Ethical Wildcrafting

Since I have written quite a few journal entries about foraging or wild harvesting, I figured that now would be a good time to post this presentation I gave a couple years ago, titled “Ethical Wildcrafting”.

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  1. Always obtain permission from landowners or get proper permits for collecting.

Do not harvest on private property or First Nations lands without permission.  Do not harvest on protected land or in provincial or national parks unless the park mandate specifically allows wildcrafting.  All Canadians can wildcraft on crown lands; however, permits are generally required for falling standing trees.  Harvesting downed trees for firewood is generally allowed, although there may be restrictions on harvesting fallen cedar in some regions of the province.

  1. Do not harvest from sensitive environments.

Do not harvest from fragile or at-risk environments or in areas where human disturbance can cause harm to the environment or to the organisms living there, such as nesting birds and amphibians.

  1. Never harvest sensitive or protected plants.

Do not, under any circumstance, harvest endangered, threatened, or sensitive plants (e.g., many members of the orchid and lily families, and parasitic or saprophytic plants such as broomrape, coral root, and Indian pipe).  Learn which plants are threatened or at-risk in your area.  Do not buy plants or herbal preparations made from these plants unless they are labelled “cultivated”.  Support growers who cultivate threatened plants.  Do not use rare or endangered herbs for remedies where other more common herbs can serve the situation nearly as well.

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  1. Do not collect in areas where the plant or fungi is scarce in its habitat.
  2. Do not over-harvest.

Be mindful of how many remaining plants are needed to ensure the stand will continue to flourish and thrive.  Never pick more than 10% of the native plants in any harvest area.  Make sure there are at least ten specimens of the plant in the immediate area before harvesting any.  Preferably, pick from areas about to be developed or cultivated.

  1. Never harvest more than you can process and use.

Remember that other members of the community may also want to harvest these plants, and that many animals rely on these plants in order to survive.   Don’t waste the plants that you harvest.  Use and process them promptly while still fresh and compost any parts that are not used.

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  1. Practice minimal impact harvesting.

Create as little impact on the surrounding area as possible.  Fill in any holes that are dug, re-cover bare dirt with leaf litter and try to leave the area better than you found it.  If you see trash, harvest that too!

  1. Know your plants and fungi.

Make sure you have a 100% positive ID!  Ideally, reference more than one field guide, or better yet, go out with an experienced forager or wildcrafter.  If you’re not sure of the identification of the plant or fungi, take a specimen home for positive identification.  Know the poisonous plants in your area and what to avoid.  Be aware that anyone can have an allergic reaction to any plant, even if it is not poisonous.  Be cautious when eating a plant for the first time.  Eat a small amount and wait 24 hours to see if you have a reaction.

  1. Always try to harvest the right plant part from the right plant at the right time.

Only harvest the appropriate part of the plant at the proper time of day and in the proper season.  Know the plant’s growing phases, and collect the parts you need in the correct growing phase, such as flowering, berry production, or at the right time to harvest the root.  Make sure the plant is strong, vital and energetic.

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  1. Practice good stewardship.

Always ensure that the stand you are harvesting is not the only vigorous stand in a region by looking around to make sure that there are other healthy stands in the area.  Always leave the largest and smallest members of the plant community to encourage diversity.  Leave some of the best specimens to go to seed and reproduce.  If we take all the best plants and leave behind weak or diseased specimens, we are selecting for future plants that will be weak and subject to disease.  When harvesting, choose the larger plants which are growing closely together, and harvest from the center of patches where the herbs will readily fill back in.  Maintain a caretaker’s point of view and share your knowledge with others.

  1. Practice propagation while you collect.

Wherever possible, replant root crowns, pieces of rhizomes, crown buds, and roots, or distribute the seeds of the herbs (except invasives) as you harvest them.   Always monitor harvest areas each year to check your successes.

  1. Take care not to introduce invasive plants.

Learn which plants are invasive.  Don’t distribute the seeds of these plants.  However, edible or medicinal invasives are ideal for harvesting.  If you see invasives, even if they are not medicinal or edible, do a little weeding for nature (before the invasive plant goes to seed is best).

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  1. Never take herbs from contaminated environments.

Never collect plants located close to highways, railways, or industrial areas, as they have most probably been exposed to pollutants, which will definitely negatively affect the quality of the plants.  Know the history of the area you are harvesting from.  Avoid contaminated areas and areas that have been sprayed with chemical fertilizers or pesticides.  The edges of farm fields, unless organic, are not appropriate for harvesting for this reason.  Never collect from areas with livestock, or downstream from livestock if collecting streamside.  Be wary of empty lots and avoid “brownfield” land.

  1. Make wildcrafting a spiritual activity.

Always give something back to replace what you have taken.  For example:

  • in the manner of indigenous peoples, by leaving an offering of cornmeal or tobacco around the roots where you have harvested.
  • by planting wild herb species which are threatened or endangered.
  • by making your community aware of plant stands that are threatened and may be overharvested.
  • by offering a blessing or a prayer of thanks when harvesting wild herbs.
  1. Cultivate wild plants.

Plant an herb garden so that you are not taking from the wild, but rather are taking from your own sustainable resource.  Guerrilla plant wild herbs (except invasives) in green spaces.  If you know of green space that is slated for development, dig up and transplant what you can.

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