I’ve seen a number of posts on social media talking about wildcrafting and harvesting. I think it is an excellent opportunity to discuss this botanist’s perspective on ethical harvesting. My personal philosophy is simply this: don’t take more than you can use. However, this also means that you should be mindful of the ecosystem that you are harvesting from.
Here are some key questions you should ask yourself: Does this population have more than 7-10 individuals? Is there another population of this plant nearby? Has this stand already been harvested from?
When I explain this concept to children, I explain that you shouldn’t eat wild plants unless the following conditions have been met:
1.) Has Morgan (or another trusted adult) said it is okay to eat this plant?
2.) What are the ways you can tell this plant is safe to eat (ex. Serviceberry has leaves that look like cat paws, white flowers and/or fruit that looks like blueberries)?
3.) Why do you want to eat/collect this plant?
I ask these questions for a number of reasons. Primarily, it builds critical thinking skills while also building good habits about mindful collection and our role in our environment. When answering the third question, it brings to mind your motivations about why you are using this plant. If this is the only plant that you see and it has already been munched on by animals and you have snacks with you, why collect? Animals don’t have grocery stores or kitchens or appliances to store food, while we, as humans, have innumerable tools at our disposal to eat a relatively healthy diet.
Take Home Points:
1.) Be confident in your plant identification skills. If you aren’t 100% what this plant is, don’t eat it! Take a photo and post it on a plant ID page on social media (Make sure you include your location, photos of flowers, fruits, leaves and habit!).
2.) Count out how many individual plants exist in this area. We are looking for at least 7.
3.) Generally, we shouldn’t collect more than half of what a single plant is producing to make sure that there is enough for animals and the seed bank.
4.) Consider recording GPS coordinates and collecting a specimen for your local herbarium. This helps local plant enthusiasts understand the distribution of species in an area!
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Kimmerer, 2013)
Guidelines for the Ethical and Sustainable Harvesting of Wild Plants (Forest Service, USDA)
Are you interested in cultivating your botanizing skills, wanting to learn about local plants in your yard, or are wanting me to come assist you in a project? I’m interested in learning more about how people traditionally use plants in their area and their cultural importance. Please reach out to me via my website (www.abbottanical.com) or my email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Feel free to like our Facebook and Instagram pages to keep up-to-date with current projects, plant photos, and tours near you!