When We Harvest Wild Botanical Medicines, We Become Accountable For Their Health + Survival
There is much information out there on identification & use of plant based medicines but very little is readily available on the responsibilities that come with harvesting medicinal plants & how to create & nurture healthy & sustainable plant based relationships.
In an effort to shift the conversation towards stewardship of our medicines, we have created simple guide below. Please note this is not meant to be an exhaustive list and there are a wide range of steps we can take towards making our land based practices sustainable.
Indigenous Botanical Medicines & Knowledge
Indigenous peoples’ have an intimate with the land because of the relationships our ancestors have developed with our plant based relations. These relationships are rooted in kinship & reciprocity & span thousands of years. They are of utmost importance to us & as such, there are many mixed feelings in our communities when it comes to the sharing our medicinal knowledge and this needs to be acknowledged & respected. Indigenous peoples’ have a responsibility to consider what happens to our wild botanical medicines and when you harvest Indigenous plants you are committing to being an environmental steward and building a relationship with the original stewards of the land.
Naidie Nezų is committed to sourcing botanical ingredients according to rigorous sustainability standards, including criteria for measuring ecological, economic and social sustainability.
There is an unprecedented growth of the herbal & wild crafted industry occurring right now & as a result, there is mass over harvesting of our wild botanical medicines. As such, we discourage people from following trendy hipster wild crafting crazes to protect the survivability of our botanical medicines & encourage people to grow there own botanical medicines where possible.
Sustainability is at the core of our mission, & as we grow, so will our Indigenous land based practices. Practicing good medicine means making conscious decisions not to use certain plants that are at risk or rare when designing a formula because of the impact it may have on the survivability of our medicines & plant based relationships.
Wild Plant Identification
It takes time to familiarize yourself with which plants are considered at risk and why. Some Indigenous plants cannot be harvested at all and it’s your responsibility to ensure this does not occur.
Indigenous peoples have spent thousands of years building our relationships with botanical medicines & are the experts in this context. Seek out Indigenous groups, organizations, & people who have knowledge in preserving medicinal plants and taking care of the land where they grow. Don’t expect to develop this sort of relationship if you are not Indigenous to the area & understand it will take time to build sustainable relationships with Indigenous plants.
If you are in doubt of the identification of an Indigenous plant, don’t pick it. Take pictures of its stem, leaves, & flower & research it using multiple sources. Books and websites are a good support, but nothing tops the botanical & ecological knowledge of Indigenous peoples’.
Don’t Over Harvest!
Understand that most botanical medicines lose potency over time when they are dried and as such, it is a good rule of thumb to always take only the minimum amount you will need to get you through to the next season.
When you are harvesting, choose an area that is plentiful. There are many slow growing Indigenous medicines that take years, if not decades to reach maturity & so it is of utmost importance that you don’t over harvest these medicines. A good rule of thumb is to ensure you take less than 5% of the population to ensure it’s survival.
There are Indigenous medicines like Spruce Gum which is produced by the tree in response to a wound and as such, it is vital to only take pieces that are well below the injury to ensued the tree has more then enough to heal itself.
Build a Relationship with the Plant
Develop a relationship with the plant before harvesting that extends beyond identification. Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself before you start harvesting: Does it have dormant periods? Do you need to mulch the area after harvesting? Have you spent time learning the proper way & protocol for collecting the Indigenous botanical medicine without killing it, if possible? Do you have the proper harvesting tools required? What are you giving back to the land in exchange for its medicine? What are you giving back to Indigenous communities in exchange for their traditional ecological knowledge? How are you going to ensure this medicine is not over harvested & depleted? Again, this list is not exhaustive and is merely meant as a guide.
Ideal Harvesting Times
There are times when to harvest particular parts of the plant to ensure its survival. Below is a simple guide to follow. If you have any questions, please consult with local elders:
Roots: harvest in fall
Leaves & Bark: harvest in spring, before flowering
Flowers: harvest when in bloom
Fruit: harvest when ripe
Seeds: harvest in late fall
Rotating Harvesting Areas
As your knowledge of the forest & wild begins to grow, you will notice the certain plants return year after year & chances are other people know about that spot as well. Rotate harvesting areas at least annually to ensure you are not over harvesting a particular area & depleting it of its Indigenous plants.
Know the Area You’re Harvesting
It is imperative you know the land where you are harvesting to ensure the plants are you picking are free of contamination. Don’t harvest roadside & make sure the area is free of pollution, pesticides, runoff, & toxic waste.
Observe & familiarize yourself with the environment that the medicinal plant is growing in. If it is growing in a stressful state, like a drought, or has been exposed to environmental contamination, don’t harvest there.
Please make sure you have permission to be harvesting that area as well!
After Harvesting Care
Harvesting is the easiest part of working with Indigenous botanical medicines. It is the steps that follow which require a extensive time commitment.
Fresh plants can breakdown quickly, so it’s important to know how to clean, preserve, and store the plant before you harvest it to ensure our medicines are not going to waste. Make sure you have everything there & ready.
Spread the Love of the Land & be an Environmental Steward
It is important to develop long lasting relationships with the areas you are harvesting in. Return to these same areas & monitor them throughout the seasons & years. Study the plants and how they respond to seasonal fluctuations. Speak up for the plants and remember that they too are spirited beings. Harvest with good intentions & give back to the Indigenous people who have helped you build these relationships.