Friday, June 1, 2012

Wildcrafting Part III - Tools of the Trade

Wildcrafting requires a few tools. Whatever you don’t already have in your home can be bought inexpensively at a local hardware or garden store. Over time, you’ll probably develop a set of favorite tools for the particular plants you harvest regularly. 

In cased you missed earlier posts in this series here they are: 

Wildcrafting Part I - Introduction
Wildcrafting Part II - Why Wildcraft?

Mesh bags

Mesh bags are one of my favorite things to use for harvesting. They are small and light and allow the plants to breath on the trip home. Mesh bags are often sold at natural health food stores or can easily be found at online retailers. If you're crafty you can buy the fabric and make your own!

Brown paper bags from the grocery store are another option, particularly for harvesting large amounts of plants. These are also nice because they stay propped open freeing your hands for harvesting activities. 

If you are harvesting really large amounts of plants then a pillow case bought cheaply at the thrift store might be a better option for you. 

When I first started harvesting plants, I used large Ziplock bags. One day I harvested quantities of red clover from an organic farm several hours from my house. By the time I reached home, all the blossoms had already turned brown, indicating they had molded. If you do use plastic bags to harvest I recommend leaving the bags open if the plants will be left in them length of time.  

Always bring more bags with you than you think you’ll need--you never know what else you’ll find on your foraging adventure. I actually keep harvesting bags in my car because I never know what I’ll find when I am out and about. 


I love heading out to the forest with my basket in hand. A basket is especially useful when two hands are needed for harvesting, since it can simply be laid on the ground and the plants dropped into the opening. Thrift sources are a good source for baskets; look for a variety of sizes and ones that are light, with comfortable handles. 

Mullein root and leaves in a willow basket

Pruning shears

Pruning shears are a must for harvesting small branches. With this tool you can make a clean cut that a plant can easily heal from. Never break off branches with your hands as this leaves a scar and opens the plant to disease and insects. If your harvest is bigger than a pruner can handle you may need loppers. 


Scissors are necessary for harvesting aerial portions of plants. At a garden store you can find a variety of high quality scissors that may be better than than your kitchen shears. Cleanly clipping aerial portions allows roots to stay in the ground and continue the plant’s life, and allows the plant to heal faster than if it is ripped or torn.


Depending how how big your harvest is an appropriate sized saw may be necessary. 


A drawknife is a wonderful tool for harvest bark off of large trees. 

Digging stick

A digging stick is often handier than a shovel, which can accidentally slice through roots. We have a fancy iron digging stick inspired by a traditional digging tool called a cuppins. My husband often prefers simply using a strong stick. 

An iron digging stick modeled after a traditional digging tool called a cuppins. 

Appropriate clothing and other safety measures

Be aware of the terrain of the area where you will be harvesting as well as the potential weather conditions, and dress accordingly. Forgetting your hat can mean the difference between a fun wildcrafting experience and a miserable excuse of a day that leaves you burnt and blistered. If you are in an area with ticks or chiggers take the necessary precautions. Be aware of other hazards in your area and be prepared. Never go on a hike by yourself without first telling someone where you will be. 

In the same vein bring adequate water and snacks for your trip. And if you are going out where there are no people be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you'll be back. 


Gloves aren’t always necessary but they are good to have along ”just in case”. Sometimes I like to harvest nettles barehanded and sometimes I don’t, and it’s nice to have the option of gloves. I like to wear thin leather gloves often found in the gardening section of stores. 

Record Sheets

Later in this series we’ll have a checklist sheet and a record-keeping sheet. You may want to bring these with you, along with a pen and clipboard. 

Alcohol and other menstruums

No, it’s not that kind of wildcrafting party! When I am harvesting resinous plants, mainly cottonwood buds, I bring along high proof alcohol so that I can rinse the sticky resins from my hands before I get my dirty paws all over the car on the ride home. You can also wear gloves to avoid this. 

Medicine-Making Supplies

Some people like to make their tinctures with the plants as fresh as possible. If that interests you, you may want to bring your medicine-making supplies to the field with you. 

Field Guide

When going out, especially into the wild, I always bring my favorite field guides. This helps me identify exactly which species I am encountering—and you never know when you are going to meet a new plant for the first time. 

This series of articles was originally written for