When I go out and look at a wild garden, as someone that does not know much about thinning and harvesting, I am interested in harvesting only a little from those plants I ask when in need. If instead of harvesting, one gathers dried plant parts together via ordering them from specialists, then someone else is doing the asking, or the gardening, and this makes wild plants for culinary and medicinal use much simpler. Even so, it is still good to understand wild harvesting.
Learning by example is great. Such as about how to harvest a wild plant by taking “no more than”, if one knows that area and plants and harvesting outcomes to maintain or increase the number of plants, or, vastly less, if not, taking care.
Half is sometimes given as a rule of thumb. (and because it is a suggested amount, I am going to put it in its own paragraph).
The rule of thumb for “half”, however, having much pondered this, probably originated as a collective and “as we harvest here together” amount. That is, one knows a place, and how many plants are there, along with other people. That amount is kept in mind while harvesting. If one goes out to gather alone, if someone has been before one, the original half does not change for the plants, though the gatherer has to note how much less to take, and in consideration of other possible gatherers at a location.
If a gardener, half might seem little. If a forager, half might seem much too much, until a need is great, then again too little. The council to harvest half, in some years of little rain, for example, might become have halve of half.
If one does not take the rule of thumb as collective community advice for collecting, but rather as advice to any individual harvester, then the somewhat rhetorical question, “what happens if when harvesting a wild plant, no more than half should be taken, but that happens many more times than once?” obviously, if more than one collector (if not for example the collector’s woodland garden, for example, but is a location in a larger tract of woodland), might be quickly answered by an outcome of over-harvesting, depending on how many collectors visit a place, with individual collection in mind, who do not have any idea of the expected number of plants.
For any method of collecting, or frame of mind about collecting, there is either added room for plants to grow yet healthier, or added pressure on the plants, probably depending on the type of plants, soil, water, the previous years’ harvests, plant health, regeneration rate, soil compaction or aeration, soil amendments, etc. Looking at overall health before any harvesting, and knowing a particular plant, a decision to harvest yet less than half might be made. (Have half might become instead, halve the half, or have half of the half of the half, or wait for another year for that location).
On the topic of planting native plants, and how to harvest them, an excellent collection of writings is edited by Rosemary Gladstar and Pamela Hirsch. “Planting the Future”beginning on p. 126 discusses wild harvesting of one particular plant species by many people together, and explains that the plant “gains new ground each year, nurtured by reverence and the rich forest compost of undisturbed ground.” ( Michael and Nancy Phelps, edited by Gladstar and Hirsch). The subject also is discussed in Rosalee de la Fo^ret’s and Emily Han’s book “Wild Remedies”,
, and much excellent information is in Maria Groves books, and also shared online on the Wintergreen Botanical site by Maria Groves – go to her 2016 Harvesting 101 guideline – its great, and very pleasant to read).
Animals harvest also . Luckily, animals are gardeners also, planting seeds, and pruning, as well as harvesting, often harvesting mindfully. Sometimes it seems not – but then, maybe with what they return to the soil, the plants return. Sometimes though, depending on flora and faunal populations, animals too might overharvest. Of course, they might also “over” harvest some caterpillars, for example, helping plants out.
People would not purchase and plant native plants if they knew , for example, the plant to be enjoyed by their front stoop, while they themselves still enjoyed the plant and held it in high regard, or even someone in the future lived there and cared for it, might be harvested almost fully one day by an unexpected other human or humans. Of course, animals harvest, and are very welcome, though sometimes are welcome but grudgingly so, (and other times far less so). Sadly one might survey one’s beaver-chewed witch-hazel, enjoyed for many years, then gone – but it will grow back (presumably – I say this only knowing that it is so for a plant grown maybe 15 years, and cut back once by a beaver – but perhaps, that was not the first time). The beaver teeth carving marks though are a joy, and knowing a beaver is happy is as well. Likewise, One might purchase several May apples, plant them, and watch them emerge each spring, year after year. Finally one year, there are three instead of two. A year soon-after, a fruit appears and ripens on one of the plants, which is ever so exciting. The fruit then is picked by an unknown animal, unseen, and one can wonder at what animal it was, knowing that animal has maybe had the seed run through their system so that the seed will grow another plant. The next year the plant itself appears in spring, thrives in summer but bears no fruit, then it disappears as the fruit did. Did it die back early given the previous year’s fruiting? Or was this the year that someplace an animal was nourished by the plant – hopefully the plant will re-grow in the next growing season. This regeneration is Nature at Nature’s best, even though there is simultaneous loss. (Several animals eat May apples, such as skunks and turtles and bears. May apples can be toxic to humans – do not eat before reading extensively or consulting a professional).
So unplanned sharing requires those participating know in advance how many plants are in an area over several years of good plant conditions.
Unplanned sharing for donation is another idea, but because this takes materials (soil and buckets), this is likely best as a plant swap for example. On streets where gardens meet sidewalks, and sidewalks are next to home plantars, plantings generally should be left for visual enjoyment – artfully put together for their shape, color, and forms, and an unmindful collecting of plants does not contribute to community well-being. However, through social media, one can make it known, if living by a path, that some plants’ leaves or fruit are welcome to be harvested, enriching the community and community experience.
Probably a caretaker or owner-caretaker of a property would not either buy plants if they knew that an animal or many, might immediately fully harvest it. In fact, one wonders if plants themselves might help nurture the plants in their root and mycelium networks which not only help them, but which they see over time remain, even if not normally part of a plant association.
