and harvest it correctly. Remember to always be 100% sure of a plant's identification before harvesting it, as proper identification is key.

Do Your Research on your local area:

Knowing the endangered plants in your area is crucial before stepping outside. Be mindful of the rare, unusual, poisonous, or endangered flora and strive to safeguard them from harm. Protect these precious species by respecting their habitats and leaving them undisturbed.

It's worth remembering that every ecosystem is unique, even those in your local area. To avoid inadvertently causing harm, it's important to research the impact of harvesting the plant you're interested in before setting out.

Ask the Plants for Permission:

When wildcrafting for plants, it is important to establish a respectful relationship with them by seeking their permission before harvesting. Plants are sentient beings; you can ask them aloud if you can harvest them. Your intuition will typically provide an answer. If you feel drawn to a particular plant, there is a reason. If you receive permission, show gratitude to the plant for its gift as you harvest. However, if you receive a negative response, it is likely because there is a better plant ally that might be more suitable for your needs. The plant may also be struggling with a disease or have an important role in the ecosystem. In this case, still thank the plant for allowing you to connect with it.

Give a Gift:

Taking the time to show appreciation for the gathered plants is a great way to give back. You could give them a drink of water from your water bottle or take the time to remove any invasive species that might threaten the ecosystem. If you want to go the extra mile, leave a small personal item, like a stone, a string of hair, or a little tobacco, as a token of gratitude. Remember to take a moment to express your thanks and show your appreciation for nature's gifts.

Avoid Overharvesting:

When harvesting plants, it's best to follow the 5% rule. The exception to this rule is when harvesting from the forest floor from fallen trees or plants.

Remember, plants provide resources for the animals in the surrounding area, so leaving them be is crucial for maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

By practicing responsible harvesting, we show gratitude towards nature and help preserve its delicate balance. Even though nature may seem abundant, overharvesting can quickly exhaust finite plant populations, so it's essential to take only what we need.

What to bring on your next wildcrafting adventure:

If you plan to wildcraft/forage, having some essential tools can make the process easier and more enjoyable. Consider what you'll be harvesting and choose the appropriate tools for the job. For example, a sharp knife comes in handy when gathering wild mushrooms, while scissors are great for trimming wild greens. You may also need gloves to protect yourself from prickly plants like stinging nettles. Remember to bring a bag or basket to hold your finds and a digging tool like a hori hori or small hand trowel. ID tools like field guides and a magnifying glass can help identify plants. Bring a stool or ladder for reaching tree foods like fruits, leaves, and flowers.

(Wildcrafting Hawthorn in the Rocky Mountains)

*If you are planning to go on a wildcrafting adventure, it's important to be aware of the threatened, endangered, and rare wild medicinals in North America. The United Plant Savers has a list of these species that you should avoid harvesting. Also, keep in mind that not all land is permitted for foraging or wildcrafting. Always ask the landowner's permission before harvesting on private property. Furthermore, be aware that harvesting in some public spaces is illegal, so make sure to check which areas are authorized.


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