My favorite part of being an herbalist is identifying plant friends wherever I go. Some of the most powerful plant allies are living all around us. Who knew I could enhance my life with the Dandelion growing in the backyard, the Rose Hips lining the mountain trails, the Plantain in an abandoned parking lot, or the Grindelia lining my favorite mountain bike trail? As you start to identify more and more plants, it’s so tempting to harvest every plant you see. It’s important to be cognizant of your impact on the plant population and its greater ecosystem. Wild harvesting is a wonderful way to source your herbs, but do so sustainably, as to ensure the plants future existence.
When I first started identifying plants in the wild, I remember feeling a bit selfish. I went on a hike here in Colorado and found a large patch of Rose Hips (the berry-like hip that develops once a rose’s petals fall). I had just discovered the magic of Rose Hips - it’s amazing ability to keep our skin glowing, its soothing qualities for our gut and organs, and the copious amounts of vitamin C and flavonoids to keep our immune systems strong. I wanted to take every juicy red Hip I saw! Luckily, an herbalist friend of mine helped me consider the negative effects of over harvesting. Rose Hips are not only a great source of nutrition for humans, but they also benefit birds and other critters. Animals eat these sweet, tart Rose Hips, and their dung helps spread the seeds. Rose Hips serving as an animal food source and as a means to propagate serves as an important reminder of the inter-connectivity of the ecosystem. Not only would my wild-harvesting immediately take from the population, it would also have a cascading impact. Take what you need, leave the rest.
Another lesson in wild-harvesting sustainably is to perhaps not harvest at all. A friend of mine had some Yarrow growing wild on their property and offered me some to take home and transplant. I was thrilled that I would have Wild Yarrow growing right in my garden! However, within a week the plant had shriveled up with little chance of survival. I soon realized that some plants are happy and designed to be right where they are. Now when I find Yarrow in the wild, I just put one small flower on my tongue to stimulate digestion and astringe and tonify my tissues. Experience its powerful benefits and leave-it-be for future use.
When wild harvesting, there are several factors to consider - how large is the patch? Can you take a small amount of plant material without affecting the wildlife around you? Can you harvest a part of the plant that won't affect the life cycle of the plant, such as a few leaves, or flowers, rather than a root? Is this a perennial or annual plant? Take an extra moment to consider all the ways you can alter your behavior to get what you need while still honoring the plant.
One great way to reduce your impact is to make flower essences. Creating flower essences requires only a very small amount of plant material. Flower essences are classified as an energetic medicine and are made by adding a small amount of plant constituent to water and letting the mixture sit in the sun. The infused water is then added to an alcohol, like brandy. The entire process uses much less plant material than other forms of extraction. The effects are subtle, but sometimes that's all you need - a subtle energy shift. Flower essences are not for everyone, but still a compelling and more sustainable way to experience the benefits of herbs.
Lastly, it's critical to avoid endangered species. United Plant Savers is an organization dedicated to protecting native medicinal plants while ensuring renewable populations for use by future generations. They have an on-going assessment to determine at-risk species. Be sure to check the list before harvesting. See you in the wild!
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Gem Boehm-Reifenkugel (She/Her) is an herbalist on our customer journey and social outreach team. Gem has been self-studying nutrition for many years and recently received a certificate in medical herbalism from Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism. She strives to make herbs accessible to everyone and spread knowledge of our powerful plant allies to the community.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.