Podcast 077: Urban Wildcrafting Ethics & Guidelines

It’s springtime! The plants are popping up everywhere in their colorful displays. This time of year, we always start to get more questions about wildcrafting and foraging, so we wanted to share some thoughts on the subject in this episode. Living in a city can make gathering your own plants seem more difficult, and there are indeed some special considerations to make if you’re going to harvest wild plants in a city environment. But more important than specific plant knowledge are the urban wildcrafting ethics you bring to the task – and these almost all apply no matter where you live.

We break down city foraging guidelines into three key areas: (1) know the plant, (2) know the land, and (3) know the community. With these principles in mind, you can apply them to whatever specific environment you’re working in.

It’s important for all of us, as herbalists, to be aware of our impact on the plant world. After all, if we don’t sustain and regenerate our plant populations, we’ll be out of herbs & out of luck! Whether our environnment is rural or urban, wildcrafting ethics help us stay present and attentive to what the plants and the earth need.

Mentioned in this podcast:

~

Episode Transcript

Katja (00:00:01):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:00:16):
We’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:00:20):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. It’s springtime here in Boston. I suppose if you’re one of our New Zealand listeners, It’s autumn time for you. But here where we are, it’s springtime and the plants are waking up, the flowers are blooming, it’s just lovely out there, there are so many colors, and we like it. This time of year we always get lots and lots of questions about wildcrafting and foraging, because people are excited to see plants and they want to bring them home with them.

Katja (00:00:54):
So, we thought that it’s definitely time to talk about that, about how to wildcraft and forage some plants safely. The ‘safely’ part is important, both for you and also (almost more importantly) for the plants.

Ryn (00:01:16):
Since we live in a city, we’re going to focus this on urban wildcrafting.

Katja (00:01:21):
Although, all of this stuff would apply if you live in a suburb. Even if you live in a rural area, you might be thinking, ”It’s easy here because there are just plants everywhere,” but there’re things to think about no matter where you are.

Ryn (00:01:34):
Indeed, so that’s what we’re going to talk about this week, but first we must say the thing.

Katja (00:01:40):
We are not doctors; we are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Ryn (00:01:44):
The ideas discussed in our podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the U.S., so these discussions are for educational purposes only, as if that wasn’t good enough, right? [laughter]

Katja (00:01:57):
Educational purposes are really good purposes.

Ryn (00:02:00):
We’re into them. Everyone’s body is different, so the things we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but they will give you some information to think about and research further.

Katja (00:02:09):
We want to remind you that your good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision and considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is always yours.

Ryn (00:02:21):
And we have some shout-outs.

Katja (00:02:25):
We do, I’m really excited. We have a shout-out to Liz in Florida–and her niece and sister–who all loved the pod, and we love you, too!

Ryn (00:02:35):
Talk about family herbalism. [laughter] And we have one for athousandshells, who wrote us a review on iTunes. Hey, thank you! Reviews help people find our podcast so we can get more plants to more people.

Katja (00:02:47):
Yes. Also, I noticed in your review that you’re a nurse and we just want to take this opportunity to say that we love nurses. Nurses make this world a better place, so thank you so much. Nurses work so hard and they’re really wonderful. I love nurses.

Ryn (00:03:08):
Another shout-out to Victoria on Facebook, who says she loves the pod. Thank you.

Katja (00:03:15):
And Georgia, who was actually mentioning the pod in a discussion thread on one of our online courses, that was really cool. We also want to thank our new supporting members this week, so a big thank you to William, Christie, Shelly, and Mon. Thank you so much. Alright, let’s get into it.

Ryn (00:03:52):
There are some really good guides to wildcrafting out there in the world, and one of my favorites comes from the herbalist Howie Brounstein. We’re going to put a link to that in the show notes here. He has a great article about wildcrafting for beginners and it’s just fantastic. There’s tons of great stuff in there and I’ve learned a lot from listening to Howie speak about wildcrafting at conferences.

Katja (00:04:39):
I think he is this generation’s complete and total expert on wildcrafting. I mean there certainly are others, maybe who aren’t even teaching, and they’re just out there being experts. But in terms of really wanting to learn wildcrafting at a level that is bonus I don’t know, some level metaphor from some kind of game that I don’t have time to play, he’s really where it’s at.

Knowing the Plants

Ryn (00:05:15):
We’ll link to that. At the end of that article he has a really great wildcrafting checklist that is a series of questions to ask yourself when you are considering a wildcrafting trip or a wildcrafting action, and we just love it. We think it’s fantastic, so the link is in the show notes, bounce over there, check that out, everybody should read it. I also thought if we were to take that list and kind of condense it down to first principles, we would get something like this: 1) know the plant, 2) know the land, and 3) know the community. That’s the way we’re going to frame our discussion today, so let’s do it. Let’s start with knowing the plants. What does that mean? Well, when we’re thinking about knowing plants, that can mean a lot of things. It could mean what kind of medicine does the plant have? What kind of actions does it exert on the body? What are its energetic qualities? How is it best prepared up into a medicine? All of those things are things we want to know about the plants we work with.

Katja (00:06:22):
I want to add something. What about knowing its life cycle? With specific plants, life cycle, how many years does it take before it produces a seed, etc.

Ryn (00:06:32):
Yeah, the ones that I had started to name are more about after you’ve got the plant, what are you going to do with it? But when we’re talking about wildcrafting, we need to know more, like you say, about the plant itself, about its life cycle, what kind of environment it grows in, what kind of friends it has, what kind of dependencies it has, things like that. Those are all going to be critical, but we could start even a step before then and remember one of the things we’re trying to do with wildcrafting is keep ourselves safe, and so the very first thing I’d say is to know the poisonous plants in the area where you hope to go out and do some foraging.

Katja (00:07:11):
Anytime that we say the words ‘poisonous plant’, I just have this need to say that there aren’t that many of them. I think that in our generation, or maybe the last couple of generations, we have this concept that nature will hurt you. Nature is just nature and we will hurt you, too. Like we humans, you know. Anything can be harmful, but we have this idea that all of nature is harmful because we don’t really understand it anymore. There’s all this talk about poisonous plants and never taste anything because it might be poisonous. I think so much of that comes from the fear of unfamiliarity, and so I just want to remind everybody that there aren’t that many plants that will kill you. There are definitely are some, but the majority of them will not kill you.

Ryn (00:08:08):
This is good news because it means that learning the actual dangerous plants in your area won’t be too difficult. There won’t be three dozen of them that you need to nail down.

Katja (00:08:17):
It’s not an impossible task. Once you’ve nailed down the plants in your area that are actually going to harm you, then there will be another number of plants that might give you diarrhea–they won’t kill you, they could just be very unpleasant–learn those, too. There’s a finite number of those, and once you’ve got those down and you’re really solid on them, you’ve done the work and now it’s a lot safer for you to go out and start doing some sort of experimental learning.

