The article covers material from a class I took at an herbal conference last fall with a wonderful herbalist that I really admire and respect. The class was an in depth look at wildcrafting and I came away from it so inspired and more determined than ever to be an advocate for responsible harvesting practices.
I think Nicole’s system of determining the impact of harvesting is brilliant and it is now what I teach on all my walks and to my students.
I hope you enjoy it!
“Wildcrafting is Stewardship” ~Howie Brounstein
After two years of dreaming about attending the Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous(formerly known as the Traditions in Western Herbalism conference), I decided to make that dream become reality and last September I attended the event in its third year, held in Mormon Lake, Arizona.
One of my favorite classes was with Texas herbalist and director of the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine, Nicole Telkes. Nicole presented a class on Weedcrafting: Redefining Wildcrafting for the Next Generation of Wild Foragers. Being an avid wildcrafter and forager myself, I was keen to hear what she had to say on the subject.
Nicole began by asserting that herbalists and wildcrafters have a responsibility to protect and be advocates for ecology and the environment. She explained that often people are drawn to the romance of gathering plants from remote wild spaces, but the reality is, the wild cannot sustain such harvesting without a radical alteration of the habits of wildcrafters. She seeks to make peace with the herbalist’s desire to connect with and harvest wild plants and still be sustainable and conscious in that practice of collecting. To that end, she suggests a new term, ‘weedcrafting’, which she defines as, “the harvesting of plant material from wild and waste spaces that helps support the native ecosystem and promotes diversity. Weedcrafting is a type of wild gardening that looks at the ecology of a place as well as the species of interest and takes into account that the earth cannot sustain unconscious foraging in our wildlands…”
Nicole shared her concern with the increasing trend and popularity of wildcrafting and foraging, where there are now apps for your smartphone, such as the electronic field guide Leafsnap, that can turn anyone with a little bit of technology into thinking they’re a plant expert. Without a strong foundation and understanding of the ethics of wildcrafting, this can be deeply problematic.
Another concern Nicole raised is the trend towards using inaccessible, rare, at risk or exotic plants that often come from far away and tend to be marketed as miracle panaceas that will change the consumer’s life. And while conservation organisations such as the United Plant Savers do valuable work in preserving at risk species, they fall short of addressing plant populations at the local level.
As a response to these issues, Nicole shared a number of suggestions and recommendations. She encouraged us to disconnect from technology whenever possible, saying that to learn about plants we need to physically sit with them and observe their behaviour in nature, over time, in all seasons. We need to connect with the earth, and especially with our own bioregion. We need to think like wild gardeners and tend to the wild and weedy places, giving back to our ecosystems and working to restore degraded land.
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 the plant?
What is the plant’s life cycle and what parts would you harvest?
Who can you ask that lives in your area and may know more about the plant?
To further help determine what to harvest, Nicole shared her guidelines based on the level of impact the harvesting would have on a wild stand. She stressed that this is not about what percentage to take, but rather about making informed decisions based on one’s knowledge and understanding of a bioregional ecosystem. She outlined 6 levels of impact, level 1 having the least impact and level 6 the greatest.
Level 1 Plant material that needs to be rescued from destruction or has been blown off by a storm or some other unseen force
Level 2 Weedy, invasive, non-natives
Level 3 Weedy natives and non-weedy, non-natives
Level 4 Non-weedy natives
Level 5 Native, less common, at risk (from over harvesting or habitat destruction), ones to learn to propagate
Level 6 NO PICKS! Endemic plants, plants that can’t be propagated, federally endangered and rare, sensitive native plants
Nicole concluded her inspiring and insightful class saying that she believes plant medicine should be accessible for the people. By reconnecting to the not-so-wild spaces, being conscious of our impact when harvesting, observing ecosystems over time and living a bioregional lifestyle, we too can become weedcrafters and wild gardeners who support native plant populations, increase biodiversity and restore balance to the land!
Personally, I am looking forward to implementing these guidelines in my own practice as a wildcrafter striving to recreate the wildlands where I live and growing beauty wherever I am.