What is Wildcrafting?:
In addition to growing your own magical herbs in your garden, in many areas you can harvest herbs from their natural environment -- in the wild. This is known as wildcrafting, and is becoming a popular pastime. If you’re one of the many Pagans or Wiccans who enjoys working with herbs, you may want to look into wildcrafting. However, much like any other natural resource, herbs must be harvested responsibly -- otherwise, a once-plentiful plant can quickly end up on the endangered list! An ethical wildcrafter should never cause damage, nor should they deplete a resource. Here's how to be an ethical wildcrafter.
First, be sure you have permission to wildcraft in the area you're visiting. Some public lands require you to have a permit before you may harvest any plants. If you're on private property, get permission from the landowner. Also, be sure you check your local Department of Agriculture extension to see if there are plants that are on the endangered list in your area. That wild ginger may seem inviting, but if it's being depleted in your region, you need to pass on it.
Know What You're Seeing:
Have a guidebook handy, with color photos of local plants. What grows in Virginia is not the same as what grows in Wyoming, and a plant common in New Hampshire may be non-existent in Florida. Use a field guide to local plants to help you properly identify items you may wish to wildcraft.
Where to Pick:
When you're looking for herbs to harvest, don't collect from the first patch you see. Typically, that first patch is the same one that everyone else sees when they're walking down a trail or driving by. Instead, go further afield, moving off-trail if possible to look for another patch. This way, you can harvest from a location that won't be noticeably damaged the next time someone walks by. In some public parks, you may only harvest at a certain distance away from trails, so be sure you check with your local agency.
Pay attention to the environment around you. Many a beginning wildcrafter has gotten lost in the woods because they weren't paying attention to their surroundings. Likewise, watch for hazards like loose rocks, narrow trails along ridges, or low-hanging tree limbs. Remember that the further away from civilization you get, the further you are from help if you need it.
If possible, wildcraft with a friend, or at the very least, carry a cell phone and/or handheld GPS with you.
What to Gather:
Try to harvest plants that are not damaged easily before you go for the more fragile ones. Some plants, like dandelion, yarrow, and blackberry are just about impossible to kill simply by picking them -- they'll always grow back. Also, when you take a plant, take only what you can use in the foreseeable future. Many wildcrafters try to use a specific ratio of one in four or even one in five -- that means for every plant you harvest, you must leave four to five plants in the same patch.
In many magical traditions, it is customary to offer a blessing or a prayer of thanks when harvesting wild herbs. If this is something you'd like to do, you can say something simple, like:
I offer thanks to the god and goddess,
for allowing me this small gift.
You may also wish to leave an offering by scattering seeds, so that new plants will grow to replace the ones you have taken.
Again, be sure to check with all your state and local regulations before you go out wildcrafting, so that you can harvest herbs ethically and responsibly.