Ryn (00:08:53):
We want to know things like water hemlock. That’s one that’s around here and it’s possible, especially for a new wildcrafter and new herbalist, to mix that up with other plants like wild carrot for instance. Telling them apart is not too hard, but you do need to take the effort to do it, so that’s the first thing. We also want to be aware of the at risk or the endangered plants in our area. This could also be part of your planning phase. When you say to yourself, “I’d like to go out and wildcraft some [fill in the blank].” Is that plant one that actually has an abundance out there in the world or is it a plant that has started to lose habitat or has to come under threat because of changing weather patterns or whatever else. You want to know that before you go out looking for it. You want to have a sense of in your part of the world, in your biosphere, what are the plants that are struggling? What are the plants that you need to be tending more by giving them space and places to grow, rather than by going out and harvesting.

Katja (00:10:10):
I just want to have a tiny tangent here. I want to say that I think this is more important than knowing the poisonous plants because I think that there are more humans who can kill plants than there are plants who can kill humans, and it’s really worth recognizing that and recognizing the impact that we have on our environment. So, I’m proposing a philosophy here and I think it’s worth thinking about: I think that it is more important to know how we can harm plants than to know how plants can harm us, because right now we are the more harmful being. Even before you think in that term, I think the number one thing about knowing the plant even before knowing how we hurt plants and even before knowing how plants can hurt us, is knowing that plants are living sentient beings. They may not have sentience in the same way that we do, but there is so much science out there right now that is really confirming that plants live in communities, that they care for one another, that they sustain one another when they’re sick, that they have ways of communicating, and they have ways of even communicating with us. I really think that the very first thing if you’re going to go out and get some plants is to say that plant is alive. It has a life, it has a plan, it has goals and dreams. They may not be ones that I can understand. Actually, they may be; the longer you start thinking this way, the longer that you realize they’re the same thoughts, dreams, and plans that all of us have, and that I don’t necessarily have the right to just go and take something that is alive. That’s exploitation. This is why we care so much about trying (even though we fail sometimes) to not say that we ‘use’ plants, but to say that we ‘work with’ plants, because the very first thing about knowing a plant is knowing that it is not for your exploitation. It is a living creature just like we are. That was my little philosophy tangent. Anyway, know your poisonous plants, know your at risk and endangered plants. Part of knowing them is also knowing how you can care for them, not just educating yourself about the theory that climate change is coming and making this plant less sustainable. Is there anything you could do to help? Is it a drought? Can you carry water? That would be great. Can you nourish other creatures in your community? Can you nourish the plant creatures in your community? That’s tremendously valuable, plus it’s a free workout. So, whatever your motivation is, carry water in a drought. Absolutely do that. Take the action to protect the plants who are at risk, not just to learn about them. Take another step.

Ryn (00:13:54):
That’s all really critical. So, here we are trying to understand the plant that we’re thinking about harvesting. Of course it’s going to be critical that you confirm the plant id, that you know who it is, that you are certain that it’s not tricking you or deceiving you, or that you’re deceiving yourself by thinking it’s a dandelion when actually it’s hawkweed, cat’s ears, or one of the two dozen different dandelion lookalike plants. Knowing the lookalikes is really helpful for this; when you learn a plant, it’s very good to learn others that look similar and to learn one or two points of differentiation. Like, if you look at a dandelion, you can see that it has the basal rosette of leaves, one stem, one flower. Whereas with something like hawkweed, it might sort of look similar on the leaf’s arrangement at first, but the leaf shape is very different and, maybe even easier to see, you’ll have one stem that might branch several times, and there could be multiple flowers emerging from that single originating stem. A lot of times with plants that you’re harvesting for herbal medicine, you can tell them apart from the local lookalikes pretty easily once you get to know who they are. But it’s really important.

Katja (00:15:28):
A lot of people feel very intimidated about plant id and I was one of those people, too. I think probably for my first five or eight years as an herbalist, I felt very intimidated going out and making sure that I would I get it right, and I felt really scared about it. If you are also feeling that way, you’re not alone, this is really common. I will tell you how I learned to get over that, and now I don’t have that fear and I can identify plants even while I’m driving in a car, at a distance, and you can, too. If you think about when you’re driving around town and you see a friend of yours on the sidewalk. You saw them in passing very quickly, but you knew it was your friend as opposed to every other human that you know and a lot of humans that you don’t know, you knew for sure it was your friend. Sometimes you drive past and you’re not 100% sure. That’s fine. But sometimes you drive past and you’re really sure. If you’ve had that experience, trust me, you can have that experience with plants, too, and the way that you achieve it is the same. You recognize your friend because you have spent countless hours looking at your friend, and you will recognize plants by spending countless hours looking at plants. So, go on a plant walk and identify some plants, get some information about a plant, and then don’t finish. Don’t say, “Oh well that was fun,” go back to those same plants and stare at them for a long time, draw pictures of them and really get it in your mind, and then go back again and again. Because if somebody takes you on a plant walk, you know where those plants are, they showed you. Now you can go back and see them in every stage of their growth, because a lot of plants look super different in the early spring versus all the way through to when they seed, when they bloom, and when they seed, and so spend the time really looking at that. If there aren’t any plant walks in your area, there are online tools and also books, the Peterson’s guide and Newcomb’s. Ryn and I have really differing opinions; I love Peterson’s, he likes Newcomb’s, you should work with whichever one you like best. Even just Google a plant that you would like to find in your area and look at all of the photos, every single photo you can find, and then go out and try to find that plant. Look at that plant for as long as you can, match it up, and look at each little detail just as carefully as you would a person that you love. It really isn’t harder than that. It is just a matter of spending the time looking. You can do it.

Ryn (00:18:39):
Absolutely. Okay, you’ve done that, you’ve looked at your plants, you know who it is, you’re very certain you know what’s going on. Great, we’re not done yet. [laughter] We still need to know more about this particular plant, this specimen. We want to know how this individual plant (or this stand, this group of one particular plant species) has been doing recently. How has it been doing over the last year? How has it been doing over the last three years? If you are working somewhere that’s very close to your home and you’ve been there a long time, how has it been over the entire span that you’ve been around, for the last decade or something? We’ve been hanging out at the piece of land that’s close to our school and clinic now for almost 10 years.

Katja (00:19:32):
Yeah, and there’ve been a lot of changes over those years.

Ryn (00:19:35):
There’ve been areas where a plant appeared, we were surprised to see it there, and then it flourished for a couple of years. I’m thinking of the Solomon’s seal up on that little hill.

Katja (00:19:46):
And now it’s not on that hill anymore.

Ryn (00:19:48):
It wasn’t there when we first arrived, it showed up at some point, it was around for a while, we were fascinated by it, and this year doesn’t seem to be coming back. That’s really important because if I had walked into that piece of land for the first time, come around that corner up the hill and seen that Solomon’s seal there and said, “Great, I love this medicine; I want to tincture this and take it home,” then I wouldn’t recognize that that was an unusual appearance and it wasn’t something that was going to self-sustain. If you’re looking at an area or a stand, you want to think about what’s been going on here recently. Is this the first time this plant has appeared in this area? Has this stand been growing or shrinking over the last while? How does it compare to last year? Can I even think about what’s changed from last year to this year? Like, if I know that last year was a really dry year and this year is on track to be another dry year, then I can recognize that any plants that are still hanging on are having a tough time, need a little more support, and they don’t need me coming in and taking out the strongest member.

