Deep As Root & Song: In Rambling Praise of Wildcrafting

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.

16 Comments

  1. Lara Ellis
    Jul 15, 2010

    It’s awesome that you have found your path and are doing what truly makes you happy! You are inspiring :-)

  2. Nick
    Jul 15, 2010

    I love and relate so much to this post:)) I used to visit this same park to forge jewel weed,
    mushrooms or berries; Yesterday I went to a new area and it was such a pleasure to explore found lots of burdock!

  3. Nick
    Jul 15, 2010

    BTW I registered for the herbal conference; How about leading a little plant adventure
    if you have the time and if it is feasable to do in the area in NM where the conference will be held..

  4. Dawn Marie
    Jul 15, 2010

    Its amazing that the earths abundance is ours for the taking! I am learning more and more about herbs and will be furthering my education very soon in some form of herbalism. I live in the mountains and love to walk around and find herbs!!! Thanks for this wonderful site and your knowledge!!!

    • Kiva Rose
      Jul 15, 2010

      You’re very welcome, and I’m glad you enjoy the writing so much, Dawn! I don’t think of it as ours for the taking though, we’re in relationship with and a part of the land, so there is certainly a cycle of gifting and returning… but I think it’s important to always remain aware and conscious of the fact that is really a relationship and to be considerate and attentive to the health of the land.

      • Dawn Marie
        Sep 28, 2010

        Yes I agree. I had the wrong choice of wording.It is a relationship we have with the earth and its lovely healing abundance.
        Thanks

  5. AarTiana
    Jul 15, 2010

    Kiva – I love your knowledge, but I think I love your passion for the plant kingdom even better! :-) I really enjoyed reading this story, and perhaps it is good you are isolated – I go in my yard and just LOOK at some of the overgrown green flowering friends in my yard, deciding whether to harvest them, etcetera – and inevitably, a guy in a big pickup will stop and in a serious tone, he will say something as linguistically and intelligently constructed as:

    “Now, that them there are WEEDS.”

    And I respond in kind: “Why THANK you so much, I really don’t know what I would DO if you didn’t tell me this – imagine, I might just eat them and HEAL myself!”

    And with that – it is usually an utterly blank stare until they decide to drive away hehe! So, “Them there is my adventures” and I didn’t even leave my yard for those! ;-) Good thing I am not flashing people wearing a bikini or actually even have a TAN or something, right? Well, OK then, I won’t say anymore to inspire ANY more of that “laughin’” hehe! ;-) Love your “punk-rock-herbalism” girl!! :-)

    • Kiva Rose
      Jul 15, 2010

      Oh, I get that same sort of thing too AarTiana, our local sheriff regularly stops to ask if I’m alright (he may mean to ask if I’m in my right mind, heh) while wildcrafting near the village and it’s a joke among the local guys about the girl who makes medicine out of weeds and whiskey….

      Punk-rock herbalism sounds pretty good to me ;)

  6. Lisa
    Jul 19, 2010

    I love reading about all of your adventures, Kiva. I think I live a little bit vicariously though you.

  7. 7Song
    Jul 31, 2010

    It is great to read about your adventures Kiva. I am often surprised when people talk about wildcrafting and there are no misadventures involved. So many factors enter into the foraging fray. Weather ranging from hot and humid to cold and drizzly. Competition with all of the other wild-gatherers, notably those foraging our blood while we dig and clip and dig some more.
    Than there are the scraps with the law (which side of the fence am I supposed to be on?), and just the long searches to find a sustainable plant population.
    Now I don’t mean to whine, this is a choice I have made (most of the other folks I grew up with on Long Island are not spending their time chopping roots in various places in the US), but like you, I like to bring up the realities of living this type of life. And like you, I am appreciative of having such a one-on-one relationships with their plants. And on their turf.
    And when I dispense medicines to patients at the Free Clinic, I like to paint them a very brief picture of where this plant came from. Oh yes, herbal medicine comes from plants.
    So thank you for writing so beautifully Kiva, and sharing your life and thoughts with us.

