Mindful use of resources is rarely promoted in the consumer culture in which many of us live. If our resources come from a retail store, we take as much as we want, as often as we want. Even if the objects of our desire aren’t affordable, using the all too convenient credit card allows the expense to be put off for another time.
Unfortunately, this same mentality is sometimes applied to gathering herbs from nature. Too often, people assume that having the knowledge to wildcraft also gives them the right to harvest whatever, wherever and whenever they desire.
Knowing the identity, location and traditional use of a plant is not enough to make one a wildcrafter. In my experience, gathering herbs from nature is the end result of extensive (years) experience working with a specific herb and spending time in nature, off trail, away from the crowds. Reading a few books and going on a plant walk is not enough.
In addition to knowing the botanical keys for identification, the harvest techniques and the general range of the plant, several other conditions must be considered before any collecting is done.
- Are you 100% positive of the plant identification?
- Is it the proper time of year?
- Which is the proper part of the plant to gather: bark, roots, fruit, leaves, flowers?
- Is there an abundance of this specific plant species?
- Is there sufficient rainfall for that season and for the long term?
- Harvesting method – can it be done without killing the plant?
- Are other people taking from this area also?
- How much do you actually need of this particular herb?
- Regardless of how much you want or need this herb, can the environment sustain this type of harvest for many generations?
- Can it be grown in a garden or purchased as a cultivated herb?
The bottom line is: Simply having the required information does not give us the right to take plants from Nature. We have a responsibility to do it with gratitude and in a sustainable way. Don’t wildcraft unless and until you have done your dirt time homework.