The Forager's Path - School of Botanical Studies

Guidelines to Harvesting Plants for Food or Medicine

Growing and wildcrafting the plants we use are beneficial in many ways. Simply being aware and in nature with the plant world is healing. It is the ultimate in quality control since you personally are overseeing the process from planting to picking to processing to medicine making to the actual use of the herb or food. Being involved in this process deepens our connection to nature and makes us pro-active in our own healthcare.

A well trained herbalist has precious skills and knowledge that can benefit many people. These come with a responsibility; to the plants and their environment and to the people who will use the final product. Included below are guidelines for the safe, effective and sustainable ways to grow, gather and process plants. This is especially important when wildcrafting but applies also to using cultivated gardens.

1. Positive identification, ALWAYS.
“If there is a doubt (regarding ID), then there is no doubt (don’t pick it)”.
Get your information from multiple sources. Books and websites are good for support but personal contact with the plant during a plant walk is the best. Are there poisonous look-alikes?

2. Gather only in pollution free areas, where neither pesticides, industrial – agricultural runoff nor vehicle exhaust are present. Gather only in areas in which you have permission.

3. Know the correct time of year for harvest; where is the energy of the plant being directed?
Roots – October thru Feb
Bark – spring, when the sap is flowing
Leaves – earlier in the season, usually before flowering
Seeds – late fall, before the snow
Fruit – when ripe
Flowers – just before full bloom, varies

4. Know the correct way to harvest various parts of the plant. This is especially important when taking bark or roots.

5. Harvest from abundance and leave abundance. Is your harvest sustainable for future generations? This is especially important when digging roots of slow growing perennials or during a drought.
Regardless of your needs or knowledge, it may not be appropriate to harvest from the wild during a drought or anytime the plant population is stressed. Buy from a grower in a different part of the country.
Cultivate plants whenever possible. Many native plants also grow well in gardens. This relieves pressure from harvesting in the wild.

6. Harvest from plants that appear healthy and full of vitality. Use the same guidelines as when choosing produce in a grocery store.

7. Be respectful and grateful. Harvest only when in the proper mindset that is calm, unhurried and positive.

8. How much do you really need? Pick only what will be used for the next 12 months; return and gather more the next harvest cycle.

9. Harvest from areas off the beaten path. Do so in a way that leaves no mark of your work. Be a good steward of the land wherever you go.

10. Fresh plants compost quickly. Keep them cool and in the shade. Process ASAP. Use paper bags or baskets in the field. Avoid plastic and glass due to the ‘greenhouse’ effect.
Plants should be dried in the shade, sun degrades them. Moving air is helpful but should not be hot as in a dehydrator.
Roots often harden while drying. Slice/cut to desired size while fresh.
In general, leaving plants parts as whole as possible exposes less surface area to air, thus they keep their potency longer.

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