These words seem recurring these days, let’s have a closer look at what it actually means…
In order to ethically harvest, you will first need to collect some information: most cities or rural area have touristical information site that will happily inform you on the current state of local flora and fauna environment, about the so called “invasive” plants or endangered species.
If you leave on stolen land (Americas, Australia, New Zealand…) or visit another country make sure to be informed about which plants are used by natives and local communities, enjoy learning from another culture and observe them with curiosity and joy in their environment but please leave these plants to the natives and local people for their uses and traditions, eventually buy some if sale by a local.
Get some good identification books to have along and make sure you are looking at the exact plant you are searching for.
Also make sure you are well informed about the whole aspects of the plants. Many plants are toxic or can be on excessive and prolonged use. Make sure you have collected enough information about the plant to keep yourself and the people you may share your herbal preparations with, safe and healthy.
*Observe, feel and think:
Look around where you are, which plants are profuse? which one are more rare? Even though you know a specific plant you are looking for is not endangered but you encounter just a small patch where you are, are you really thinking to take it out of its environment? No. We only take plants where they are so profuse that no one could make a difference after we have harvest.
And sometimes we are facing a field of a certain plant and because we have well collected our information, we know this plant is endangered and we do not harvest because it seems that their population is finally growing back again. Instead we can sit or lie around them and enjoy their beauty and gift.
*Only take what you need:
After collecting your information and before going to gather, ask yourself the questions: for what do I want to use this plant? How much of it will I need in order to make what I plan. When searching for plants for our nourishing Herbal Infusion we are looking at plants that grow abundantly and that we could harvest with no much though: Stinging nettle, Red Clover, Linden Blossom, Oat straw, some Comfrey and Raspberries leaves.
When we want to make a tincture, we do not need much of a plant so we can take our jar and cissors with us and when we find enough of the plant we can cut it right away in our jar and take only what we need.
If we want some plants to dry for tea or other herbal preparations where we will need a little more, then make sure to find an area where the plants grow in profusion.
*Meet a new friend:
When collecting herbs/weeds/berries/leaves/flowers/bark we are engaging in a personal relationship with the plant, inviting them to move with us and share communal space for a while.
Are you willing to do that with anyone?
At first I prefer to get to know this new friend a little better and take my time in building this new relation. Plants appreciate as well being seen and used with respect of their wholeness and aliveness. This kind of practice could take different aspects depending on you, the plant and the moment. For example I like to look at a plant very closely and sometimes for a very long time, when it seems long enough I will curiously bite a bit of the plant to discover her taste(s) and aroma(s). When a plant is totally new to me I like to sit and engage on a conversation and then take her home with me and place her next to me while sleeping, sometimes she will visit my dreams and tell me some stories…
There are some plants that are really quiet and that I understand as “I am not ready to engage with you right now”, in this case I will dry a piece of this plant in a book to disappear and forget about her until she is popping again in my life.
In our world of non-consent and tolerated ordinary violence, we tend to propagate these ways that are truly armful to our wholeness. Taking the time to meet with a new friend and build a consensual relationship will offer us the joy of true allyship.
*Dance and sing with the plants:
When harvesting I keep in mind that the plants are a source of food for the fauna around and that I do not want my steps and take to be noticed. And for that I do enter in what I call a dance with the plants, meaning that I will gather here and there letting the plants guiding my feet along the harvesting to not be noticed. Berries are a good example, the birds eat the one on the tops and the small animals the one on the bottom, I can take a little from the middle and never take more than it can be noticed.
This may sounds for some too esoteric to say but I experience as a truth that plants do communicate with us in their own way. How does our ancestors may have known of certain properties of a plant or another? Trials and errors we may think, ok but I also truly believe that our ancestors, Earth worshippers, were in constant communication with all living beings including Plants realm, and through that practice, they have learn the medicinal properties of plants that we can now confirm through the microscope and science laboratories.
I truly love observing children discovering nature, how they will start to engage on a conversation with plants and sometimes even singing songs. This I have experienced as a child and pursue this practice very shyly while growing up and now I happily and loudly sing the songs the plants are offerings. They share their stories that way. So In case you are harvesting a plant and a song is coming to you, sing her along and you will remember some old old tales…
*When is the best time to harvest the plants?
This is for every part of the plants quite different and it goes with a common sense of observing nature’s cycle. Fresh green are great when popping up in the spring, if you miss the season and found them in the summer it’s also fine, some of them re-appear in the early fall like chickweed or cleavers and this is another opportunity to harvest.
Berries are harvested when showing up full and plump. Fruits/seed like Hawthorn and Rosehip are best to harvest with the first very cold temperature. The plants feeling the frost coming up are putting all their energies into their fruits/seeds, they then contains higher vitamins and minerals.
Roots are harvested in the Fall, when the green start to disappear, the plants have then spread their seeds or extend their roots and the energy of the plant go down into the root to prepare for winter sleep, they can be then harvested.
Harvesting bark is a very fine work, I wait to meet someone to teach me their practices. I know dark moon to be the best as the sap is low and the tree is unlikely to suffer, but please abstain from this practice if they are not part of a hand on teaching.
*What is good to have on hand when harvesting?
I have a bag (string bag or rucksack) filled with paper bags of different sizes and plastics bags for roots or pitch. I have a pocket knife and big scissors that I keep in hands in case I go far and alone in the forest (Men are biggest predators and showing you are well equipped with a large sharp scissors will keep them at bay). In one of the plastic bag I have a cloth dripping from olive oil to clean out pitch from my knife and hands. I spray my ankles with Yarrow to avoid bites and takes some plantain oil or tincture for nettle itch and in case I got bites. When home I check myself for any tick bites.
You can also bring along a trash bag to collect trash you may encounter in your walk, if sensitive, gloves can be good to have on hand too.
Take another bin bag if you plan to pee and use paper, collect back your paper! Landscapes are been damaged by the incredible amount of papers people leave behind them when peeing. Think of the forest as other living being living room. Leaving your paper behind you, may be confused by animal and eaten or used by birds for their nest. If paper is biodegradable place it in your compost bin then!
*how to dry plants?
I find best to dry plants between fabric, a pair of old bed sheet will do great, I place them in a dark and warm place (in front of my oven at night). I make sure to have have them sandwich in between. I found this method especially good for big leaves like Comfrey or Mullein, but in general the plants keeps their suppleness, bright colour and nice smell. Hanging them is an option, make sure to be out of direct sun light and pack in paper bags when dry to avoid to much dryness. Using a dehydrator I found to take away too much of the moisture and per extension plants quality. I dehydrate berries and roots to have avoid mold forming.
I hope you enjoy these lines and feel free to share to anyone that may be interested,
In curiosity and joy,