After over-gathering, it seems it might take years for a plant to regain the confidence to attempt to re-grow in that location. (I sort of think that sentence is not overly anthropomorphic. It might be though, and perhaps others might know differently).
Unpleasantly devious thought #1 concerning public landscapes. If an individual or group of people wanted non-native plants in a landscape, they might overharvest native plants from a landscape provoking designers to counter by planting non-natives – possibly just those the over-collector hopes to have access to. Thats a bit too devious and convoluted though, isn’t it. Probably over-harvesting happens because it just does, though, shouldn’t. Designers take note of what is there, replant, and collectors think they’ve not over-collected, as the plant has been re-planted. This is why community involvement in any collecting on much frequented public grounds is necessary.
Unpleasant thought #2 for all places: If a medicinal or drug company or government wanted any plant out of the wild to fully control the market for the same or competitive plants, they might be manipulative in order to achieve this – the history of hemp is a bit dicey this way. But hopefully not. Hopefully the primary purpose of chemical industries making chemicals for health, is for health, and to take pressure off of the over-harvesting of wild plants.
People buy and plant and harvest native plants because they are excellent in the landscape for living creatures and life. There is a balance that is maintained between non-native plantings/plants and native plantings/plants. Maybe this has always been, everywhere. Ocean barriers, notwithstanding. Whatever “ocean barriers, notwithstanding” means (I wrote this, just don’t want to talk about it in this paper, but there are icebergs, and boats, and floating trees, and birds moving continent to continent…).
A STOP. Stopping editing for today, Thursday, September 16th, 11:00 am.
What is below, is yet the same as the last post, and I have not read it since then (and it might need editing).
Perennial plants once planted, or sown and germinated and grow, need time to develop, and to develop colonies. Years to become enough populated to be harvested, and then they should be harvested in quantities which does not weaken them. By harvesting, it is said they can become stronger though.
There are invasive non-native plants that people are happy are weakened. When invasive plants take over, its understood they need curtailment. Some of those invasive plants are feeding local fauna, and so the plants should be slowly curtailed, until local food sources reemerge? Or opt for quick eradication of flora, relocating fauna temporarily, to be followed by the re-planting of native plants, that flourish without any competition. By the way, it is said, animals do not relocate well. So, this is possibly impractical. What if a plant is doing fine next to the invasive plant. What if the invasive is filtering a stream into a forest, where otherwise there is no native filter that grows? What if it is helping out a native plant, bringing up nutrients? In general, non-natives are not helpful enough given the need to hold native flora and fauna together. Some are helpful (considered species by species). Even if helpful, if they become invasive, they are not.
Hopefully in this day and age no-one would eradicate native plants. Or so one would think. Hemp of course being an example of a plant once eradicated from the landscape, except perhaps on medicinal company land holdings and greenhouses. Which gets to be a bit anthropological. One might ask, what is the background of the companies , owners, employees? (see anthropological work by Dan Rose for an example). By deriving chemicals from plants, plants are valuable. By deriving chemicals from plants, and then manufacturing those chemicals without any plant harvesting, plants might be devalued as the chemistry replaces the plants – both culturally, and monetarily, conversely making the plants more widely available and valuable as an affordable resource. So making chemicals industrially given pressure is taken off of wild plants, helps maintain plants in the landscape, and maintain landscapes, as the plants then do not need as much harvesting, assuming a vital and strong interest in native plants continues.
The thing is, that plants are reliable and nutritious, but as they are living beings, with variable chemistries due to soil, water, nutrition, and more – so on the plant side, some outcomes might vary, as the plants will differ somewhat. Being planted in soil also makes plants even more incredible and healthgiving.
Knowledge for all health practitioners is accumulated.
Overcollecting native plants limits the healthful future of many people, and limits employment. What if there is an extreme need to collect a plant, but almost none left? Maybe that is why people say to take half of what is there – so that in extreme need, a person can collect even with few plants available, without extreme guilt (which would be unhealthful). Or perhaps the point in saying take half, is collective imagination powering reality – as if saying that half is always available is the same as saying one last plant will never be reached; that is, by stating “half” so that the collective human will, will cause creation to be plentiful.
If a (drug) manufacturing company is created to take pressure off woodland plants, that is great. (Probably also great if somehow shoe manufacturers could take pressure off of woodland floors – maybe harvesting without shoes or in moccasins is safest for the woodland, if the foot is already adapted to help woodland plants). Hopefully no drug company would feel compelled to maintain control over the market both on the shelf, and in the woods, if both a plant, and a manufactured drug can do some of the same things. That would be counterproductive though, in terms of public and employee good will. Hopefully good instincts and morals prevail. If the plant is invasive, helping eradicate it might seem only positive. As previously mentioned, how best to do so, and on what schedule, might not always be clear. Such as if locust trees invade, bring up nutrients, and over time, are anyway replaced by a native tree happy the locusts came before them perhaps. It needs to be said though, that once people ask chemical industries to solve a problem, if later they then ask them to do a 180, that change might not be quick in order to not lose those companies, companies that support employees, and sometimes places with plants.
Though collecting of plants is great – over collecting should not happen, or it might be said that no native plants should be harvested in order to preserve planted and wild landscapes, and yet, it might be harvesting plants that helps plants grow. Plants should not be compromised, but neither should individual animals and humans, and gathering humans, humans that gather and eat and heal be compromised from practicing such culinary and home arts.