Three words: Reverence. Ethical. Beauty.
When you are embarking on your spring wildcrafting weed walk, do a short meditation to set a positive and compassionate intention. Visualize yourself walking in the forest, noticing the birds, the squirrels, the tiny, baby sprouts pushing up through the rich and moist layer of forest mulch. Visualize a soft smile on your face, and stepping softly on Mother Earth.
Bring an offering – some kind of libation, a gift, and a prayer. It doesn’t matter what traditions you choose or keep, and if you don’t have a tradition that links you to the land, some way of relating to nature, now is your chance to invent one. The Native Americans use incense and feathers to make offerings to the four directions and the three planes (heaven, earth and the human realm of activity). Many other traditions use alcoholic spirits – beer, wine or brandy for example – and reverently pour a glassful onto the earth while saying a prayer, specifically inviting the spirits of the land to enjoy these libations. Or, take a precious stone, feather, piece of bone or some other sacred object from nature and return it to nature. Remember, you are a guest on the land, wherever you choose to harvest your medicinal and nutritional plants.
***Please note: if you choose to use incense, DO NOT leave any fire unattended in the forest!!!! Please!! And, do not leave any edible offerings (beside a sprinkling of birdseed, for example) that might attract bears, etc. I really, really hope that is self-evident to my readers! ****
Sing to the plants. If you are very quiet, and bend down really close to the earth, putting your ear to the dirt and closing your eyes…you might just hear the song of the earth, song of spring, the resonance of the plants you are seeking. Sometimes a melody will spontaneously occur to me, sometimes I pray for my ears to be opened to the song of pine or nettle or arnica. When I meet the plants, we sing together. Here is a song that carries so many memories of my childhood, in the herb garden or in the forest with my mother, meeting the plants and the animals. It’s a Navajo song for healing called “Now I walk in beauty”:
Now I walk in Beauty
Beauty is Before Me
Beauty is Behind Me
Above and Below Me
The beginning of ethical wildcrafting is to do a lot of research about the plants that you will be harvesting. Know their root systems, their growing cycle, when and how they propagate and whether they are rare or endangered. Ask your local herbalists, ecologists, and naturalists. Ask them to take you out and show you the land. Read Susan Weed and Michael Tierra, and any other reputable source for information on wild medicinal plants.
Ask permission – of the owner of the land, obviously, but also of the plant. I love Susan Weed’s advice on talking to plants in her Healing Wise and asking their individual permission – hello, nettle, may I have some of your leaves today? She even claims if you talk really nice, and handle ever so gently, she can harvest nettle without being stung. Interesting…inspiring!
Harvest when the plant is seeding, and spread the seeds back into the earth. Reseeding this way will ensure next year’s harvest to be plentiful and the survival of the precious medicinal plants. Consider Osha, which only grows above 9000′ and will only grow wild. She will not tolerate any kind of artificial environment, so any medicinal products containing Osha had to be wildcrafted. It is particularly important to space your harvesting, and bury the seeds in the top layer of loose forest soil.
Take only what you need, don’t clear the area of all the dandelion and then let your harvest go bad at home. Have a specific use in mind, and specific quantities measured out before you go out with your scissors and spade. Remember that these wonderful wild herbs, roots, leaves, flowers, berries and all, are food and medicine for local wildlife who depend on these plants for survival. Think SUSTAINABLE.
Think beauty, sing beauty, wear a beautiful hat, walk with dignity, respect, awareness. You are not just harvesting wild medicinal plants, you are consciously contributing to the beauty of the area. Pick up trash and pack it out – always. Build a small carin (rock pile) in a sacred spot. Spacing your harvesting will allow the soil to breathe better. Don’t pick flowers unless you are consciously harvesting medicinal varieties like calendula, arnica, or dandelion. I used to love picking wildflowers when my husband Greg reminded me, “that is God’s boquet.” Meaning, let it be, and enjoy the natural, wild beauty as it is.
Leave no trace. No trash, no food, no detritus. Repair the soil and rocks where you have harvested. Harvest flower tops at random intervals, so that it would be impossible to notice any were missing.
…and finally, gratitude.
I learned the art of wildcrafting from my own mother. She patiently took me into the wilderness, she showed me how to cultivate and harvest medicinal plants at our garden at home. Of course, as a kid I thought it was so corny to sing to the plants. Now I get it…thirty years later! Kids don’t usually understand the importance of reseeding or not destroying an entire plant colony in one go. I was so reckless in my younger years…but my mom’s gentle wisdom has stuck with me. And my husband is a constant reminder: respect mother nature, give to the earth and She will take care of you. Thank you thank you, mom, for your love and patience. I hope that I am beginning to understand what you tried to teach me, the wisdom of the earth, the healing power of simple plants.