Deep As Root & Song: In Rambling Praise of Wildcrafting
This is for the July Blog Party on Adventures in Herbalism, hosted by Darcey Blue of Gaia’s Gifts.
I’m all about the up close and personal. I learn best through my senses and direct experience. This is perhaps more true in the way I practice herbalism and relationship with the plants than almost anything else. While I enjoy reading and hearing about herbs, my most significant learning happens when they’re about two inches from my face, or when ingesting or actually applying them. I cherish the tactile, the sensual, the immediate.
Nearly all of the herbs I work with in my practice are wildcrafted, and so I have myself a fair number of plant adventures. Whether fording shoulder deep, fast-moving floodwaters with Darcey Blue to harvest Hops stroibles, climbing rocky hills in high heels (I don’t recommend this) in search of Desert Anemone with my local friend Sarah, hanging from tree branches with Loba while looking for berries or crawling through twelve food snow drifts on top of a semi-frozen creek by myself while trying to reach White Fir branches, I tend to like my wildcrafting a little on the extreme side. My family make our home in some of the most remote and least developed country in North America, which definitely creates some great wildcrafting opportunities all on its own.
If you happen to be around to witness such adventures, you’re very likely to catch me squealing like a teenaged girl in a mall, but over wildflowers and roots rather than boys or clothes. Or I might be down on my belly muttering random latin words under my breath while examining some hard to identify species. By the end of any given expedition I’ll likely have leaves tangled in my hair, briar scratches on my arms, dirt streaks on my face and a vehicle full of plant matter. This suits me just fine, and I’d rather have a picnic and muddy adventure in the woods than dinner in a restaurant and a movie any day.
I’ve sliced any number of fingers open, sprained various joints, hung by my hair from Juniper branches on the side of a mountain and even gotten myself quite stuck halfway up a cliff or two. At this very moment, I have several wounds on my hands in the process of healing (be careful with those hori horis, people), a strained wrist, scattered phytodermatitis on my arms and Willow whipmarks on my face from recent wildcrafting journeys. If you don’t yet have the particular disease that compels you to stalk your own herbs and food, you may well wonder what the hell possesses me to brave floodwaters, crawl through mud and avoid nosy authorities just for some weeds.
Why? Because it’s great fun, and nothing quite beats the thrill of finding the one small patch of sticky plants with smelly roots you just walked five miles and climbed a mountain for. Because being dirty and exhausted means I’m alive and living (not the same thing, in case you were wondering). It also gives me a specific and direct connection to the medicines I work with that simply can’t be obtained through ordering herbs online or even growing them in my garden. Getting to know them in their wild habitat provides me with insight and intimacy that I consider invaluable to my practice as an herbalist and vital to my personal relationship with the land and myself.
Truth be told, most of my trips to obtain supplies for our remote homestead are really just excuses to find the herbs that live a little bit further from home. When I make the four hour drive to Albuquerque I have at least a dozen different favorite spots I like to stop at to collect desert herbs. While heading for any city tends to leave me a bit cold, I do get awful excited to go visit my favorite You’ll never see me as excited as when I’m exploring a new plant place, especially if that happens to be in a high elevation mountain meadow or remote Aspen grove. Despite the fact that I’m fairly afraid of heights, I do manage to find myself on a great many very steep roads and on the edges of dramatic ravines in order to get closer to new and mysterious green thing.
I’m not implying that I think this style of harvesting works for everyone (or is sustainable for the current population), but it is one of my own biggest joys and most persistent obsessions. While I enjoy gardens a great deal, no domesticated plant or pretty plot can compare with the rush that hits me every time I get to know a new wild place, inch by feral inch. Down in the dirt I can feel the world through my senses, direct and up close, as personal as skin and flower and as deep as root and song.