Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On wildcrafting- the Art of Reconnection




Last fall, I was sitting at a table at our local Green Fair, talking to people about the Sweet Medicine Center, and my work as an herbalist. I happened to be cracking acorns I had collected, roasted and planned to turn into delicious treats for the Open House at the Sweet Medicine Center. Most people approached with genuine interest and friendliness, eager to hear about what I planned to make with these treasures, and what the practition

ers and I had to offer. Many of the young native or Mexican children immediately recognized the nuts I was cracking, saying “bellotas” and asking what I planned to do with them, and tell me how their grandmothers would make bellota soup. At one point I was approached by a woman who began asking questions of me, which escalated into somewhat antagonistic jabs. When I began explaining about how I had spent hours collecting the acorns over several weeks, she began saying to me I had no right to be taking things from the forest, that I was stealing from the trees and the animals, and how could I be so selfish. I tried to explain my wildcrafting ethics to the woman, how I most assuredly collected my bounty with conscious awareness of the plants and animals around me. But this lady had it in her head otherwise, a

nd I gave up explaining.

It is difficult to explain the hours of time spent crouched in the warm sun, lying in the sand, gathering a single acorn at a time by hand, how I felt the trees alive around me, the small animals scurrying around me collecting their own stash of nuts for the cool season, to someone who doesn’t see it that way. I do understand that if everyone also decided to wildcraft, many plants would be stripped bare by over harvesting, and thus laws are enacted to prevent people from “taking” from the earth.

While I understand the idea behind the protection of natural resources, I also feel deeply how these types of ideas and laws have created a disconnect between humans, the earth, and the resources and gifts that Gaia has graciously bestowed. Humans have become increasingly alienated from the natural world, because we no longer understand, in our bones, and our daily sustenance how deeply we are dependent on the earth. Food comes from grocery stores, or if we are fortunate, local organic farms and ranchers, but very few people come in contact with the actual procurement and production of the food that passes through their mouth. Naturally, gardening in the home becomes a way for us to reconnect with our food and the earth, but it is lacking something that the wild foods and animals can teach us, ju

st by their presence, and making ourselves open to it.

As an herbalist I have primarily been a wildcrafter. I do grow some of my medicinal herbs and much of my food in my garden, but there has always been something in the call of the wild places that speaks to my wildest heart. I go to the plants for teaching, for healing, and for medicine. Many people ask why I go to so much effort to wildcraft much of my medicine and a significant portion of food, when it could easily be grown in a garden? I respond, the wild things have a special teaching for us, in this age of disconnect and alienation from nature, that we are still so dependent upon.

The wild plants I go to for medicine and food are tough creatures, they endure the harshest extremes of weather, water scarcity, bugs, fire, and climate change, and yet they persist. They are rich and resilient in the face of challenge. Those wild plants have a strength from which we can both learn from and benefit from medicinally or nutritionally. Plants grown in wild soils that are rich in nutrients are almost always more nutritionally dense than their cultivated counterparts grown in depleted agricultural soils, they endure the extremes and develop compounds that are strong and medicinal in order to resist such challenges. And that is just the beginning of the benefits of using wild plants for food and medicine, but there is more.


Contrary to that woman’s belief about harvesting from the wild, wildcrafting both food and medicine brings me in closer contact with the ever changing environment on which I live and depend, it fosters an intimacy with both the creatures in the environment and the needs of that environment. My regular forays to certain spots through all the seasons teaches me about the cycles which our landscape moves through, I become aware of small changes that might go unnoticed by untrained eyes, but can mean significant environmental changes. I notice when a particular plant population is growing, expanding and becoming ever healthier, or likewise, when a plant population is retreating, getting smaller or moving. In noting these changes I can act responsibly as an herbalist, wildcrafter and inhabitant of the land, by sowing seeds, refraining from harvesting, or encouraging growth and expansion. I notice the years in which little rain fell, and familiar plants are sparse or not present at all. I have seen chaparral bushes brown and drop leaves, and prickly pear turn red and shrivel in response to a particularly long winter drought, and I have seen washes flood in the overabundance of summer rain, ripping out trees by the roots, exposing new rocks and covering over embankments with fresh silt and sand, thus changing the landscape permanently, and influencing the subsequent growth of plants in that area. When I am wildcrafting I notice which animals are also harvesting from the plants, and work in concert, always aware enough to leave more than plenty for the other inhabitants of the landscape, including the soils which take in discarded leaf litter and plant stalks and transform it into mineral rich humus for the next seasons growth of plants. I very rarely wildcraft for the sake of taking plants home solely for medicine or food. I wildcraft for the sake of experiencing the plants in their wild home, for the sake of becoming intimate with the changing moods and needs of my landscape, for the sake of reconnecting myself deeply with the earth, which provides everything I am dependent on, and for the sake of falling in love each day with the stark beauty of this land of extremes and contrasts; of drought and fire, of rain and rushing waters, of tropical vines and giant cactus, of riparian bosques and mountain pine forests.