Katja (00:21:04):
Right. I think, too, that even if you show up in an area and you think you see a ton of a plant, if you don’t really know what that was like last year or the year before, maybe what you see is not a lot of the plant. Maybe what you see is that plant in significant decline, and maybe your definition of ‘a lot’ is in need of calibration. Like, when I say there’s a lot of goldenrod, I’m thinking about the meadow in Royalston where it’s yellow as far as you can see, until the trees start it is yellow.

Ryn (00:21:52):
What, there’s five acres or so?

Katja (00:21:55):
I think even more than that, that is just completely goldenrod everywhere. That’s a lot. But that Solomon’s seal patch at the land that we teach near our school here in the city, there’s 30 or 40 stocks. That might seem like a lot, but then in comparison to the definition of a lot of goldenrod, maybe it’s not a lot.

Ryn (00:22:24):
Or the definition of a lot of Solomon’s seal, like Cortesia Sanctuary up in Oregon (which I’d really love to visit some time, because wow). So, that’s the kind of thing you want to be thinking about. That goes forward to the idea that you need to know the land. We’ll come to that in just a moment because we’re still not done with knowing our plant. Other things we want to know about this plant are we harvesting the right part of the plant? Are we harvesting it at the right time of year? When we say the right part, that could mean the part that’s effective, when we say the right time, that could be the time of year when it’s the most potent. Something like burdock root, for instance, that plant has a two year life cycle. If you come across a first year plant and maybe it’s in the middle of summer, this is not the right time to harvest. You want to wait until the autumn of that first year or maybe the early spring of the second year, because those are the times when that root is going to be full of life, full of energy, and full of plant constituents, vital force, and everything else that we rely on our herbal remedies to bring to us.

Katja (00:23:42):
That’s no magic or weird “woo woo” whatever. I think that again, unfamiliarity leads leads to magical thinking like, “Oh the ‘energy’ is in the root at this time of year.” Well it is, but that’s not because of some magical cycle, that is literally the exact same thing as you working out really hard for a few months and now having lots of pretty muscles to show for it. [laughter] Is exactly that same thing. Over the course of its first year, burdock is intentionally growing a strong root because that strong root has work to do in the second year, and if we’re going to work with that root, we want to harvest it at the point that it is strongest because that’s when it has the most to give. It has the most to give because it has work to do. It has to grow a tall stock, it has to nourish flowers that will become seeds. It has a lot to do, just like if we spend a lot of time building up muscles so that we can go and lift a bunch of heavy things without hurting ourselves, we also have done a bunch of work because we have something to do. That is where that “the energy is in the root” really comes from, because that plant is growing that root for a purpose.

Ryn (00:25:15):
With that, we also need to recognize that if you harvest that root, you’re going to kill that plant. The plant can’t survive without the root. You’re going to dig the whole thing up and chop it up, so you at least need to be aware if what you’re harvesting is going to either kill the plant (if it’s a root, that’s really obvious), or if…

Katja (00:25:55):
You’ve taken so many leaves that it can’t photosynthesize anymore.

Ryn (00:25:58):
Right, but it could also be worth considering if you harvested this part of the plant, have I stopped it from reproducing? If I come across an area and there’s one burdock plant growing there and I don’t see any others in the area, then I know that if I harvest that burdock root, there’s not going to be any more burdock over there, so I might consider if there is another part of this plant that I could work with that’s not going to kill this plant or not going to stop its reproductive cycle.Take a different example, maybe an herb where we harvest the flowers and work with those; we have to recognize that the flowers are what precede the fruits or the seed of the plant, so if I harvest all the flowers off of that plant, then it’s not going to be able to produce seeds this year, and that means there’s not going to be another generation next time around. Is there a part that I could harvest that wouldn’t kill the plant or stop the reproductive cycle from going onward? It may not always be possible and that may be a reason to leave that plant alone. That’s going to be the majority of the cases.

Katja (00:27:10):
Or it might be that there is burdock as far as the eye can see, and it’s not going to matter if you dig up a few roots to have for yourself because you can see that there’s plenty available to grow strong, reproduce, and there’s some from last year that already went to seed, some from this year that’s growing, etc.

Ryn (00:27:37):
And it could also be that maybe you come back at another time. There could be a plant, it hasn’t flowered, hasn’t made seed yet for this year. There are some plants that you could see flower and then go to seed, but then the leaves are still around for awhile longer.

Katja (00:27:58):
You could do that. The leaves wouldn’t be as potent, you obviously would prefer to get the flowers and some leaves, but if you were trying to help it propagate, then yeah.

Ryn (00:28:13):
With perennials, this would be more reliable. Something like a sage plant, which usually you’ve cultivated yourself anyway. But just imagine you encounter some wild sage, you want it to remain wild and you want to harvest some leaves, but you don’t want to kill the plant before it gets to drop seed and reproduce.

Katja (00:28:34):
Even though I just went on this whole thing about plants are beings, they’re not resources, and they’re not for exploitation, now I’m going to use a resource analogy. We’re just going to get past that.

Ryn (00:28:49):
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” Thank you, Walt Whitman.

Katja (00:28:57):
Yes, exactly. So, you can think about it almost like a budget or like your own resources. You’re thinking, “I only have $10 left, so I need to save it.” There’s only one burdock here, so I need to save it and make sure that it’s going to propagate, and then create more burdock so that next year I can get some. As humans, we think so much about what we want and what we can take, but if instead we think about ourselves in relationship and in terms of what we can steward, when there is sufficient, then there will be some for me. Until then, it’s my job to steward this plant. Like, “There’s only one burdock here as far as I can see, so maybe I’ll just take a little extra effort to protect this burdock plant in some manner, make sure that it can reproduce.”

Ryn (00:29:55):
Sometimes we can be even more active in helping that plant along. We could come back when the burdock burrs have formed and they’re all full of seeds, we could learn about how this plant is naturally going to distribute seeds and then we could help that along. We were just doing this recently with some evening primrose. We had grown the plants and then harvested some of it, but then we collected the seeds and spread them in areas where we knew that evening primrose would thrive. So, we were kind of accelerating what the plant was already trying to do itself.

Katja (00:30:37):
And we spread it wider than maybe the plant would have had the capacity to reach.

Ryn (00:30:43):
There can often be ways like that you can support a plant even as you harvest it.

Katja (00:30:50):
Actually, the spreading of seeds has always been the work of the herbalist that has sort of been forgotten in recent times. Your work is not just to harvest the medicine that you need, it is also to steward the plant, to intentionally spread the seeds. Boy, you can just run with that as a metaphor.

Knowing the Land

Ryn (00:31:11):
All of this kind of naturally leads us to prefer, to start with, and to focus on weeds, invasive species, and plants like this that are abundant. Maybe even the human people around think there’s too much of it. These plants are resilience, they are the ones that are not going to be endangered, at risk, or threatened. These are often plants that are closest to people anyway. Focusing on city herbalism here, many of the plants that make up the city-specific biosphere are plants that like the conditions that people produce in our ground, where we had a lot more compacted earth, maybe there’s more salt in the soil, or whatever else going on. Plants that can survive those conditions are the ones that are going to be alive in the city. You still have to do the work, you still have to make sure you id the plant and understand its status and everything, but when you’re looking at weeds and invasive species, then you can feel much more confident in your wildcrafting and forging efforts. It’s good practice because imagine that there’s some amazing, fantastic, potent-but-extremely-rare herbs that might be growing around you. There’s probably not going to be very many of them anyway. Even if there was enough for you to harvest right now, are you going to make that a cornerstone of your practice? No. The cornerstones of your practice should be the plants that are most accessible and most abundant where you live. One more thing about knowing your plants is who your plant is next to. Who is your plant next to you right now? Who is your plant next to throughout the rest of the year? There are lots of herbs that are ephemeral–they come, they have a short season, they disappear and they might not be apparent to you. Again, at that that conservation land close to our school there are patches of snowdrops, there’s a big enormous spread of lesser celandine in a part of the forest. It’s really obvious for right now, for a month or two at this time of year, but then the plants have completed what they’re doing for the year and they go dormant, they go underground, and you don’t see them and you don’t know that they’re around there. So, if I come by and I look at this at this yellow dock plant that’s growing by the path, I might say, “Awesome. I’m going to dig this up. I’m going to harvest it. I see a bunch of yellow dock around here, that’s great.” But if I move my shovel six inches to the left, I’m cutting right into a patch of snowdrop that really can’t handle that right now. I need to be aware of what’s going on here, not just in the moment that I’ve arrived, but throughout the whole year. This leads directly into point number two, which is to know the land. As we kind of hinted earlier, we don’t wildcraft or forage anywhere that we haven’t visited at least three times over the course of more than a whole year before we would decide it’s time to gather and harvest.

Katja (00:34:50):
I really want to see at least one whole life cycle of a particular piece of land, but I’d rather see more than one life cycle. There’s so many more reasons not to harvest than there are to harvest.

Ryn (00:35:08):
Before we’re actually harvesting for remedies or for medicines, we can be wildcrafting for pictures, we can be foraging for encounters. We talk about this a lot, much of the medicine or the vitalizing force that we receive from plants comes from spending time with them where they actually live.

Katja (00:35:34):
Just being there with them, observing them, taking the opportunity to look more closely, taking the opportunity to see who their friends are, just learning from the way that this plant lives in the world, these are all so important.

Ryn (00:35:53):
That’s a big general principle for us and we feel really strongly about that, and this applies everywhere. This absolutely applies in the city just as much on a trail hike out in the woods somewhere. When we talk about knowing the land, where are you right now? When you’re here with your plants, where are you in the world? What is around you? On one level, you have to think about the fact that in a city you live amongst many other humans and they lay claim to things. It’s the human habit, right? Do you have permission to be here, to collect here? Let’s make sure you get that figured out first. I want to say within reason, nobody gets mad at you for picking dandelion flowers from the park or harvesting garlic mustard leaves.

Katja (00:36:52):
Yeah, actually people will thank you for that.

Ryn (00:36:54):
Even in the areas where it is conservation land, protected land, public park land, or whatever, if somebody sees you pulling up garlic mustard, they’re probably going to ask if you’re working for the city, because they do that. So, there are exceptions or wiggle rooms on that. But it also doesn’t mean that you go around pulling them up willy nilly, because again, it could be that there’s some garlic mustard growing in that area right next to some dormant snowdrop or whatever else could be under there.

Katja (00:37:27):
Or even that it’s up early and there’s actually a whole patch of nettles there that you’re not seeing.

Ryn (00:37:34):
Don’t go tromping through. Step, carefully, step lightly, know what you’re standing on. Talking about knowing the land, right? What’s directly under your feet right now?

Katja (00:37:50):
You mentioned about somebody seeing you and I do think that’s important because, as herbalists, we set examples about appropriate behavior, and the people who see you may not know that you’re an herbalist and that you have a lot of consideration and education that goes into your decision to harvest a plant. They may see you picking something and take that as license to do so themselves as well when they don’t have any of the training and thought process that you’ve put behind it. That is something to really take very seriously and to think about, maybe first of all making sure that you’re not seen. If you are, consider whether this is something that you need to be responsible for and responsible about. Do you need to have a conversation with the people around you who might be seeing you engage in this behavior? I personally think that it’s better to either not be seen or, if you’re seen, to be seen by people who know you picking dandelions out of your own lawn or out of your friend’s lawn because you asked if that was okay.

Ryn (00:39:13):
Thank you, that’s so critical. Then come some considerations that are the things that people tend to ask us about first when we’re leading an urban herb walk, and that is, “What about pesticides?” What about spraying for insects in this park? What about the fertilizer that they spray all over the grass over here? What about mosquito sprays that they blanket my neighborhood with? What about runoff from the roads? What about other kinds of city industrial contamination in the ground that I might be considering harvesting from? And yes, that all matters a lot. Knowing the land here isn’t just the patch of ground that’s right in front of you, but what’s around. What surrounds this area, what are the kinds of establishments, buildings, factories, or whatever else that are close here or are in any way upstream? That could be about the actual movement of water, it could be the movement of air or what comes down in the rain in your city or your part of the world. We absolutely need to be aware of those kinds of things. Again, that’s another reason to not harvest the first time you see a patch. If I come across some nettles in a patch of earth at a park, maybe it’s down by the river and I think that I’m just going to take all these nettles. I might not know that there was also Japanese knotweed growing there and that the city people, in their questionable wisdom, have been spraying all kinds of pesticides over that earth for the last five years. That’s something to also be aware of. And that’s a reason to recognize the plants that are considered invasive species in your area and to try to learn what the authorities are doing about them, because very often there will be heavy spraying of pesticide to try to kill off knotweed, kudzu, or whatever else, and that has consequences for the other herbs growing in that area.

Katja (00:41:31):
I actually have a control plan for knotweed, because in some areas, people take the control of knotweed very, very seriously. So, I will share with you my control plan because I think it’s really valuable, though I haven’t managed to get any town to accept this yet. Maybe you will have better luck than I have. If you check on the internet for the price to purchase knotweed root, especially if it’s encapsulated, you will see that it is a pretty penny. My feeling is that instead of spending all this money on herbicides that are toxic, harmful, and don’t work against Japanese knotweed (Japanese knotweed comes back anyway), instead let’s employ teams of people to harvest the knotweed. Of course we’re going to have to do this in a place that we haven’t sprayed, but let’s employ teams of people to go harvest the knotweed instead and process it into knotweed capsules, which have a high demand. It is a really awesome source of resveratrol, among other antioxidant things, and people love it. We could be creating jobs and dollars instead of spending money on more herbicides and poisoning the earth even further. In the areas where herbicides have already been sprayed, you could give it three or five years to recover and then harvest from there as well. If you are concerned about an area that’s being overtaken by knotweed, once you have harvested all of the knotweed root that you can, it might take a couple of years to get it really out (because if there’s any little bit left, it’ll come back), but it’s important to then replant somebody who you might prefer to have there, someone who’s going to grow really assertively. Even mint would be preferable to knotweed for some communities. Especially given that if you’ve noticed lately, the price of herbs is going up. Every order it’s going up, because the more people that get interested in herbalism, the more demand there is. If there are areas with “invasive species” (and I use big quote marks around those words) that towns don’t want to have, then why not be stewarding the places where those grow and putting other opportunistic species or other species who will grow really well and can then be sold. That would be awesome. It’s revenue/income for the town, it’s healthy things for the people, it’s enjoyable jobs that are outdoors, and there’re no chemicals involved. This is my good plan. Please take it and implement far and wide.

