This topic comes up quite a bit among people. Where do you forage? Where can you pick plants for medicine? How do you know it is safe?
I hear all kinds of weird sayings, like “oh it is ok to pick by that road, just go 8 feet off the shoulder”, or 15 feet or in the ditch or “I found some plants by the railroad tracks.” Uuugghhhh!
Here are some basic rules to follow when you are hunting for some plants or mushrooms.
Absolutely, 100%, without a doubt,
know you are harvesting the plant you think you are harvesting!
#1 Have a good field guide to assist you with plant id
– although this should just be to help not your sole source of id.
I like the Peterson Field Guides – this one Peterson’s has quite a few guides for medicinal plants, edible plants, bird watching etc…
#2 Have a plan –
Know where you are going to harvest and what you are going to harvest before you leave. Of course you may find a few surprises to get get that you didn’t plan on. 🙂
#3 Pack a backpack with supplies –
Some supplies you may need include – small trowel, pruners, knife, small paper bags for collecting, a sharpie to write what is in the bags(you won’t remember after it starts wilting), field guide, little notebook for recording what is growing, what was collected and the area, a small bottle of vodka or 100% grain/cane alcohol & bottle of water for tincturing on the spot(this is necessary with a few plants that will not make it home, for example, Indian Pipe must be processed asap), small brush for cleaning roots and dirt off anything to be tinctured right away, natural insect repellent, a hat, rain gear(you never know), a magnifying glass and water for you. Compass may be a good idea too if you are going off in a new place – I recently checked mine and it must have gotten wet – it was cheap so in the trash it goes!!
#4 Dress Appropriately –
Long pants, good boots(snakes are in them there woods and fields!!!! :D), a hat, long sleeves if working where there is poison ivy.
#5 Tell SOMEONE Where You Will Be –
Just in case! Of course bring a cell phone.
If you intend on going on private land – get permission from the owner. They don’t want strangers just popping over a fence to collect berries, other fruits, nuts or digging up plants. This also goes for land that is for sale because you never know if the owners are harvesting their own plants and the last thing they want to see when they go harvest their blueberries is an empty bush.
Public Parks – usually you cannot harvest anything from a public park, check the rules in your area. If you just want clippings of flowers, leaves, mushrooms, you may be ok.
Railroad Tracks – NEVER, NEVER, NEVER. I don’t care if there are tons of elderberries there or not, the ground in which they grow is poisoned and toxic from the chemicals in the railroad ties, the train fumes, leakage from containers on the trains, fuel etc…..
In general, stay 50-100 yards from roadsides, railroad tracks, golf courses, and other areas that have been sprayed with chemicals. Avoid areas around old houses and barns where lead paint may have been used. Old orchards may also be problematic, as arsenic and other contaminants were routinely sprayed as pesticides.
#7 Look at TheEcosystem
Look around where you are harvesting that the plants all look healthy and that there are PLENTY of the plant you are looking to harvest. Make sure what you are looking for is not on the endangered species list. Watch where you step – make it like you were never there, meaning pick a few plants from each stand instead of wiping out an entire area. If digging, fill in the holes and replace the mulch around the area.
#8 Consideration For The Plants, The Animals and Others
Pick only what you need, save some for the wildlife and for other people. USE what you pick. When possible, if harvesting a plant that has seeds or berries – replant some of them in the area that you take it from. Keep the plants going.
#9 – Repeating Above
BUT absolutely know the plant you are taking before taking it because there are some plant families that have deadly lookalikes. We don’t want any dead folks here!!! Not trying to be funny. The Apiaceae Family is one of the toughest. Queen Anne’s Lace a beautiful, wonderful plant is harmless but Poison Hemlock, well you get it. THEY LOOK ALIKE to a beginner.
Enjoy the Wildcrafting!!!