Part of being an herbalist to me is being in touch and intertwined with the environment and all living organisms. In order to do this I feel that it is important to know the plants that you are harvesting and to be aware of the impact it has on the environment they grow in.
It is estimated that 12 percent of plants world-wide and 29 percent of plants in the United States are so rare that they could become extinct (1). That is a huge number in the scheme of things. What a travesty it would be to no longer have the presence of such beneficial plants as Ginseng, Goldenseal, Black cohosh and even Echinacea. With a growing number of people becoming interested in using natural alternatives the notion that these plants could disappear is not that absurd.
However, if we as herbalist, both skilled and un-skilled, make a conscious effort to protect these plants by practicing ethical harvesting we can help to ensure that these plants will be around for generations to come. Some things that you can do when harvesting are: (2)
- Positively identify plants before harvesting and make sure that they are not on the endangered species list or the watch list of potentially endangered species.
- Never harvest more plants that you can use yourself.
- Be aware of the environmental impact you create when you do go into certain areas to harvest.
- Familiarize yourself with the growth habits of plants. If a plant takes twenty years to mature it can be extremely detrimental to the species to harvest in the wild.
- Research proper harvesting methods for each plant.
- Keep a journal which identifies the plant, area of harvest, state or condition of the plant and number of plants available and number of plants taken. This can be crucial information on how your harvesting practices are affecting the area when you return to harvest at a future date.
- Never take so many plants as to leave a visible disturbance in the area.
- Always work slowly and deliberately when harvesting as to not disturb plants in the surrounding area.
- Always keep in mind what harvesting that plant will do to the other living organisms who depend on that plant for food and shelter.
Other things that you can do to help protect our plants in the wild are:
- Support organizations which help to protect endangered plants such as native plant societies and the United Plant Savers.
- Grow some of your own medicinal herbs
- Teach others about ethical harvesting practices
- And once again, only harvest what you need or can use.
(1) Gladstar, R. (2000), Planting the future – Saving our medicinal herbs, Healing Arts Press, Rochester Vermont
(2) Tilford, G.L., (1998), From Earth to herbalist, Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, Montana.