Today's world has thrown us all a few curve balls and in typical human resilient fashion, we are adjusting and adapting to meet our needs. People are getting back to their roots, exploring nature and appreciating what our earth has to offer. With the amount of people on the trails and in the wilderness, it is important that we practice good etiquette when taking from our plant community. Wildcrafting is the practice of foraging plants in our natural environment for edible and medicinal purposes. It is one of the most rewarding experiences you can do but it is crucial that you act responsibly.
Before we take anything, be conscious of what you are taking. A good field guide is a must. A great one for California is https://www.larnerseeds.com/product/california-foraging You also must know which plants are endangered or threatened. If you don't know the United Plant Savers organization, please check them out here https://unitedplantsavers.org/ This website will always have up to date lists on species that are at risk. Another thing to consider is permission. Do you need to ask permission from the land you are wanting to harvest from? There are some areas in California where if caught foraging, there can be a $1000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. Make sure you do your homework before setting off on your adventure.
Once you have your plant in sight, a good rule of thumb is to take no more than 5%. Plants love tobacco, so I always bring a little along with me so I can offer them a gift before taking something from them. I also try to leave the plant in better condition than when I arrive. Clean up the dead leaves, and do some housekeeping so that it can continue to thrive and produce more for others. You should also consider air pollution, timing, and regeneration. Is there a major road or city near? Plants can easily absorb heavy metals and bio-toxins so the farther away from a road or highway the better! Be conscious of reproductive cycles so you know when not to gather. Know whether the plant is a perennial or annual because this will affect how much of it you can pick without jeopardizing its survival.
If you want to harvest leaves, stems or the above portion of a plant, they are usually in their prime right before they flower. You'll want to pick them when the sun is high in the sky so that early morning dew has evaporated. When you want to gather flowers, you'll want to get them at their peak and avoid those that are wilting. If the root is what you are after, Autumn is the best time of year to gather after the plant has seeded or is done producing. Just know that when you take the root, you are officially ending the life of the plant so it's best if you replant the crowns and be sure to leave plenty of other plants so their population can continue. Seeds are best taken when they are ripe and some plants like the tops of fennel or nettle can be cut and hung upside down so the seeds can dry easily. Bark should be gathered in either early spring right when the sap starts to flow up from the roots, or in fall, when the sap flows down. It is best practice to take the bark from branches and never from the trunk where infection can take place.
If you are going to embark on a wildcrafting journey, just make sure have all your ducks in a row before you go. Our actions can destroy not only the plant itself but an entire local ecosystem if we are not careful. Make sure you have the proper tools and know how to use them but most importantly.. ENJOY it! There is something very special about spending time with a plant. Smelling the aromas, being in nature and absorbing its energy is healing to our mind body and soul.
Say hello to the plants for me! Jody