Ryn (00:44:55):
It is a good one. If you’re interested in this aspect of invasives and the intersection they have with herbalism, there is a great book on the topic called Invasive Plant Medicine, written by Timothy Scott.

Katja (00:45:09):
Yes, and if you’re interested in the quote marks that I put around the words “invasive plant”, because that is such a fraught term, then you might enjoy the book called Where Do Camels Belong, by Kenneth Thompson.

Ryn (00:45:27):
So, let’s see. We are watching out for chemical treatments and other kinds of pollutants that might be in the area that requires us to know how people are working on the land, working around that area, how water moves through that area, where the water comes from. At this conservation land close to our school, there’s a pond next to a little patch of woods. The whole thing sits in kind of a bowl, it’s surrounded by land that rises on at least three sides of that area. Around it, there are streets, there is a parking lot, there’s a field (like an athletic field), and then there’s the woods themselves. We can also see that there’s a lot of like soil mass for the water to move through and that by the time it gets down to the actual pond area, it’s filtered through lots of organic material, and it’s probably in pretty good shape by then. But you have to consider that for whatever patch of land it is you’re thinking to harvest from. There are patches of land along the main river here in Boston–the Charles River, and there are some that we feel comfortable gathering a little bit from here and there a couple of times a year, and there are other areas where it’s a little closer to some runoff. Those are places where we would not gather anything. So, you do need to do a bit of digging. [laughter] A little reconnaissance basically, right? Now, on the one hand, we do want to harvest from the most pristine ground possible. Yes, of course we do. On the other hand, there isn’t any. It’s a global climate, it’s a global weather system. There is no escape from smog, pollutants in the rain, and everything else. Yes, there are places in the world that are less damaged than others, but there’s no actual getting away from this. I think the idea that there is or there could be is deeply problematic and it leads us to make decisions that are not actually the best for the long term.

Katja (00:48:15):
There’s a lot of things that can fall under the word ‘purity’ and that’s a problem. Whether it is thinking that you can never eat anything that isn’t organic because it will make you unpure, all of these ideas around purity and how they got into our psyche as a society are worth some investigation. I mean, we eat organic food. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do that, but like the occasional non-organic French fry is not going to kill you. No part of a non-organic French fry is good for you, but it’s not going to kill you. It is better to say that you’re going to do as much as you can that is ideal or that is optimal, and the things that you can’t do optimally, you’re not going to worry about. I’m going to recognize that my body is resilient and the work that I am doing is intentionally to create a resilient body, and that I’m capable of managing some stress. Even if that is a non-organic French fry deep fried in canola oil, or if that is a little bit of city pollutants on a plant that was in a decent place but not a perfect place. When we moved to Vermont and we were farming there, at one point I realized, “Oh wait, it’s all the same air.” You can’t get away from it. That was such a ridiculous thing even to think, but I can literally remember having the thought that we’re finally in the clean place now, and then like realizing I’m breathing, it’s the same air. Okay, it’s not 100% the same and yes, it’s better out in the country than in a smog-filled city. I’m not saying it’s not better in some places than others, but I’m saying that we need to not have that concept of ‘better’ be wrapped up in unhealthy ideas around purity.

Ryn (00:50:30):
Right. We do sometimes harvest from plants that here growing in the city, but in places that were about as clean as we could hope for. We don’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good’ in this case.

Katja (00:50:47):
Also, plants respond to stress just like we do. That idea “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is not wrong, and it’s true for plants, too. When they grow burdock commercially, they grow it in hay or straw bales and that makes it very easy to harvest, and it makes it easy for the root to become really long, thick and very straight, which is commercially desirable. But burdock has more power when it has to work through compacted earth to build that strong root. Just like you, when you have a little bit of stress, it builds your muscle and your tenacity, and that is true for plants. A little bit of heat stress increases the volatile oil content, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. We don’t want a plant to be so stressed out that it is being harmed from that stress, just like we don’t want as humans to be so stressed out that we’re being harmed from that stress, but a little stress is good. Sometimes I really feel strongly about working with plants who grew in the same environment that I am currently living in. They’re dealing with the same stress that I’m dealing with, the exhaust fumes and the whatever else, but the plant that is thriving in that environment has figured out how to get stronger from the things that didn’t kill it. Right now, I too am trying to figure out how to get stronger from the things that I’m living with in my environment, and with the plants we can work together on that.

Ryn (00:52:39):
Some other thoughts we would share around this are that for the pollutants that are complex, probably petroleum-based kind of chemistry, those are going to have kind of a gradient of accumulation in different parts of the plant. By that I mean that if these are sprayed on a plant or on the soil that the plant grows in, there’s going to be more accumulated in the roots of that plant, and then you would have less in the stems, less in the leaves, less in the flowers, the fruit, and the seeds. You look at it as where the plant absorb things and then you get further and further away from that as you go up. So, root, stem leaf, flower, fruit, seed.

Katja (00:53:36):
This wouldn’t necessarily be true if we were talking about an apple orchard where they’re spraying pesticides and the apples have already formed. Obviously now that pesticide is on the apple because they sprayed it right on there. That’s not what we’re talking about.

Ryn (00:53:49):
Right. An example of this, once a year I collect a dandelion flower harvest to make tincture of. What I prefer to do is to bring a jar with me and take a long walk out here in the city, around my home or between the home and the office, and gather dandelions as I go. I plunk them into my little jar and by the time I get where I’m going, I have a whole jar full, I can tincture it right there, and I’m good to go. There’s some exhaust around, there’s some this and that, some of these dandelions were growing right out of the sidewalk, but I kind of want their resilience medicine and I’m willing to take a little bit of what I was already breathing in any way. I feel like that’s going to be fine, I’m not going to stress about it.

Katja (00:54:48):
When you make that every year, you’re not taking huge doses of it.

Ryn (00:54:53):
It’s dandelion flower tincure, it’s a few drops at a time.

Katja (00:54:56):
You’re taking that as emotional medicine for emotional resilience, so the concentration of whatever is left in the resulting product is very minimal, especially because you’re taking so little of it at any given time.

Ryn (00:55:11):
That kind of leads me to another consideration, which is that with all this stuff I was just saying about a gradient of the accumulation of grossness [laughter], there would be a bit of a different consideration if we’re talking about heavy metal pollution, if there’s lead or mercury in the soil.

Katja (00:55:30):
PCBs or something like that.

