Thursday, October 1, 2015

Foraging Guidelines (and meet my mentor, Darcy)

So much of what I have learned in life is a direct result of the generosity of others. I've been lucky enough to find myself in an apprentice situation many times in my life, but one of the most recent ones was with a wonderful herbalist named Darcy Williamson.

Darcy took me under her wing when I needed it most and showed me respect, compassion, and kindness. I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for her. She also taught me many things about the plants that surround us and what they can do to heal us. I will be forever grateful for the knowledge she has shared with me.

And with that, I want to pass on some of the important lessons she taught me about wild plants. Foraging is an art; it's not as simple as just running off into the woods and madly picking things. It's important to do it safely, ethically, and sustainably. Here are some guidelines to follow:


The #1 rule in foraging is proper identification. Many delicious and nourishing plants have very poisonous lookalikes. Make sure you are absolutely certain of the identification of any plant before harvesting for food or medicine! It's always a good idea to go out with a professional your first few times foraging so they can teach you the subtleties of proper identification. And on that vein, be cautious if you decide to go into the woods alone. Always pack water, food, and a lighter or matches. Use common sense when going into the wild.


In addition to knowing the proper ID of plants for safety purposes, make sure you also understand something about their growing patterns. Some plants only reproduce every few years, so if you harvest every single plant in a patch you've essentially eradicated that plant from that area forever. Be mindful when harvesting and always leave a little for Mother Nature. Many animals depend on wild plants for their only food source so don't be selfish and never harvest all of anything.


Is this land public or private? Do you have permission to harvest on it? Many seemingly-public places such as National Parks don't allow foraging on their land. Make sure you know the rules and are respectful of other peoples' property! Also be mindful of where plants are growing. Plants on the side of the road, for example, are probably much higher in toxins from the pollution of the roadside than plants grown in the middle of the woods. Never harvest from waste sites or anywhere that looks dirty or polluted, and keep in mind the use of pesticides and herbicides!


This is not our land, we are borrowing it from future generations. Treat it with respect. Leave areas cleaner than how you found them- I personally believe that part of my responsibility as a forager is to also "forage" old beer bottles, paper plates, etc. and take them out of the forest and into the proper trash/recycling bins. Tread lightly and be mindful of the life around you.

Also, respect the plants you harvest by processing all of them and not letting them go to waste. Don't let your mushrooms rot on the counter or your berries mold in your fridge and then throw them away- be diligent about processing as soon after harvest as possible and keep waste to a minimum.

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