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Ethical Wildcrafting

What does Ethical Wildcrafting or Ethically Wildcrafted mean to us?

Wildcrafting simply means harvesting from the wild.  It can be done irresponsibly and to the detriment of the plant’s survival. Wild Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), for example, in its hay day, was so over-harvested by herbalists and greedy herb harvesting companies, it is now hard to find in its natural setting and is officially considered endangered.  Echinacea populations also suffered the same, compounded by loss of habitat as well.  Harvesting from the wild involves taking responsibility for everything you take, and how you take it.  This means, for example, you find a nice patch of Arnica montana and you want some for medicine making.  The first thing we do is assess the environment it’s in.  How big is the patch?  Is there enough to “share”, with the birds, other animals, insects, and so on?  Can we harvest some and leave a healthy population behind for the remaining plants to grow out their whole life cycle, from flower to seed to dormancy?  Is the environment too sensitive (too steep, too wet, etc) for humans to walk through without making a huge impact?  Is it anywhere near a source of pollution – roads, power lines, train tracks, conventional farms, etc?

 

Is the plant endangered, either on a list of threatened or endangered plants for your province or state, or bioregion.  Does the need justify the harvest, or is there another plant that can be used just as effectively. Goldenseal should not be harvested from the wild, period, nor should anyone be buying wild Goldenseal; Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium or nervosa) can be used in its stead, and can be easily harvested without devastating the population.  Growing certain herbs yourself, or buying from reputable growers, is another fabulous way to take the pressure off wild populations; we grow our own Valerian for example, even though wild Valeriana officinalis grows quite well in the mountains here.

 

Other questions to ask yourself before harvesting include whether the plant is a perennial or annual.  Will harvesting the parts needed kill the plant or can it grow on; this will affect how much is harvested and how.  An annual needs a certain amount of the population to go to seed for it to come back the next year.  A perennial may not die if you leave a certain amount or part of the plant intact; picking Yarrow (Achillia millefolium) flowers won’t kill the plant, since it is a perennial which means it will come back the following year if you cut only the flowers and some leaves.  If you take the root, you’re taking it all.

 

We like to harvest a little from each patch and leave a large portion behind, as said, for wildlife purposes (food source), ecological purposes (pollination source, plant interdependence), and environmental purposes, such as erosion control.  We like to believe that we don’t leave a footprint behind, or as little as possible, but it some cases, as with our favourite Arnica patches, we stick to the same trail to get to it.  Ask yourself, can we harvest without it looking like we did?  No clear-cutting please!  Be conservative.  Leaving behind a large number of plants also ensures enough medicine for yourself and others in the future.

 

Only gather what you can use as well.  Make sure nothing goes to waste.  When we harvest Oregon Grape root for example, we use the leaves and stems to make an oil infusion following Michael Moore’s “method A” (see “Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West”, Red Crane Books, 1993).

 

Find a local ecological restoration project and offer to weed out the invasives!  We have found mutual aid partnerships whereby we harvest Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis), Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), Chickweed (Stellaria media), Chicory (Cichorium intybus), Cleavers (Galium aparine), Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) and Burdock (Arcticum minus or lappa) from restoration projects and gardens that are seeking to remove noxious or non-native plants.  Noxious to some, medicine to others!

 

These are just guidelines that we use, among others, when planning on harvesting our medicines from the wild.  Keep in mind that certain plants will require special consideration.  For more detailed information about individual plant species as well as more info on sustainable wildcrafting or “Eco-Herbalism”, please consult any book by Gregory Tilford, for example “From Earth to Herbalist: An Earth-conscious Guide to Medicinal Plants” (Mountain Press, 1998), a gem of a book and a must-have.

To order, please either contact gillian's herbs directly or order through the staff at the Wellness Centre.  Orders will normally take between 24 and 48 hrs. and will be available for pick up at the Lillooet Wellness Centre. Mail orders also welcome but they will take longer.

contact info for ordering or for more information:
GILLIAN'S HERBS: email: info@gilliansherbs.com
  Or by calling  778-765-4900 (hours Mon-Fri 10am-3pm) - 250-256-3753 (cell)

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Articles & Herbal Words by Gillian