  8. morgaine
    Aug 1, 2010

    This is why you are good at what you do – passion for it all; every level, every aspect. And tell me about the tangles, scratches, bruises, and such! People are always picking twigs out of my hair as I’m doing my errands around town. Obviously, I’m not as rural/isolated as you are. That’s okay, I’m not that young any more either. thanks for sharing and helping us all along this journey

  9. Rosie Girl
    Aug 8, 2010

    I so loved this post. It shows the heart of your work and a love of plants that I’ve not seen often. Although I’m only vicariously living through reading your blog, I do enjoy it so much. Today I shared a link to your post with my readers. Hopefully a few people will drop by to check out all of the wonderful knowledge you share here. Peace to you!
    link to my post: http://rosiegirldreams.com/6-sharing-saturday/sharing-saturday-lots-more-links/
    Jeanine Ertl

  10. Laurie
    Aug 16, 2010

    Kiva, I am so happy, I just found your site and I have been having the most wonderful time reading all of your writings about your love of plants and the wonders of the healing power inside of them. I was in awe that there are others like me that are so intensely wrapped up in gathering herbs for healing. I look forward to extracting your knowledge and infusing it into my works to improve and expand my meager endeavors of the natural art of herbs and healing. I have lovingly gathered the stinging nettle, Mullein, jewelweed, yarrow and so many others so much so that my car’s trunk, back seat and front passenger seat was overflowing with the fragrant green gems. The aroma of the chickweed as I twist and crush it before infusing it is just so compelling, I can’t resist nibbling a bit before placing it in the jar. I dream of being in an area such as you describe in your posts, so beautiful and secluded with the fresh new life sprouting beneath your feet. I dream of wading through the shallows of the river and listening to the birds sweetly singing their pleasure to the world around them. I dream of someday being able to teach a young person of the knowledge I have acquired from my own explorations and research. And I dream of laying in an open field with nothing to do but drink up the pure fresh air and to smell the green, just to slip off to a restful sleep without anything to disturb me. And I dream…

  11. Jude Millar
    Aug 18, 2010

    I love hearing about the wonders and foibles of other wildcrafters. It is my all time “natural high”….being in the wild, singing with the plants, humming with the bees (shooing the mosquitos, running from the bears…) I wildcraft regularly in the western Catskill Mountains, where I have a few acres and a small cabin. Luckily, I also have access to hundreds of unspoiled acres of meadow and forest to roam in. I know the medicines I create from these plants are much more powerful, and like 7Sing, I relate their origins to my clients when dispensing them. A few of this this year’s mountain wonders and foibles (you decide which is which) include:
    Seeing an Indigo Bunting, hearing plant songs, sunburn, finding Reishi tsugae, black fly bites, hiding from poachers (I’m no wimp, but hey, they had guns! I only had some snips and a walking stick!), and lastly, finding a lush patch of Bloodroot in full flower.
    Sometimes, however, harvesting in my own town or yard is just as joyful (and as fraught with peril).
    I invited Mullein to grow in my yard here in NJ because I can never find enough blossoms to keep up with the ear oil demand. This summer, a plant appeared in my veggie garden, and now stands about 10 feet tall. We meet every morning and chat while I harvest a few blossoms. He seems like an old friend now. Oh, and cats love to eat your Milky Oat tops, just as they hit that perfect stage for harvest!
    Recently, a lawn service (scouge of suburbia!!) was mowing my neighbor’s lawn. A worker walked over to my yard, and asked if I’d like to have him “apply some weed killer to that patch of Burdock and Nettle.” The horrified expression on my face must have really surprised him, but he nearly fainted when I told him I also have a patch of dandelion and plantain around back.

  12. Phoebe
    Oct 24, 2010

    This is what I love about you, Kiva.

  13. Laura
    Nov 18, 2010

    That was a joy to read, Kiva. I was very much like that when I was younger, though I didn’t know about herbs then. I just loved hangin’ around outside like that…and come to think of it, I ate a good number of weeds while I was doing it. Destiny. lol

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