Wildcrafting 101

Along with the beautiful, cultivated plants in the You Pick Medicinal Herbs Garden, there are many herbs growing wild that are available to everyone, perhaps even right outside your door! Some of my favorites are dandelion, plantain, yarrow, lady's thumb, and nettles. But there is also bee balm, creeping Charlie, cleavers, chickweed, motherwort - oh, I could go on and on...

What is Wildcrafting?

The practice of harvesting plants in their natural or "wild" habitat for food or for medicinal purposes.

Ethical Wildcrafting Guidelines

Do not wildcraft “Species at Risk” (we grow many of these in the you pick garden for harvesting)

Basically, practice good manners and leave an area better than you found it.

- Leave the area as undisturbed as possible. 

- Do not damage other plants or disrupt the earth if possible.

- I often weed around the plants I've gathered to encourage their growth

- When digging roots, I bring water along to help the remaining roots/plants reestablish easier

Collect the plant in a way that lets it propagate.   

- If it grows from seed, leave some flowers that can go to seed. 

- Rhizome growers benefit from just thinning out the plant intermittently.

- Leaves (and stems): Take from middle growth, leaving the largest and smallest plants of the community; never harvest more than ⅓ of the patch. 

- Bark:  Do not ring a tree.  Use the suckers if present. “Prune” the tree for its benefit (cutting at a junction stimulates its immune system). 

- Roots: Dig or gently pull up the plant, shake off excess dirt, and cut off part of the root, leaving enough to support the plant’s continued growth; then put the plant back into the ground.  Or just dig some roots from perimeter. Take only what you need. 

Take a jar and tools with you to process the plant while harvesting to take only what you need and avoiding over-harvesting.

Tips About Where To Wildcraft

Public "wild land" or “set aside” areas, along city or county waste areas.

Northfield area examples - along the river trail behind Culvers, edges of city compost site, bike/walking trail between Northfield and Dundas, similar places.

Rural ditches, but not alongside fields that may have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.

Organic CSAs and other farms are usually happy to have you help them control their weeds by harvesting (weeding) those weeds!

Old country cemeteries can be good sources.

You'll be surprised how many areas you can find when you start noticing.

Avoid highly trafficked areas– along highways, industrial areas, railroad tracks, etc.

Be careful not to gather where pesticides or chemical contaminants or fertilizers are used or in areas contaminated by livestock.

Do not gather on private land without permission, which includes both college campuses here in Northfield, Carleton's Arboretum, and St. Olaf's Natural Lands.

I avoid sidewalks in town where dogs are walked (use your imagination).

Here are a few books I have found very helpful for wildcrafting:

A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Of Eastern and Central North America, by Steven Foster

Midwest Medicinal Plants, by Lisa M. Rose

Wild Remedies, by Rosalee de la Foret and Emily Han

I hope you found this helpful and, as always, feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions.