Dedicated to Dona Enriqueta Contrera-Gonzales, Herbalist and Midwife of Oaxaca Mexico
Changing your perspective, using critical thinking skills and being a thoughtful opportunist
This is a time of extreme challenges and changes on Earth. Wildlands and wild things are disappearing at an alarming rate. Many herbalists are drawn to following the age-old tradition of collecting fresh plants and making your own remedies to bring yourself and loved ones to better balance, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual. Some herbalists grow herbs and some are drawn to collect wild plants. Some of the most powerful and amazing experiences for me have come from plant hunting. Personally, there is no greater joy or feeling of rightness for me than to disappear into a deep dark forest or a blinding desert and stumble upon a magical remedy. I love to wander. My wanderings have taken me all over North America looking for plants. As times change and long distance trips become less and less sustainable, the idea of bioregionalism, and living more locally become more and more important.
It’s important in our own evolving practice of herbalism to continue to challenge assumptions and ideas so we can move forward and find new ways to connect to plants. Wild harvesting guidelines are one of these areas I think deserves discussion. I spent many years seeking out people to teach me how to hunt plants. Some taught me how to pick, others how to see and still others how to walk in the wild.
Herbalist Howie Brounstein teaches that “wildcrafting is stewardship”. As a wildcrafter, I agree and find that 99% of wildcrafting is honing your skills as a keen observer of the natural world and being of service to that world. Wildcrafters note carefully how plants move, when and where they come up, what the weather is doing and evaluate whether or not to harvest plants. As wildlands are reduced and broken into smaller and smaller areas and more of us are in urban environments, I am redefining the practice of harvesting as weedcrafting.
Who are the weedcrafters? We love weeds. We are the ones who are opportunistic, adapting as we need to our surroundings. Some of us love to take in mutts who were abused and left behind, our gardens are messy and full of life, we may turn others’ trash into our treasures and maybe we’ve rescued food from dumpsters or camped out in city greenbelts or parks, swimming in fountains where there were no rivers and creeks.
Weedcrafting is for those of us herbalists surrounded by waste spaces, forgotten lots, degraded buildings and land, land that is no longer pristine, but roughened up and lonely. Weedcrafters are herbalists who want to reclaim these feral spaces and steward the land. We pick up trash, spread dandelion seeds, clear out overly enthusiastic plants to use as medicine to bring more diversity back to an area. We go meditate on old deserted roads, watching with pleasure as the cement breaks up and gets covered with greenery. We collect seeds from pretty plants in any nook and cranny we can get to and spread them on Monsanto green monocropped lawns. We protect weedy nooks as we would any wildland, because it is feral land and can be found in any city or suburb, just waiting to be freed. Weedcrafting is recreating our wildlands and growing beauty wherever we may be.
Why worry about native plants? To understand let me bring up the concept of climax communities. Various watersheds developed over several millennia to create a balanced and healthy ecosystem that is able to keep going year after year. Humans have introduced wild cards that have thrown this balance to the wind and created cycles that end in less diverse, less sustainable and healthy ecosystems. It is important to be conscious of our impact and leave wildlands alone as much as possible, cleaning up and taking photos. Packing it in and pack it out. The less disturbance the better
My Redefined Levels of Impact on Wild Stands: THINK BIOREGIONALLY! More importantly, think. It’s not about percentages taken; it’s about being able to make good decisions. When choosing what to harvest and what not to you can use the guidelines shown below as to level 1 plants (least amount of impact) to level 6 plants(most amount of impact)
1 Plant material that needs to be rescued from destruction or has been blown off by a storm or some other unseen force
2 Weedy Invasive Non-natives
3 Weedy Natives and Non-Weedy Non-natives
4 Non-Weedy Natives
5 Native, Less Common, at risk, ones to learn to propagate (from over harvesting or habitat destruction)
6 NO PICKS Endemic plants, plants that can’t be propagated, Federally Endangered and Rare, Sensitive Native Plants
Weedcrafting: How to create your own strategies
Create a list of the top 10 weeds of your bioregion. These are plants that seem to grow everywhere, cracks in sidewalks, every time you pull one up there seems to be 10 more etc. What are they? If you don’t know then this is your take home challenge! Compare notes with other herbalists
Are they native or nonnative?
Do they have a tendency to take over?
Do these plants have a history of use?
Can you grow them?
Do you need to harvest it?
What is its life cycle and what parts would you harvest?
Who can you ask about them that live in your area and may know more?
Now create a list of lesser known plants, things unique, or things only found in your bioregion in a small area.
The first list is the one to share with others. Learn them well and take people on plant walks to learn them.
The second is a list to keep for yourself and teach when appropriate—plants to be careful with to protect. Each list is one to learn as much as you can about.
Happy Weedcrafting and Have Fun!levels-of-impact