Wildcrafting the right way

What is our position on wildcrafting? Do we utilize it ourselves? Is there a difference between utilizing an uncultivated plant versus one you grow yourself? It’s an ongoing issue in herbalism so today, we're speaking on it.

Brian // November 11, 2019

Wildcrafting in history

There’s something to be said for using and harvesting plants and herbs grown in the wild – also known as foraging or wildcrafting. Clearly, a balance must be struck if one is to do it at all. But we at Medicine Box have found that nature does the best R&D imaginable, and if done properly, wildcrafting gives one a golden opportunity to understand a plant’s full curative expression.

Of course, back in the day, ALL the medicine and food was wildcrafted. The witches we explored two weeks ago traditionally lived on the borderline between nature and civilization. That geographical and social positioning afforded them an empowered perspective on the plants they used on themselves and others; moreover, it helped them survive. Even today, survivalist groups teach classes on edible plants and herbs for US-based “preppers” – and believe me, when you’re based in a place like Northern California, where a utility like PG&E can shut off your power at a moment’s notice, as they did to us just last month, it doesn’t hurt to know a little bit more about the land you live on. However, different rules need to apply to businesses if they’re going to serve the plants and the environment that sustains them correctly, so this is where we stand on wildcrafting, as individuals and as a company.

Should Wildcrafting be a thing?

Much of my personal philosophy on cultivation comes from the Rodale Institute, and their official stance on the matter is fairly nuanced. While they don’t advise against it outright, they urge people to exercise caution. Others take a harder line. WE would encourage people to consider the pros and cons, and then make their own decisions.

Pros:

  • Encourages a deeper connection with nature: We’re big on the healing properties of nature, and anything that gets people out into the wilderness is a win in our book.
  • Wildcrafters work “Hands-On” with the plants they use: The bane of modern medicine and food is our utter disconnect with the products we use. We consume what others produce. Wildcrafters are not merely shopping in nature’s supermarket, but cultivating intimate knowledge about the plants they use.
  • Wildcrafters can act as nature’s custodians: Like every other living organism in nature, wildcrafters can provide valuable homeostasis in their local communities. What may be medicine for us is a weed/nemesis to another plant. Conscious wildcrafting maintains a delicate balance that preserves natural diversity.

Cons

  • Wildcrafting can be extractive: Left unchecked, wildcrafting can strip an environment of its characteristic flora and endanger specific species, specifically well-known plants like ginseng and goldenrod. This leads us back to the extractive business models proponents of organic food and plant medicine would be wise not to emulate. For what it’s worth, I do occasionally forage. I picked up the practice as a kid in New Hampshire, I would forage for wild mushrooms with my Dad and Grandfather. You’ve got to be careful with them — my uncle once got wicked sick by eating the wrong sort of mushroom! We’d also pick dandelion greens and put them in a salad, and I’d also write on a scroll of white birch bark that I’d bring in from the forest. Today, I’ll put some chamomile from my backyard in my night time tea. During hiking, I will also pick some wild mountain sage whenever I hike in Martis Valley northeast of Truckee, dry it out and use it for smudging, as well as some high-altitude lavender. I go by this individual law as a forager: I never seek it out, but if I see it in my path, I’ll grab it. Those rules can be subject to change, but it’s important for all wildcrafters to have them.

How Medicine Box sources its herbs

As for Medicine Box, we source our herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene, OR, the first fair-trade supplier for herbs, spices, and teas in the country, and one with close ties to Nevada County. While the company’s founder, Rosemary Gladstar, started the company in Humboldt County in 1987 to supply the California School of Herbal Studies, which she founded. Eventually moving to Vermont, Gladstar handed the mail order portion of the business to Rose Madrone. Between 1998 to 2001 the company ran off of the San Juan Ridge (where our COO Brandy Reaves lived as a kid), before moving to Oregon to be closer to its farms. Mountain Rose’s close ties to our region and its ethical position on harvesting — among other things, Gladstar is a founder of the conservationist organization United Plant Savers — are two big reasons why we use them as a source for the non-cannabis ingredients of Equanimity. We use a combination of wild-harvested and professionally cultivated herbs for the tincture. Moving forward, we will also commission these herbs from our growers in Nevada County as well. We know of many cannabis farmers who did not get licensed, so we fully intend to put them back to work doing what they do best.

And as for wildcrafted cannabis? Well, cannabis still grows wild here in America – most of the plants that are routinely exterminated by government programs devoted to this practice are of the uncultivated variety. Such plants are the true expression of their terroir, and while one can’t merely assume whether or not such plants are useful to humans, they do possess all the pros of a traditional wildcrafted plant. And while we in America, unfortunately, don’t live in a country where cannabis grows wild, future generations may eventually forage for cannabis the same as they do for other herbs. The plants will most certainly rejoice when those days arrive.

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