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January 24, 2019
Yarrow and Wormwood, two medicinal herbs
Spring is coming soon for many parts of the Northern Hemisphere; and in the southern regions it has already begun!
Spring is a time of renewal, when the cold blanket of snow, or long rains, ceases, and the light returns.
Trees, flowers, and bushes respond to the change in day length (not temperature!) and begin to come out of their long slumber. Mushrooms appear in the forests. Grass begins to grow and green again.
We wanted to share some tips for foraging this spring. Foraging is a great way to get to know the land around you in an intimate way. Learning the plants is the start of a new relationship with a landscape. Things become more than "Grass", "Tree", "Bush", and have names like chickweed, willow, Solomon's seal, and bracken fern.
Whether in the city or countryside, even if the places you go aren't the most beautiful, there are likely to be edible and even medicinal plants growing there!
Willow, a natural painkiller due to salicylic acid in its bark and leaves
Foraging means the gathering of food or provisions. These days, it refers to the gathering of wild medicinal and/or edible plants. The most important part of foraging, however, is not the end result, but the attitude of respect brought to the process itself. Plants in the wild are very sensitive to how we use and harvest them. Overharvest or damage them, and the plants gathered may not regrow for a long time, or ever.
There are many native cultures that have rules about harvesting plants to show respect. One such rule is to leave one plant for every human generation ahead of you, harvesting only the 7th of that species you come across. This number varies across regions. But a universal part of this message is to harvest only when the plant is abundant in the area.
Red Dock, Yarrow, and Lemon Balm
Before you begin learning, it's a good idea to set an intention behind your desire to forage. What led you to it? What do you hope to get out of it?
The best way to learn about foraging is by taking a class with a qualified instructor. We also recommend buying a guide for your region, or asking your instructor which they recommend. Here are a few—
Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West
Common Southwestern Native Plants
Plants of the Rocky Mountains: Lone Pine Field Guide
Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide
The Hidden Life of Trees
Another recent book we recommend is called The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben—A fascinating collection of information about how trees may be more alive than we think!
Now that we have covered an introduction, you have learned a little, and you have sent an intention, you can begin foraging!
Beginning is simple: go outside, and observe the plants where you live—in parks, on trails, or even your backyard. Even weeds in sidewalk cracks can be interesting. All plants have different shapes and colors. Instead of seeing "green" you will start seeing plants that make up different families: fungi, forbs, grasses, shrubs, trees. The beginning of foraging starts with noticing!
Once you have begun to learn more about your local environment, through a field guide, class, and observation, you can begin to respectfully harvest plants.
1. Plants should not be gathered near roads or where chemicals have been sprayed!
2. Only harvest a plant if you are 100% sure of what you are harvesting. There are many poisonous plants, and there's no reason to damage or kill a plant without knowing what it is first.
3. Never uproot a plant unless you are harvesting the root. It kills the plant unnecessarily.
Harvesting Oregon Grape Root in Oregon
Plants are important, living beings, and should not be disturbed without good reason. Even if plants have no "use" or "value" to us, they are beautiful and valuable on their own, just by existing. Many plants and fungi play roles that to this day we only partially understand!
Thanks for reading—good luck in your new endeavor!
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