Ok, it’s not rocket science. Common sense is most of the times enough, but let’s take a look at some things we could have not considered.

Safety rules

Be able to properly identify every plant that you harvest and know whether it’s safe for human consumption (edible). Learn their Latin name, not just their common ones. Many plants share the same common (laymen’s) name, yet are completely different plant species. The same plant could, all the same, have many common names, different from one area to the other. If you cannot identify them beyond a shadow of a doubt, don’t eat them. The game isn’t worth the candle.

Poisonous first

A good rule is to learn poisonous plants in your area, before going into wildcrafting. Know your enemy, there could be a lot of deadly look-alikes, out there! Also be sure to take a good look at the main parts of the plant in different seasons. Don’t rely on flowers, they could not be there to help you identifying the plant. Remember that Apiaceae (umbellifers like carrot) all look the same for a beginner, and they include hemlock-the lethal (Conium maculatum). Socrates knows something about that!

Pesticides & Co

Are you sure that the place where you are collecting is “safe” from pollutants? Take a look around before you get started.

Over-harvesting

Please don’t over-harvest wild plants. Unless you know it to be a noxious weed that someone would like eradicated, the the best ratio to go by is one in ten (10%) of the population. This leaves most of the stand for reproduction and wildlife, and minimally impacts the ecosystem. In other words, if you only see one or two plants, please refrain from harvesting at all. Sustainability is a big focus here.

Leave some behind

When you reach a fertile patch, don’t denude the area. Flowers are meant to produce seeds for the next generation, if you take them all, they won’t be able to reproduce. Same for the leaves, they are meant to photosinthetize and the plant needs some to recover. It’s tempting to gather as much as you can carry, but consider to take only as much as you can process and eat. Washing, cutting and cooking takes longer than the harvesting itself.

First-choice plants

Some plants are not damaged easily, and should be the first choice of a wildcrafter. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Plantain (Plantago spp.), Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonushenricus), Fat Hen (Chenopodium album), Nettle (Urtica dioica) are nearly impossible to eliminate. Yarrow, (Achillea millefolium) can be cut with a lawnmower and still flourish regularly. You can pick them and not threaten their survival. I prefer, anyway, to avoid digging any roots, unless i grow them in my own garden from seeds.

Protected & endangered species

Endangered plants are species in danger of becoming extinct in the foreseeable future. Threatened plants are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Many of these plants only grow in one special area (endemic). Unfortunately, they are not always easy for an amateur to identify. All folks who pick plants from the wild should try to familiarize themselves with the local protected plants. When in doubt, don’t pick it. Saprohytes, Orchids and most of the Lily family are to be considered “no-pick” plants.

Get connected

If you’re inexperienced, wildcrafting isn’t something you want to do alone. Find an experienced forager or group in your area and sign up for a foraging expedition or outing with a professional. It will be more fun to share your experience and the best way to gain some hands-on experience! Field guides and web resources are not enough to properly identify every plant that you harvest, if you don’t have experience in the field.

Share your know-how

I learned a lot from others. Old people (in mountains) knows a lot about it, because they learned “on field” in their childhood. You could do the “hard-work” in return for their knowledge. Again, someone may be a good mushroom forager and willing to learn more about plants. Let’s go together and share knowledge, than!


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