Ethical Harvesting of Wild Plants
Submitted by Lisa on Tue, 07/21/2009
Plant based medicaments have been harvested from the wild for thousands of years. Herbal training now and throughout time has always maintained a focus on how, when, where and how much to harvest of any particular plant. There is a considerable degree of discretion required in terms of not just identification, but also what parts to harvest and at what stage of maturity. Another important consideration is whether or not to harvest at all. This question is central to the issue of ethics in harvesting.
These long Summer days are filled with busyness for me as new flowers are budding, blooming and pollinating everyday. Although Spring and Fall are also busy with roots, barks and berries, Summer is always brimming with the urgency of weeding my cultivated gardens and hour upon hour spent in the woods and meadows foraging as each needed species comes into its peak. With the increasing popularity of herbal medicine in mainstream culture, many instances of over-harvesting have arisen especially in regards to native and endangered plant species. It is of utmost importance to the community herbalist and the lay person gathering for personal use to learn, know and remember the principles of ethical wildcrafting. This not only ensures continued proliferation of our healing plants into the future, but also returns the kindness and respect to the plant world and nature as we take only our share leaving enough for other species to partake and for the plant to continue to grow and reproduce.
Below are a few guidelines that I have been a taught and follow:
- 1. Make sure you know what you are picking. Some plants have a poisonous look alike. I usually cross-reference with at least one other book. If you have an herbalist nearby bring them a piece of the plant or a picture or bring them with you.
- 2. Make sure you are harvesting the proper part of the plant in the proper season. Some parts of certain plants are edible in one season, but poisonous in another.
- 3. Avoid foraging in the following areas
- In commercially sprayed areas (incl. agriculture, esp. corn fields)
- Under power lines
- Near old houses
- Unfamiliar lots/fields, near lawns that have been treated chemically
- Down stream from factories or agribusiness
- 4. Gather with awareness, reverence and ask permission,*give thanks to the life your are about to harvest*, scatter seeds.
- 5. Choose plants that appear healthy and in abundance, but leave the strongest out of respect and to encourage a future supply. Leave plants on the top of hillsides because they will seed down slope.
- 6. Never gather endangered species. Many of these plants can be cultivated for medicinal use or you can research for other plants with similar properties that are not threatened. Check United Plant Savers for a list of endangered and at-risk medicinal plants.
- 7. Harvest only 1/3 of naturalized plants or native flowers and leaves and only in abundant stands. If possible, harvest only the necessary part of the plant. Digging up the root kills the whole plant.
- 8. Develop a relationship with the plants that you are gathering. Know the plants that grow around them, know the kind of soil they appear healthiest in, watch them mature through an entire season.
- 9. Harvest with gratefulness in your heart, a song on your lips and peace in your mind.