Sunday, May 20, 2012

Wildcrafting Part II - Why Wildcraft?

Xavier's hands covered in cottonwood sap. 
If you have never wildcrafted before let me be the first to tell you - it can be hard work! First you need to be able to correctly ID the plant. Then you need to locate the plant. Then you need to make sure the stand is healthy enough to harvest from. Then you need to know how to harvest it ethically. 

Once these preliminary areas are covered then comes the hard work of harvesting. This can mean wading through marshes to get your cattail, braving thorns to get to your hawthorne berries, scrambling up mountainsides to get to the elderberries. Undoubtably as a wildcrafter you will have to withstand the hot sun, incessant wind, bugs and other pests. It can mean stooping for hours to get enough violet flowers to fill a pint jar or digging through hard-packed rocky soil laboring with all your might to get that burdock root released from the ground.  

Once you’ve accomplished this you are only half through! Plants will need to be taken home, cleaned and processed and then turned into medicine. Phew! 

So, why would a sane person wildcraft? 

Wildcrafting can increase the health of plants and their eco-systems.

 In part one of this series we already looked at one very valuable reason for wildcrafting. We can actually increase the vitality of an area by interacting with it in a conscious way. We will discuss this concept more, but simply put aerating the soils, spreading seeds and pruning branches appropriately are very real ways in which we can tend the wild thus creating stronger and healthier eco-systems. 

By regularly visiting areas we can ensure their health by speaking out on their behalf. Here’s one example. I have a place where I love to harvest mullein. It’s a patch near my home that springs forth many mullein each year. I can easily harvest leaves, roots and many flowers in just one visit. Last year on one of my foraging trips I was devastated to find that the area had been sprayed. I live quite a ways from people on a rough dirt road so this really surprised me. I contacted the neighbor who owned land nearby and explained what had happened and that I had been harvesting the plants there for medicine. This person was fascinated to learn that all those “harmful weeds” were actually helpful for ailments that he and his wife suffered from. He readily agreed to never spray there again. 

There are many similar ways we can actively play a part in educating our communities about keeping our eco-systems healthy. Local public parks where children play are often needlessly sprayed with herbicides. YOU can stop this from happening. 

Wildcrafting is about connection.  

By harvesting our own plants for food and for medicine we connect with the plants themselves, we connect with the ecosystems our plants inhabit and we connect with the living forces of this earth. For me this connection brings me to the joie de vivre or the joy of life. 

Wildcrafting teaches us about plants. 

I have learned so much about the plants from directly interacting with them. Visiting plants through the seasons, sitting with them, watching them shift, observing the land where they live gives us a plethora of information about the plants we would never ever know by simply ordering them via the internet. I really doubt we can truly know the plants we take internally unless we know that plant as a living being whether that be in our gardens or on mountain slopes. 

I've loved watching the cottonwoods shift from buds full of resins

To the female trees bearing their "snow". 

Wildcrafting is mostly free. 

Sure, it will cost you your time, cost for tools and most likely some patience, but is otherwise very easy on the wallet. Finding “free” medicine and food outside your door is another big benefit to wildcrafting. 

Wildcrafting gives us a healthy diet. 

In the spring when many people are itching for fresh greens from their gardens we are harvesting many wild greens at least a month before local agricultural greens hit the market. We also have noticed that we eat a much larger variety of foods than is standardly found in the produce department. Also wild foods commonly have more nutrients in them than domestic foods raised using big-scale agriculture. 

Wildcrafting can result in high quality medicine. 

Harvesting healthy plants and lovingly preparing fresh medicine from there results in a high quality medicine - something that can be found lacking in super-sized herb companies. We already know this as eating fresh tomatoes from the garden is much more enjoyable than eating tomatoes which were picked green and then shipped from thousands of miles away. 

Wildcrafting can be empowering. 

I was recently traveling through the deserts of southern Utah when I got a urinary tract infection. Although I had an herbal first aid kit with me, nothing was very specific for this ailment. I admit, I panicked for a moment. Would I have to find a doctor? I was traveling, was I going to have to stop the car every twenty minutes so that I could find a bathroom? This quickly subsided however when I realized I was surrounded by many plants that were specific to bladder infections. Fairly easily I was able to harvest juniper berries, yarrow flowers and manzanita leaves. Making a tea from these powerful plants I was better within hours. In fact, after chewing on a few juniper berries I was almost immediately better. 

Juniper berries (actually cones). 

There is a a deep sense of empowerment that comes with wildcrafting. It means looking out onto the forest, or meadow or even the southwest desert and knowing that the plants contained there can help us when we are ill and feed us when we are hungry. 

This series of articles was originally written for