Knowing the Community

Ryn (00:55:33):
Those could still accumulate. They could still get integrated into the plant all the way up. Even at that, you can make some kind of a differentiation between different ways that you prepare the plant after you harvest. If I am going to eat the thing, then yes, heavy metal pollution is a really bad problem. If I wanted to have a whole plate of nettle leaves, if there are heavy metals in the soil, they’re going to be in the leaf and I’m going to be consuming them and taking it all into me, so that would be problematic and we would avoid such a thing. But if I make a tincture out of those leaves, tincturing isn’t going to extract a ton of mineral content, and again, the dose that I’m taking is very small by comparison. You can be eating grams and grams of nettle leaf as food, but you’re only going to be taking a few drops or maybe a few droppers full of the tincture, so the amount that you’re exposed to in that format is going to be reduced. These are edge cases. These are things that you need to make your own kind of determinations about as an individual after you’ve thought long and hard about the land and the plant itself. But this is relevant and it’s something to think about as herbal folk who live in cities, anywhere else, too. So those are about knowing the land. Point three is about knowing the community, and this community is big. The community includes lots of actors. What we’re wondering here is who else has a relationship with this plant, of any kind? That could be other humans, who, like you, might be seeking after these plants for their medicines. It could also be animals who may be seeking these plants for their medicines, because animals do that, all kinds of animals do that. They might also be eating them for food. There could be birds that are going to rely on them, and you have to think through time here. You have to think fourth dimensionally, just like Doc Brown was trying to teach us to do in the Back To The Future movies. You have to think ahead through time. Are there going to be some birds who are going to come back to this plant when it has mature, grown, and made some seeds?

Katja (00:58:03):
Is this what’s going to allow birds to survive the winter? You need to think about that in the spring.

Ryn (00:58:10):
With insects, it’s basically the same thing. If I come and look at a nice patch of goldenrod and I think I’m going to make goldenrod-infused honey, I may not realize that this is the only patch of goldenrod in this whole city park. There might be some bees around here and they’re going to be really dependent on that goldenrod as the one of the last foods they’re going to gather before the winter comes.

Katja (00:58:43):
I also want to include the soil there, because not all plants are medicine for humans. Some plants are medicine for soil and a lot of plants play a role in soil remediation. A lot of plants play a role in ecosystem remediation and so recognizing that the soil itself may be depending on this plant is really important.

Ryn (00:59:17):
Then of course other plants are going to be in relationship with this plant. We could have one that goes through the soil, like maybe there’s a bunch of red clover growing over here and one of the things that it does is fix nitrogen in the soil, and then there’s another plant over there that’s dependent on the red clover being around to do that nitrogen fixation. It’s a web, and it’s probably impossible for us to know all of the relationships that our target herb has, but we should try. There’s no reason not to try. That’s a reason to try harder, I think.

Katja (01:00:01):
I think even to understand the relationship of the plants that you’re looking at. If you are looking at one stand of a particular plant, how are all of these plants relating to one another? Like, where is the largest one and what role does that plant play in the community that you are looking at? We use the word ‘stand’ over and over again and I actually think that I want to stop doing that and say ‘community’, because that’s what we’re really looking at when we see a group of plants, we are looking at a community. You may see the most beautiful one that’s the tallest with the largest flower, and you may think that you really want that. But do you want that? What role is that plant playing in the community? That plant is a community leader and if you remove that plant from the community, what will happen to the community? It will collapse. That’s really important.

Ryn (01:01:05):
I do see some folks teaching about gathering and how you have to choose the biggest, strongest, most vibrant thing to be the best medicine. That makes sense on one level, but we have to understand the consequences of that action.

Katja (01:01:19):
Yes, and using words like ‘community’ and ‘community leader’ sound metaphorical, but there’s a lot of science behind that now. We have to recognize that what we are looking at is a community, and they have done work studying what happens when you do remove that largest plant and it’s not actually a metaphor. That largest plant is in fact a community leader and when you remove it, the community struggles

Ryn (01:01:49):
Say we’re looking at a particular community of herbs that we’re thinking about gathering from, it’s worth asking, is this the only one around? Is this the only community of violets that is in my orbit or is accessible to me? Is this the most resilient community of that plant in my area right now? It’s easy to get stuck on the first thing you see, to think, “I’m going to go out today; I know that there is usually some violet over in that area (beause there has been for the last three years that I came to visit) and I’m going to go out there and bring some home today.” Great, but don’t stop with the first one you see. Take a good walk around, move your body through space, look at things from different perspectives, literally. That will help you to make a better decision.

Katja (01:02:45):
I think that we don’t have strong confidence in our ability to find another group. Maybe we haven’t allotted ourselves enough time to go and discover where other communities of a particular plant are so that we can compare who can best sacrifice some of its members. I don’t think those are good excuses to just do it. That’s not a good reason right

Ryn (01:03:22):
When we talk about wildcrafting, there’s frequently a rubric or rule of thumb that people will give out and it takes the form of something like, “When you look at a community (or a stand) of herbs that you want to gather, you should take no more than fill-in-the-blank percent,” and you hear wildly varying percentages from different teachers.

Katja (01:03:49):
Twenty years ago when I was learning this in rural Vermont, it was “a third, a third, a third.” One third for you, one third for the animals, one third for the plant, which is to say to reseed. That’s fine if you’re the only human who’s going to stumble across this really huge patch of whatever. First off, it’s not even fine anymore because with climate change, I don’t think that really any community of plants can stand to lose a third of its members to humans. Also, most of us aren’t living in that kind of environment. I think that if you are stewarding some wild plants on your own property and you know for sure that you’re the only one harvesting there and you are carefully watching, then you still can’t say to take one third. You have to say that you can have some, the animals can have some, the plants can have some, and every year I need to make a determination about what those appropriate percentages are based on the factors involved in this plant’s ability to thrive.

Ryn (01:05:07):
I am really reluctant to give a number to this. Call it 10%, well what does that mean? Is that going to work every year? No, it is something that you need to assess each and every time that you go out.

Katja (01:05:20):
I think that putting a number to it is like…

Ryn (01:05:25):
We want to because it’s a shortcut, but shortcuts are a problem because there’s only the hard way.

Katja (01:05:31):
Yes, because like if you’re thinking, “Ryn said I can have ten percent,” then you’re not going to think through every factor, and you can’t have 10% of every plant that you see. You can have no percent really. Instead, when you see some plants, just recognize that you have to justify what you take every single time. You have to make sure that it is legitimate every single time and “because someone I know is really sick and this could help them” is not necessarily a good answer. Why is that person’s life worth more than this plant’s life? That’s something you need to think about, especially because these days we can cultivate so many plants that we can work with in so many ways. So, when taking a wild plant, why is that life worth more than this life?

Ryn (01:06:48):
We need to know the community and, like you say, whether there are going to be other people coming by. It’s totally possible that you come along, you see something that looks pretty good to you, and you think you can harvest a lot here, 10% or whatever it is. You do that and then a week later somebody else comes by, they see it, and they have the same thought. Now it gets really cut down. So, you want to be clear about who else might be coming along this way, and that’s not really something you can do from your first visit. I don’t want to be a broken record, but you have to observe an area of land over an extended period of time before it’s really ethical to harvest from there.