11 comments:

Diane Kidman said...

Beautiful post! Wildcrafting certainly is a reconnection for me as well. When I was a little girl, I played in the forest all the time, but I always felt like something was missing from my experience. When I was older I'd go and sit in the woods, look around me, feel at peace and say, "But I feel like there's something I'm meant to do here other than look." Wildcrafting completed that circle for me, and now I need the experience regularly to feel happy! Even if I leave the woods with nothing in my basket, I'm content just having been there, somehow being an active part of it! Thanks again for a wonderful article!

Kiva Rose said...

Beautifully said, Darcey! No garden can compare to the forest or mountains in their primal wildness.

Some people (as in your example) seem to have forgotten we're a part of the forest too, not a separate entity. Of course it's important to be careful to respect the rest of the forest but the eating of wild food is an integral part of the ceremony of connection and reconnection, of remembering ourselves as the daughters and sons of the wild earth...

Tara said...

Thank you for the beautiful wisdom, Darcy.

Alyss said...

Thank you for this post. I've been doing a lot of foraging (as I call it, since my typical collection locales are suburban rather than wild :) this winter/spring and it has given me a much greater appreciation of the cycles and plant life in my area. I can now spot red clover and grape vines while driving while before I could hardly notice pines vs. firs from the car. It brings richness and depth to every day I spend in my city. And it keeps the grocery bills down! :)

Marqueta said...

Dear Darcey,

I've just come from Kiva Rose's place, and I was touched by this post. You put the words to my own thoughts so beautifully. How we miss out when we do not share in the bounty of the earth. If more people were conscious of the earth and her plants, and used that bounty, I believe there would be even MORE plants to share, since there would be more people to plant seeds, etc.

Love.

Marqueta

jim mcdonald said...

mmmm.... yes.

Beautifully stated. What that woman didn't understand is that lhe land offers itself to all of its children, and that includes us. Using the wild plants as foods, medicines, and for so many other foundational needs restores a connection between us amd the plants that has been neglected for too long.

Sarah said...

Thank you for your beautifully written and eloquent thoughts, Darcy. I have always wildcrafted, wherever I am in the country or abroad. Usually I will wander around my surroundings noticing what might be available and then I pick only as needed. I remember going on holiday just outside Dublin and going for a walk along the nearby road. I found meadowsweet and elderflower growing along the headgerows and went home feeling calmer because I knew if any of us came down with something, I could collect what was necessary to help them feel better. As Jim said, the wild belongs to us all and those who wildcraft usually do so mindfully and ethically in a way which enhances the area, rather to the detriment of other creatures.

Kristie said...

I have always admired your dedication to your calling and the lore you've collected; it's expanded beyond my poor ability to understand even in the time I've known you. As someone who doesn't know the names of most of what's in her yard, I admire your knowledge and wisdom of things natural.

heidi said...

I just found your blog - wonderful post, if a pity that "wild" foods are frowned upon when farmed/ranched options are increasingly environmentally unsound. Thank you for sharing!

comfrey cottages said...

oh darcy, you have wrote eloquently! i echo your sentiments. some folks are just sour grape sorts no matter what. you know that the wild places appreciate and give up their secrets and bounty to those of us who do respect and search them out. big herbal and honey hugs and thanks for sharing:)

greentaramama said...

Beautiful post Darcey.
I relish every moment spent in the forest; gathering, dreaming, and becoming wild...

"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~