Saturday, May 12, 2012

Wildcrafting Etiquette {from this Practitioner's Point of View}

It seems that harvesting wild and wayside plants has become more popular in the last few years, and really it is no wonder! Foraging for useful, edible, medicinal and magical plants is a great way to save money or just get outdoors. While I think it is great that folks are re-learning old skills, wildcrafting does come with its risks: whether it be over harvesting, misidentifying plants, or people making a complete mess of wild spaces, I think that all of this can be avoided.

Over the years I have developed a code of conduct in regards to my own wildcrafting practices, which I will share in this post. I hope that it will be useful for aspiring wildcrafters.

This is the place to start before beginning any wildcrafting adventure. Familiarize yourself with the land. Obviously it is important to find out if the place is private property or protected habitat. For me this is just the bare minimum.

I will visit a place for at least a whole calendar year before I even think of harvesting from it. I will observe the growth patterns, note which plants seem to do well in that location and see if there is anything that I can do to help improve the land {such as clean up trash}. I build a relationship with the place before taking from it.

Even after I start wildcrafting in a place, I will go back as often as I can, not to take from it, but to make sure that it is doing well. Besides picking up trash and the like, I do magical workings to make sure the place is protected.

Of course most will probably not go the "extremes" that I do, although I think that it is important for people to give back instead of just taking. I will talk about this a little more later in this post.

As far as safety goes, this is probably the most important thing to keep in mind. If you are not 100 percent certain of what you are harvesting, then leave it alone.

Start with plants that are easily identifiable for you. Read books of plant identification and bring those books with you. Bring a checklist of what to look for. One thing that I have found especially helpful when I am not sure what something is, I will take a photo of it and see if I can find it on great websites like Andy's Northern Ontario Wildflowers

Once you have identified a plant, make sure that it is alright for you to harvest it. Is it a protected species? Is there enough of it in the area that you won't impact it by harvesting it? Do you have the suitable equipment on you to harvest it safely?

You will probably have most of this covered if you have really familiarized yourself with a place before harvesting from it.

It is good to keep in mind why you are looking for specific plants and what they will be used for. This will help you gauge how much to take and when to harvest.

Depending on the purposes of your harvest, you will want to know when to collect what you are looking for. There are many plants that have more than one use, such as cattails, although you can only benefit for each use at certain times.

You will also want to make sure that the timing is right so your harvest is not interfering with the growth process, and if it is, that there are plenty other of the same species in the area so impact is low to nihil.

Take only what you need and you know that you will use. Over harvesting can devastate a habitat, so it is again good to note how much is growing in that area. If you are new to a specific plant, you may wish to err on the side of caution and take less than what you think you will need. As you become more familiar with that plant, you will better know how much to take.

I will be quite secretive about where my spots are unless I really trust the person that I am telling. The last thing that I want is for word to spread and have that spot over harvested.

Making sure that you clean up after yourself after wildcrafting is certainly good manners, although there are many other ways of giving back. You could do things that I have already mentioned such as cleaning up trash, you can join or create a group to protect that area, you can rescue plants from an area that is being developed, or you can leave natural and beneficial offerings {such as watering}.

Please feel free to share anything that you think that I may have left out.




  1. Thanks Laurel!
    Your post has a lot of helpful hints and good suggestions. Much appreciated.

  2. I always ask permission of the plant or tree I am taking from and gage their answer on their energies. Then I leave pretty stones nature found in thanks

  3. You are both very welcome! :)

    Aztrid: that is a great tip that I forgot to mention! I tend to ask the spirits of the place if it is alright to harvest and then "notify" each plant what my purpose is. Thank you for sharing! :)

  4. Great advice, thank you!

  5. I am starting to wild harvest more now that I live in the country and this is really helpful. Do you mind if I share this?