Katja (01:07:30):
What kind of herbalist do you want to be? Do you want to take stuff because you need it today or do you want to be in community, in relationship, and in connection with, and that’s really what herbalism is about, that’s what we’re striving for. We need to strive for that in every aspect of how we are herbalists, and that’s going to include all the way to how the workers on the farms that produced this organically cultivated calendula were treated. It’s big, but we’re capable of big. That is part of the work as herbalists is to get back to that place where we can hold the big picture in our minds and we aren’t just doing what we need to do for ourselves. We can think about all that. We’ve got these big brains and I think part of the reason is so that we can hold the big picture and many factors in our minds. I am saying this because when it feels hard, inconvenient, and painful to think about all these different factors to make a decision about whether or not I can have this thing I want today, instead of feeling upset about that, we can actually feel delight in that. We can be glad that we’re capable of this amount of thought, and when we get to the end of the thought, we’re capable of doing something about it and changing a situation that is not right. Be excited about the inconvenience I think is what I’m trying to say.

Ryn (01:09:31):
Like you said, you have to think about who else might see you and what kind of lessons they might take, whether they speak to you or not. If they just observe, “Oh, it looks, there’s somebody digging up that root over there, maybe I could do that too.” You have to be conscious about about how that kind of thing goes down. There’s also a place here that is going to be a little bit different. This is when sometimes it makes sense to harvest a plant that otherwise you would leave alone because of some influence from the community at large. The example that I’ve been thinking about this morning was just a few weekends ago, we were out with one of our student groups over at that patch land close to the school. There’s a patch of Solomon’s seal that grows over there and we’d go back and visited every year. It’s really exciting to see them all come up, and it’s right next to a path that has pretty heavy foot traffic. We were there this year and we observed (as we have in other years) that there were some shoots of the Solomon’s seal that were coming up and they were right in the path. They were not just kind of on the edge of it, they were totally in it. We looked at it and we said, “Check it out students; this is a place where it makes sense to gather the Solomon’s seal, and we’re going to dig this one up that’s most at risk of getting stomped on and we’re going to transplant it.” We brought it home and planted in a safe spot over by the fence next to our apartment, where we’ve got a bunch of others that we had been growing in there, and we’re going to save this plant. Something like that is kind of an exception, but it’s not really. It’s taking the broader principles into account and saying, “I recognize that this isn’t actually a safe place for you, little plant.”

Katja (01:11:33):
This plant would otherwise die. That’s a way that you can also interact with your human community. We are affiliated with the people who care for that land and we check in with them a lot. We go to the Community Day, we do all of that stuff. Every couple of years, I talk to the person in charge of maintaining that land and say tell them that it’s a really good time to dig up all the Solomon’s seal roots that are encroaching on the path on the next community day. I ask if I come and dig those out and then we’ll repair the path. Then I can take those roots and grow them and that’s great. It’s the right time to do it because everybody can see here are the workers who are taking care of the land and then I am part of that group, so that nobody’s thinks, “Well she’s digging all that stuff up.” It’s the right context for it and you can do this in many ways. There may be land that you know is going to be mowed, but there’s nettle growing there and it’s going to get to be six or eight inches tall before they mow it. That’s definitely plant material you could be working with. You could make friends with the city worker who mows it and figure out what his/her/their schedule is and then go harvest it right before it gets mowed. Even talk to them about it. We’ve done that with the garlic mustard on community garlic mustard removal day. We’ve told them that we will take a ton of the garlic mustard because we’ll eat it. That kind of stuff is a way that you can be more involved in your human community so that you can work more with your plant community.

Ryn (01:13:28):
In other contexts, people do a similar thing if there’s a patch of forested land that’s going to be clear cut to put in a condominium or I don’t know what. If you live somewhere where there is that kind of human settlement expansion going on, then you may want to contact the people who own or are going to be developing that land and ask if they’ll allow you to go into that area and look for at risk plants. There could be ginseng growing in there, there could be chaga on the trees, there could be all kinds of things going on.

Katja (01:14:05):
That’s actually a really good way to work with chaga, too. Chaga takes decades to mature and it’s really not sustainable to work with it the way that is currently popular to do. But if you can make friends with some loggers who are cutting down the trees, they know what they’re looking for, they know what chaga is. If you talk to them and say, “Listen, if you find a tree with chaga on it, please call me; I will drop everything and come.” If they’re cutting that tree down anyway, then that’s a really good way to get chaga. There are many other ways that are not good ways, please don’t do those.

Ryn (01:15:08):
In a city environment, I think about vacant lots. Sometimes they’ve been vacant for like a decade and there’s a whole ecosystem going on in there. Now somebody is finally going to develop it and you see the sign go out up and it’s going to happen soon. Call them up, say you’d like to go in and harvest, is that all right with you? Who knows what they’ll say back, but you’ve made an effort.

Katja (01:15:32):
They might think you’re weird, but they’ll probably say that’s fine.

Knowing Yourself

Ryn (01:15:37):
So, those were our one-two-three points: know the plant, know the land, know the community. The secret is that there’s a number zero on this list. Number zero is know yourself. This isn’t just “gnothi seauton”, the principle from the Oracle at Delphi, “Know who you are before you come asking me your questions.”

Katja (01:16:15):
But kind of it’s exactly that, because that’s what’s happening.
Ryn (01:16:19):
Here are some questions you want to ask yourself when you’re thinking about wildcrafting or foraging. First of all, why do you want to do this? What is your motivation? Is it, “Because then I can get my plants for free.”

Katja (01:16:36):
Please, not that. I understand that living is expensive, but it would be better to wait a year, get the seeds, cultivate them and work that way. You can garden Dandelions, you can farm dandelions, so spread those seeds on land that you can work with and then do it.

Ryn (01:17:06):
This isn’t to say that people who do forage or wildcraft because they can’t afford to buy them are bad people or anything. But you have to be aware about your motivation on a deeper level. There are plenty of folks I know who are hyped about wildcrafting because it looks like free stuff and they don’t need the free stuff. That’s what we’re really talking about here.

Katja (01:17:32):
Also, people who think if they wildcraft, it’ll make them a real herbalist, but not if they grow it in their garden. No! Grow it in your garden, please do that.

Ryn (01:17:44):
This isn’t to say your motivation is always bad, but you need to know what it is first. To say, “I am motivated to go and do some wildcrafting because I want to have a deeper connection to the land that I live on, even if it’s right here in city lands; I want feel more strongly connected to it and it’s hard for me to do that when I’m just on sidewalks and concrete, but I feel like this’ll be a way for me to make that connection.” That’s great and that’s true, but you have to recognize that making that connection includes all of that work we’ve been talking about up until this point. All of that trying to understand the land and the community, that’s what that connection is built out of. The fact that you pick something out of the ground or cut it up with some scissors, that’s not what gives you that deep connection.

Katja (01:18:34):
It’s the relationship. Sometimes you want to wildcraft or forage because it’s a plant that doesn’t cultivate well, it’s a plant that kind of only really grows in the wild.

Ryn (01:18:47):
Which should be giving you big, red, blinky lights.

