I love walking in the woods, locating the plants I will need to make my herbal remedies. I am very lucky, as I live just minutes from a beautiful section of the Bruce Trail, in Hamilton, Ontario. The forest area is considered to be quite similar to a Savannah ecosystem. This provides a much larger array of plants, trees, grasses, berries, nuts, fungi and mosses to choose from than many other areas. Within a span of several kilometers I am treated to deciduous and coniferous woods, open fields, ponds and waterfalls. This allows me to visit hundreds of microclimates all within a day.
Upon one particular hike, I witnessed snow piled within a collection of rocks, and just twenty feet away ferns were flourishing. This is a good example of a microclimate. There are several soil types, each which greatly influences a plants growth, such types as clay, mineral rich soil, dry, moist or sandy. The pH range affects the types of plants able to grow in each area. Some plants can have a negative impact on others, as they release certain toxins to kill their neighbouring plants, giving them the advantage to the sun, soil nutrients and pollination.
There is a current standard in place for wildcrafting. One out of every three plants can be uprooted and used for herbal remedies. We must remember and keep in mind that we are not the only one’s who are gathering from the wild, such as wildlife. To insure future harvests, we should keep in mind that plants are annuals, bi-annuals, and perennials. If we take the whole plant, as in the mint for its essential oil, or all the blooms of a flower are taken, where will be no seeds for next year. The root is the life blood of a plant, taking the entire piece will end the harvest of it in that local. Care must be taken in cutting any and all parts to prevent rot from setting in and killing the plant.
I have spent the last year on sebatical, using this time to study the growth patterns, of several hundred “Herbs”. Developing and perfecting my own method of wildcrafting. Selecting many for the Botanical Medicine process. Making notes of soil types, time of year, temperature, humidity, wind, sun exposure and the types of plants which co-exist well together, and those not so much. Spending well over 2000 hours, I am very proud to say that I have witnessed my plants continue their growth. The location of each plant has been ingrained into my memory and I visit them daily through my regular hikes or runs, to ensure their health.
The approach developed is quite simple. In some herbs I will require the flowering tops, leaves, stems, or root/rhizome. My standard is more complex and much more time consumng. It is a process that in turn saves every plant from extinction. The following just scratches the surface of a few wildcrafting approaches. I have not included in this article: bark, berries, nuts, fungi and ferns.
Always picking my herbs in small batches called micro-batches, this allows me to pick the very best wild plants available, untouched and free of pesticides. There are no emmissions from machinery when hand harvesting.
- When approaching herbs I follow the same standard for leaves and the flowering tops. 5/5 system, Cutting only every 5th flower or leaf from every 5th plant. Never tearing as this will only hurt the plant, and make it much harder for them to heal.
- When gathering stalks and stem I use the 1/3 rule. Cutting only 1/3 the way down the plant, cutting on an angle allowing the rain to drain off and prevent rotting. Working in the same area it is best to visit only every 5th plant.
- Harvesting roots is a time consuming process for a small amount, but worth the effort for keeping the plant safe for future use. This may take several hours for a few handfuls. Digging in a circle around the plant, leaving a few inches untouched, this allows the plant to stay connected to the earth. Nudging the plant up on an angle, wiping away some of the soil so you can see where the root begins. Then snipping only the bottom 1/2 of the root. Gently turning it back into place, pushing back it’s own soil, and adding some local mulch and rocks to add extra nutrients to help the plant heal and continue to thrive.
Harvesting from every 5th plant is the best method I’ve discovered to date. I am still in the process of developing a name for this method. As of yet “A Plant’s idea of Ethical Wildcrafting”. I hope that all wildcrafters and foragers can considering the methods they use through the eyes of our most precious and beautiful plants.
Written By April Sunshine Kinsella DNM, RH, CAHP, NT, RMP