Monday, June 18, 2012


Wildcrafting is a term used for going out into the wilds (i.e., any land that wasn't deliberately planted) and harvesting wild plants.

While we may consider many of the things that grow on their own weeds, most of these have other uses. Some you can eat. Some make good rope, or shelters, or medicine, or weapons.

Every step that you take into a wild area disturbs the animals and plants that live there. Next time you go hiking, take a look at what's beyond the trail. That thick brush to your left probably hides half a hundred different types of animals. The wild berries you stuff in your mouth would normally feed a number of birds, which would spread the seeds to other places where they could grow.

Look at the crushed grass where someone scrambled away from the trail, at the lizard perishing out there in the sun because his shade is taken by a pair of hiking boots. The deer hovering in the forest above a spring waiting for people to leave so that they can drink.

Wildcrafters take this a step further. They actually go out into that thicket, into the forests, looking for the plants they need, either to sell or to use.

Many plants have been overharvested in our desire for a more "natural" lifestyle. Unethical wildcrafters will go out into a stand of a rare plant and harvest it all, with no care for the next generation, no seeds replanted, no concern for the animals that would normally live in or off of those plants.

A rare find to them means either more money or "I got my share."

Ethical wildcrafters will never take more than they can personally use, they will always replant if seeds are available, they will not take more than can be easily replaced in a season.

Many ethical wildcrafters will leave something else in exchange for what they take. Some present this as a thanks gift to the spirit of the plant, but it's usually something that will help the plant recover, such as planting a seed.

Still, if twenty wildcrafters find the same stand of something rare like goldenseal, and they each take 5% of the stand, by the end there's only a third of the stand left. (No, my numbers are correct--figure it out.*) That stand won't recover in a year. It may never recover. Even if the wildcrafters replant, the territory taken by those plants will not remain empty for long--other species will move in.

One thing that a lot of people are working on is using domesticated stocks rather than wildcrafting, so that the wild plant populations get a chance to recover. Whenever I'm in the plant stores I look for seeds that say "Plant Savers." I can plant these in my yard (many of them are quite decorative) and create a refuge for these endangered species.

The "at risk" list at UnitedPlantSavers includes goldenseal, black cohosh, american ginseng, echinacea and many more.

* For simplicity, let's say that the stand contains 100 plants. The first person to find it takes 5%, or 5 plants. The second person takes 5% (four) of the remaining 95. The third person takes four. The fourth person takes 3, the fifth takes 3, each taking 5% of what is left. After 20 people have taken 5%, the stand is down to about 37 plants.

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