Katja (01:18:51):
Yes, and that doesn’t mean that it’s not okay, it just means you have to be super careful and take your role as a steward really seriously so that you are protecting that plant and being able to come back to it over and over again. I’m thinking about ginseng in West Virginia where we go to do free clinics, where they’ve been affected by mountain top removal. A lot of people dig roots and they dig up ginseng to sell. A lot of people have been harvesting from the same patch of ginseng for literally generations and the knowledge of where it is, but also more importantly, how to steward it has been passed down through all the generations. That is what we’re talking about here. That’s what you really want. But then you get people who might come in because it’s valuable and they’ll poach or just wipe out an entire stand instead of very carefully taking the amount the stand can afford to sacrifice this year, which is going to be different than the amount that it could afford to give you last year. Really working to not just sustain that ginseng community, but to steward it is what’s needed when you’re going to forage or wildcraft from a plant that can’t be cultivated. It might not mean that you don’t forage it, it might mean that it’s a five year process before you forage.

Ryn (01:20:46):
So, you’ve checked in with yourself and you feel like your motivations are clear and reasonable, you still want to ask yourself what your internal state is when you’re going out there to do this. A big thing here is you don’t want to do this in a rush because that’s when you’re going to skip steps. You want to plan more time than you actually think you’re going to need, and I would advise you to plan much more. That’s key because you don’t want to be thinking, “Okay, I have to go there, get this thing, I have to dig it up real fast, and then I’m going to go to my appointment and rush all around.” That’s not going to lead to you bringing your presence to the action. Another thing to consider is how much do you really need or how much can you even work with effectively? If somebody goes out and really wants to start working with mullein root. They heard it was great for bulging discs in the spine and they want to have so much of it. They see all these mulleins, this is a place where there’s been some construction going on and there’s a pile of disturbed earth that’s all covered in mulleins (that happens a lot). They think, “Great, I’m going to go and take all of the mullein roots, I’m going to bring them home, and I’m going to make tincture out of them.” They go ahead and dig them all up, they bring them home and realize that it’s going to probably take you the next four days to wash, clean, chop, and actually process all of that plant matter. Then you’re going to have two gallons worth of tincture to make and that’s a whole bunch of vodka you’ve got to buy. But then what are you going to do with two gallons of mullein root tincture? That’s more than any one human is going to need for the rest of their entire life. With mullein root, you don’t even need large doses of it. You’re not going to be taking this by the tablespoon or by the ounce per day, you’re going to take 10, 20 drops here and there. So, you need to understand a lot of different things, like what am I going to do with this plant matter once I’ve got at home, can it even wait until I get it home? There are some plants where you have to process and get it tincturing or whatever you’re going to do right there in the field. Do you have the equipment for that with you and you have all the ingredients you need? Some roots you might dig up and need to clean them and chop them as soon as possible because the more they dry out, the harder they become until you need a chainsaw to get through it.

Katja (01:23:53):
One thing that I think about when I think about the human desire to get a little more just in case I run out, we have this scarcity mindset of “I better get a little more so that I have enough.” I think that that is a reflection of our self-induced limitation on variety. Mullein root is not the only plant that can do that work, Solomon’s seal is not the only plant that can do that work. And there’s so many different plants. Or if we think about respiratory ailments, like there’s so many plants that can do that work. And so we don’t need to have a gallon of each one. We can just have a little of each one and that will be sufficient. And if you run out and you don’t have exactly what you need, that’s actually a fun game that we love to play at the school. In the apothecary is that sometimes we got really busy and we didn’t place the herb order and then we were out of a bunch of stuff and now it’s time for free clinic and we’re out of a lot of things. And for a minute we’re like, Ah, bummer. And then we’re like, no, this is great. Because now the students are working to formulate with maybe like not their number one fan favorite. I don’t have to think about it. I’ll just grab for it plant. And it’s causing them to really think a little bit more and reach out to the plants that they maybe don’t work with on as frequent a basis. So I don’t know, you guys, it’s kind of good to run out of things.

Ryn (01:25:50):
Okay. So yes, those are a few of the things you need to consider about, about your own internal state, your motivations, your intentions. And make sure that you’re really clear on that before you go out and start cutting anybody up.

Katja (01:26:06):
Yeah. And if you’re feeling like, wow, this was kind of a downer, I guess maybe I should just not wild harvest anything. That’s not a downer because you have a camera.. And you have a you and you can be in relationship with a plant without harvesting it. And you should be in relationships with plants without harvesting them.

Ryn (01:26:28):
More often than the other way. Yeah.

Katja (01:26:30):
So if you’re feeling like sad because what you really love to do is go out and see the plants, then do that. Go out and see the plants and take like 10 million pictures and get like the best picture and then post it on Instagram and tell everybody how much you love it. And That’s excellent. And take your notebook and draw lots of pictures of that plant. And just lay there and take a nap with that plant. And you know like sit and just observe that plant a lot and look at the bugs who live with that plant, and what are they doing and all these different things are the medicine too. I’m just remembering a workshop that Karen Sanders gave once a long time ago. And she said that we all, she was talking about Solomon’s Seal in particular, but she was saying about how yeah, you take it and you take it internally. But if you really have a relationship, then you don’t actually need to take it. You just go and you spend time with that plant and you ask that plant to help you. Because actually we’re all connected and you don’t have to ingest the plant to do the work. And I think that is really beautiful. And I also think that it’s really difficult to sort of depend on that. It’s hard to believe it. It’s hard to because we’re so busy and so distracted, it’s almost like we need that direct infusion in order to do the work. But on the other hand, there have been times, you know, in the subway where it was packed and I was crammed in and feeling panicked and that I just said, all right, well I’m going to think about the plants who would normally help me right now with these feelings of panic. And I don’t have any of them. Maybe there’s one in my backpack, but I can’t even get to my backpack because we’re so packed in here. And so I’m just going to sit here and think about those plants.

Ryn (01:28:35):
Conjure an image of the Betony that we like to grow here and keep around and bring with us when we go to the local herb conference. Because it’s so calming and soothing just to have it there. And you can call to mind the feeling of the leaves on your fingers and the smell of the flower and everything.

Katja (01:28:54):
It turns out that’s really, really helpful. And, and here’s Karen Sanders talking about doing that even on a physiological level, not just on an emotional level. And I too find that difficult right now, but I also find it beautiful. Anyway so, go out and forge experience.

Ryn (01:29:20):
Okay. So, uh, those are our thoughts for this week. We hope you found them interesting. And if you have questions, as always, we’d like to hear from you listeners. You can always reach out to us through our website, Commonwealthherbs.com. And I guess that’s it for the week.

Katja (01:29:36):
I am really excited because May happens next week and we have decided on a theme for the supporter videos for May. And we’re going to do may flowers and talk about all different herbs that bloom in May and how to work with them. And I’m so excited about it. So, all of you supporters, that’s the videos that are going to be coming to you in May. And if you want those videos, then you too can be a podcast supporter. You can check out our website, Commonwealthherbs.com/podcast and you’ll see a button right there that tells you how to do that.

Ryn (01:30:24):
Yeah, we really like it.

Katja (01:30:26):
Thank you.

Ryn (01:30:27):
Okay, so we’ll be back next week. Have good days.

Katja (01:30:28):
Buh-bye!

herbalbusiness6

Join our newsletter for more herby goodness!

Get our newsletter delivered right to your inbox. You'll be first to hear about free mini-courses, podcast episodes, and other goodies about holistic herbalism.