The journey of a Wildcrafter begins slowly at first. Start where you are. Allow this journey to reveal itself to you, savoring each Season and seed. Begin simply, pausing to bask in the fragrance of a beckoning bloom as Spring spreads its wings; give yourself completely to the sense of calm that ripples through your being as you dig your fingertips into the cool earth of early Autumn; bear witness to the descent of golden leaves, rustling overhead and falling circuitously back to the earth, the place from which they came. Just as much, if not more so, than any tea, tincture, or other herbal preparation you can conjure, this tonic of nature is a most potent medicine.
In an age where one can order a seemingly endless supply of herbs online with the click of a button, wildcrafting offers a precious opportunity for pause. The first thing one can expect to realize while wildcrafting is the immense satisfaction that flows from interacting with a living, breathing, sensate plant; a being with a personality and a language all its own. This interaction, while possible to have with plant material cultivated and gathered by someone else, comes far more naturally when you are face to face with a wild mountain meadow in bloom.
A second likely realization is that there are very real limits to the time you can spend in the field, as well as the amount of plants thriving in any one area which can be respectfully harvested. As one continues to cultivate a personal relationship with the Wild, it will become increasingly evident that although humans have access to a great quantity of herbal material through online sources or otherwise, the importance of being in right relationship with the landscapes from which these herbs have been harvested eclipses any desire we might have for such vast quantities of their medicine. This realization comes as a true gift, for wildcrafting puts one in touch with real Earth time, real Earth resources. When we have a relationship with the foods, the medicines, and the materials we consume, we are apt to use less of them, to find alternatives for those things which are most rare and precious, and most importantly to develop a deep sense of gratitude for all that is necessary to sustain our lives on this planet.
As wildcrafting and foraging become increasingly popular, and dare I say – trendy – it is more important than ever to bring awareness to the ethics and impacts inherent in these activities. As foragers and wildcrafters grow in number, we must – as individuals and as a community – become acutely aware of the impact we are having on our own bioregional plant communities, the indigenous peoples who have been in relationship with them for generations, and upon the Earth as a whole. The first thing to learn about gathering wild food and medicine is precisely when not to do so. What follows are guidelines for checking in with yourself, with the landscape, and with the plants themselves before taking anything from the Earth. For after all, it is from Her that we come and to Her that we shall return.