What Growing and Ethically Foraging Our Herbs Has Taught Me
With all the herbs available online, and in large quantities, why would you even go through the hassle of growing and ethically foraging or wildcrafting your own?
No, that isn't my frame of mind but when you are just starting out in your herbal studies and have NO experience in growing herbs or wildcrafting...buying herbs is pretty much where you start.
You try to buy organic...ethically harvested if you have learned about plants at risk (United Plant Savers is THE resource for this)...from companies your trust. You may or may not pay attention to where the plants come from, especially when you trust the company to give you a high quality of herb.
All this is perfectly acceptable. Not everyone enjoys gardening (although its pretty fun) and not everyone enjoys hiking out into the woods. Not everyone feels confident in their foraging skills. Some run apothecaries and practices that require a larger amount of herbs than they could grow or forage.
The last couple years I have spent trying to grow my own herbs and ethically forage or wildcraft what I can and what I discovered radically changed the way I see plants and how I practice. And I think any herbalist should experience it.
When I started down my herbal path, all my herbs were ordered from an online herb store. Everything I needed to make any of the remedies, I had to order. They arrived all harvested, dried, and perfectly contained. I learned how to use them but my first program never actually talked about the plants. I "graduated" that program with a 98 but learned nothing about identifying plants, growing plants, harvesting plants...nothing.
Then after we moved, I had some raised beds and tried growing some. Didn't work out so well because I had zero clue on what I was doing. I think I got a few Calendula flowers. Oh well..I can just order herbs right?
Then I saw Milkweed and thought it was Comfrey. See...according to my program I was a family herbalist...but I didn't know plants. Thankfully, someone pointed out my error and I dove into plant identification and beginning botany.
We moved, again, and I started a nice garden with some herb plants. The day I made tea with the Lemon balm *I* grew, was surreal. Here was this plant that I loved and nurtured, harvested, and dried myself...and I get to enjoy the healing power it has for me. WOW
Then I went crazy...I gathered all I could around me (but no more than 30% of the area for certain plants)..Nettle, Chickweed, Cleavers...I notice everything around me...Yarrow, Plantain, Mullein...when I saw a plant I didn't know...I went on a quest to figure it out...Lamb quarters, mustard...I was hooked.
I planted Echinacea (which the chickens got to), Helichrysum, Lavender, Raspberries (for both berry and leaf), Sage...I was gifted Rosemary and Thyme.
When it came time to harvest I saw how much plant matter was needed to create relatively small amount. I would pull out my jar and start gathering dried Lavender and from it was only half a cup.
I spent an hour in the woods collecting Cleavers (while enjoying nature and being out with my girls)...and came back with 22 grams. Just enough for a small tincture.
I harvested Rose petals from our courtyard and dried them.
It takes more plants than you think to stock a medicine cabinet.
I needed more of an herb than I grew....and it was out of stock....so I found some in stock (from a brand I trusted and organic) but then, something told me too look at the country of origin.
I checked another herb I had, still in its packaging...
We were outsourcing basic herbs (Calendula and Chickweed in this example) to other countries and thus increasing, exponentially, the impact of these herbs.
I was not honoring the season of the herbs. The fact that I didn't check the source BEFORE I ordered upset me greatly. I had failed my beloved plants.
We have gotten so disconnected from when plants show their faces, how much we need to harvest to fulfill our families need, AND connecting where the plants are grown.
I understand that some herbs just don't grow in some places...and that sometimes those herbs are the best choice for a person.
I understand that growing, harvesting, drying or tincturing, and storing herbs can seem like a full time job and not everyone has time for that.
But everyone needs to experience it,
We need to learn how to use the plants that grow where we live rather than opt for the herbs that are trendy and foreign.
We need to understand that just throwing herbs together to make a product to sell, is disrespectful to the plants and the art of herbal medicine.
We need to experience our medicine...from seeing them grow to making our medicines from them.
Once your have experienced it, its okay if its not fully for you...but carry that experience with you when you order your herbs. Think about the process that went in to harvesting that pound of St John's Wort. Think about the yellow flowers of St John's Wort greeting you.
Think about watching Mullein go from its first year into the tall flowering stalks in the second year. How the flowers of Mullein don't all bloom at the same time so it takes patience and a lot of Mullein plants to pull a good harvest.
Think about watching Calendula, a super easy plant to grow, pop through YOUR garden soil. Nothing is more local and fresh than Calendula from your garden.
Each plant that I meet personally has something to teach me and it deepens my practice every time.