An Introduction to Wildcrafting by Patti Wigington

Woman foraging in the woods

Forests are a great place to look for wild herbs to harvest – as long as you have permission!.

Katherine Mitchell / Moment / Getty Images Plus

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 a responsible wildcrafter.

Did You Know?

  • Wildcrafting is the age-old practice of gathering herbs and plants from wild, natural growth locations.
  • Make sure you have permission to pick, and that you follow standard outdoor safety protocols.
  • When you harvest, be sure to only take what you can use in the near future; this will allow for ample return growth for your next visit.

Get Permission

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 do so safely, 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.

Stay Safe

Man foraging in the fall
Be sure you know where you are at all times.  Matilda Delves / Moment / Getty

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



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