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Nature Wisdom

With Pat Tuholske,
Naturalist

Ethical Wildcrafting

I have walked the Ozark woodlands, ridge-tops and meadows for many years hunting the wisdom of the wild plants. For over four decades I have gathered wild Ozark native plants and crafted them into teas, tinctures, salves and wreaths. This time of year I am gathering roots, barks, seeds and cones. All the energy of the growing season has been transferred and these plant parts are most potent now.

Wild plants aren’t grown in neat rows on farms. They are harvested in meadows, forests, hollows and creek bottoms. Since ancient times, they have been essential food, medicine, and fibers. Wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting the wild plant and tree conscientiously while avoiding damage to the health of the population and ecological system.

Unethical wildcrafting violates the basic principles of land stewardship. Many local Ozark plants have been over-gathered for greed. Echinacea, St. John’s Wort and Sheep Sorrel are stolen from roadsides. Ginseng and Goldenseal are poached from woodlands. Plants are harvested at the wrong time of year, reducing nutritional and medicinal potency. The wrong plant is gathered and substituted for the real thing (this happens often with Echinacea and St. John’s Wort). All the plants are removed, leaving none to reseed the plant community.

An ethical wildcrafter harvests in harmony with Nature leaving the plant able to reproduce and thrive in its unique ecological niche. Native plants are sustainably collected and never over-harvested. The rules are simple: 1) don’t take more than you need or more than the plant population can tolerate and 2) you have permission of the land owner. And, like my ancestors, I leave an offering of thanks – cornmeal, incense, prayer flag or poem.

Wild plant collectors are custodians of natural ecosystems. Native plants have survived and thrived in a particular habitat for eons and posses a quality unmatched by some domesticated species.

Like any person making their living with the land, I work with the seasons. This time of year, I especially enjoying harvesting. Temperatures are cooler, insects are gone, snakes are hibernating so the only “hazards” are the numerous burrs that cling to my clothing, hair and gathering bag.

Some of the plants I gather during late autumn and early winter for food and medicine are the nuts of hickory and black walnuts; the roots of burdock, echinacea, ginseng, goldenseal, dandelion; fruit of the wild rose, sumac and persimmon; bark of witch hazel, birch and oak; and the hardy greens of chickweed. And I’m picking up buckeyes, acorns, pine and spruce cones to add to my wreaths.

Wildcrafting was the path of our ancestors. From desert to mountain, forest to river bank, herbal knowledge and caring for the land was passed on from generation to generation. We owe our lives to their wisdom and teachings. I, for one, am grateful.

Check out Pat Tuholske’s “Nature Chronicles” for musings on the Human-Nature relationship at pattuholske.com.

See her Wild Wreaths, Wheels and Native Herbal Remedy (aka Essiac) crafted from Ozark native plants at willowrainherbalgoods.com.

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