Wildcrafting

**Please enjoy this article first published by TDH in 2015.**

The use of wildcrafted herbs in clinical practice is very controversial. One has to consider the importance of the plant, its volume in nature, its ability to reproduce, the ease of harvest and identification, as well as the possibility of different chemical constituents being found in the plant. In my opinion there is a time and a place to use wildcrafted herbs in a clinical practice and other times where it is much more efficient and environmentally friendly to use cultivated herbs.

 In Ohio, we looked at plants that are environmentally stressed, they are over harvested, take long periods of time to grow, mature, and reproduce, and are in general rare to find as a result making them more expensive yet popular at the same time. Plants that are like this are frequently cultivated to make them more accessible for use by herbalists though in this process they limit the genetic variance amongst the plants which may make the plants more venerable to disease and insects. There is also a limit of nutrients that the plants start to take up as they are not in the wild and are probably given fertilizer of some sort, i.e. manure. This may change the constituents in the plant and they may not have the same effect on the client as wildcrafted herbs may have had. It may be a necessity to use cultivated plants if the number of plants that grow naturally is so low or nonexistent that it is impossible to find wildcrafted versions.

 It is then a concern that plants that have lower numbers but are still wildcrafted are harvested wisely as to maintain their numbers. In Ohio, we discussed this when it comes to goldenseal. This is regulated to be able to maintain wild populations with only has a two month window each year that it can legally be harvested. This window is after the plants have reproduced via seed so that there is a movement towards maintaining the population however these seeds have a very low germination rate. Other plants like American ginseng can only be harvested after they are 5 years old.

This causes a slight problem as the plant root cannot be removed and the above ground parts replanted to continue growing as they are needed to prove the age of the plant at markets.

A third problem that I saw in Ohio was the ability to identify the plants correctly. A trained eye can note the differences between black cohosh and a twin of the plant by the fruit but without the fruit they are virtually identical. Those who harvest this plant from the wild may or may not know what they are looking for and as such to purchase wildcrafted herbs there is a chance you may not get what you want. One must trust their supplier or harvest the herbs themselves which takes a lot of time though you know you are getting what you want, assuming you don’t make the same mistake. As such, there is a time and place to use wildcrafted herbs depending on the herbs, source, use, and volume of the herbs required.
Jillian Carnrick, founder and manager of The Dancing Herbalist, has a Masters of Science Degree in Herbal Medicine, practices as a nutritionist, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Is Medicine Professional through the American College of Sports Medicine. Join her for live classes and The Dancing Herbalist’s home herbalist courses online for more learning opportunities.

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