Every day I see the two local green witches painstakingly scouring the neighborhood for mushrooms, then returning home with basketfuls. This is called wildcrafting, or foraging, and it’s a means of harvesting local plants for food, spells, and medicinal purposes. If you’ve taken the time to learn your local plant life, you’ll know what plants are safe to harvest and what plants should be handled more carefully. This is a great way to really use your environment, but be mindful of the genius loci — always work respectfully, leave offerings, and listen.
1. Always give back. If you take items from a plant, even just leaves, reseed the area so that the population can flourish. You can even take some seeds home with you to plant, though be sure to never take all the seeds available and check that the species is not invasive. You don’t want to add to the problem. Give the plant water if it looks dry. Breathe on the plant, this has been shown to improve growth! There are tons of ways for you to give back.
2. Know exactly what you’re taking. If you’re unsure or the plant could be two different things, it’s safer to just grow the species you need at home from seeds. Many dangerous (even fatal) plants look harmless. Moonseed, for example, looks just like grapes on a vine but can be deadly if ingested. So before you touch anything, make sure you know exactly what it is.
3. Never take the entire plant and make sure you’re harvesting safely — in other words, don’t damage the plant and don’t take more than you need. By knowing the plants, you’ll also know how to harvest them. For example, for most trees you should take bark from branches, not the trunk, and the parts of a plant that grow above ground should be gathered in the morning before the sun is at its highest.
4. Most importantly, if you don’t own the land, ask permission before you take anything from an area. Not only could you be charged with trespassing, but some lands are federally protected and you could face heavy fines for removing something. So be safe, responsible, and respectful!
After gathering your wild plants, they should be completely dried and stored properly until you’re ready to use them. Roots need to be washed thoroughly, and all plants that you aren’t using immediately should be left to dry in a place that is free of insects or small animals that are looking for a meal. Once these plants are prepared, you can crush or chop them into powders, tinctures, potions, oils, and creams. Again, before using any wild plants, make sure you know exactly what you’re dealing with and that it’s safe. Know your plants — I cannot stress this enough!