Natural Health Care
Therapeutic Teas & Mixtures
Collecting Wild Herbs
Nature, by its very design, provides a remedy for nearly any disease that may afflict a human being. This being the case, it is essential to know how to acquire and prepare the remedies. Acquisition of herbal remedies in the wild may not be as easy as some may think. If you cannot find the herbals that you are in need of, then you may need to either grow them yourself or buy them. Personally, I prefer to grow my own, for in this way, I am always absolutely certain what has been used to grow and cultivate the plants. Gathering in the wild, growing herbs yourself, or purchasing them from an herbal merchant...each method of acquisition will have certain blessings and curses.
I would imagine that the acquisition through gathering in the wild is probably the most inexpensive way to get the herbs you need. It is also one of the most rewarding and one which requires quite a bit of effort on the part of the gatherer. In some countries, including the US, many of the native wild plants are protected by law. This is a definite damper when it comes to finding these particular plants. It becomes a challenge to overcome this barrier, so that collecting them in quantity can be accomplished. It may be necessary to obtain a special permit to collect certain plants in certain areas.
There are going to be times that you will not be able to locate certain species of plants in a given area or a given region of the world. In these cases, you must either travel to where the herbs are to get them, or have someone else get them for you. Some of the best herbs for use in remedies, culinary preparations, and medicinal mixtures are very rare, except in a small area in one part of the world.
The alternative is to find someone who has these plants growing on a piece of private property. If you can get permission from the owner, you might be allowed to gather plants growing on private properties. Although, many owners might be a bit hesitant to let you have free access to their land. So you may want you to pay them for the herbs. Some people may be willing to take trade for what you are creating with the herbs. There is a cause for caution here, too, though, as you have no idea what manner of herbicides and/or fertilizers have been used on these plants. Be sure to ask all the right questions before proceeding with gathering any herbs from a private party. Ask about the condition of the soil, the fertilizer that has been used, the methods of pest control, the planting and cultivating methods, the purpose for which the plants are grown there, and if anyone has been tending them with t.l.c. These things are important to know prior to collecting your herbs and plants on a private piece of property.
Even with all these obstacles to your herbal collecting, if you look around a bit in your own area, you will be pleasantly surprised at what is right there. Go ahead...just look around. There was a man, a famous expert on wild plants. His name was Euell Gibbons. At one time, he found a dozen edible herbs and medicinal plants in one of the medians of a street in San Francisco. When I bought a house in Spokane, I discovered wild garlic, sunflowers, wild onions, bamboo, rhubarb, dandelions, and poppies ... just growing there untended.
Of course, if you happen to know someone in another part of the world who is also collecting herbs, you might make an agreement to do some trading for the herbs and beneficial plants that are common to your own area. Many herbalists keep records of what plants grow in what regions and who to contact to acquire the desired plants, through trade and barter. And there is always the option of growing them for yourself.
There are some helpful guidelines that will help you get the herbs and plants you want at the right time. This will also help you get the most out of your time and labor. The first thing you want is a warm, dry, sunny day. After a nice rain, wait for two or three sunny days to pass before going out. Waiting until after a good rain accomplishes a couple of things for you. The rain will help wash off any pesticides that may have been used on the plants. It also washes away some of the natural dirt and pests that may have inhabited your plants.
Time of day for gathering herbs depends on what you are looking for. It is best to gather some of your plants as early in the day as possible, but not before the dew has dried. Choose only healthy plants that show no damage from pests or disease. If you need bark, some is better gathered in the mornings and some is best gathered in the evening. If you are looking for leaves and/or flowers of herbs, the best time of day in is the afternoon, as plants reach their full potency each day at the fullest point of sunlight.
The season of the year will also have a bearing on how and when you collect your herbs and plants from their natural habitat. If you are collecting young shoots and buds... most herbals are at their full potential during the aftermath of blooming and when just beginning to produce fruit. Roots and tubers are best gathered in the spring and fall, when the soil is damp and easily loosened from around the roots. Both roots and bark, meaning the inner, living bark, are best for gathering in the spring or fall, i.e., before or after flowering. Collect bark only from small branches that can be cut off the tree or shrub; don't damage large limbs or the trunk. If you need certain seeds, it is best to look for them in the late Spring, just after blossoming and following a nice windy day. Plants in flower are the ones to choose when the whole plant, leaves, or the flowers are to be collected. Gather seeds and fruit when they are ripe (unless unripe ones are specified for use.) Fruits, berries, and nuts, of course, are best gathered when they have reached full maturity and have ripened, but prior to over-ripening. This is usually in the Autumn season, depending on the particular plant you are harvesting.
It is essential to make sure that you can identify the plants you want correctly. A basic knowledge of elementary botany is vital. Having a field guide book will aid you in correct identification. The knowledge needed here takes quite a bit of practice and patience. In some areas, you can find educated herbalists who will conduct herb-walks and are most willing to help you identify the plants you are seeking.
Proper and accurate identification of plants and herbs is obviously vital. Even with clear pictures and full descriptions, it is quite possible to make grave errors and see one plant for another. This could be extremely detrimental if you picked a poisonous plant, mistaking it for a health-giving one. So, If you do gather wild plants for remedies, learn to make a positive identification of those plants and herbs you will be collecting. It is not usually too hard to find an herbalist, a university instructor, a museum curator, or another herb-seeker to help you with proper identification. You could also spend some time with library books, studying as many plant identification books as you can find. Never use any plant that you have not personally positively identified.
It is very important to pick the herbs sparingly. Many beginners have a tendency to be zealous and excited, and over-pick the herbs and plants in one area. This can quickly erase a species in very little time. It is much more appropriate to pick the plants and herbs a few at a time to preserve the natural balance of your area. It is also a good idea to cultivate the wild plants and herbs. Most of them are very easy to grow and tend to. This will be an added benefit for you, as you will be increasing the next season's supply. You can also bring in new plants and herbs that are not native to your area and plant them in the wild. Most of them will propagate on their own, though a few may need to be tended.
This is a wonderful time of year for venturing out into the woodlands and hills to appreciate all the plants, flowers and herbs that are beginning to bloom. I am including this little calendar as an aid to help you know what to look for...and when. This particular calendar is for the Pacific Northwest of the United States, but I am sure you could obtain a similar such calendar for your area from the Department of Natural Resources, or some other governmental agency. So please be mindful that these dates may not be the same in your area.
APRIL - Bloodroot - Coltsfoot - Crocus - Dandelions - Moss - Prickly Ash
It is a great responsibility to be able to identify these plants and herbs accurately, taking great care in preparing them and using them for the proper purpose and in the proper dosage. We simply must learn to recognize the plants, flowers, and herbs that we are blessed with in Nature. These plants and herbs can be one of your greatest assets when it comes to being self-sufficient and self-reliant. We all would fare well if we just *tuned in* to our environment. Plants and herbs are an integral part of the life cycle and learning about them and their benefits to us will help us further understand the many blessings of the gifts of Gaia.
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