Monday, May 1, 2017

Thoughts on 'Wildcrafting'

John rubbing his hands on some white sage leaf as he gives thanks. None was taken, but medicine was received.

Ignoring separation from the wild and not becoming educated about the historical use of our local land and prematurely beginning the 'relationship cultivation' to start "wildcrafting", especially native or endemic plants, in my opinion, attributes to the settler colonization mentality of wanting what was already here (people) to simply disappear after using up all energy and resources (nature).


What Queens or Kings are awaiting reports of expedition profits these days?

There are ecosystems that have been more affected than others from the harsh realities of ecological imperialism and colonization, like Los Angeles. A plant may not be listed as threatened or endangered but its ecosystem might be, along with its inhabitants, everything is connected. I believe that land carries much spirit and because of that I always try to feel and understand the energy of a place in order to be aware of my actions. So much blood has been drenched into the soil we walk upon and to be ignorant of burial and massacre sites is a detriment to our healing paths and to the spirit of our medicine. For example, harvesting mugwort from a tortured site where many lives were lost might give you different dreams than mugwort that was harvested from a site that has been properly cleansed energetically. There are curanderas who solely focus on healing tortured or cursed/hexed land, these are stories you don't hear about on social media. Just a few months ago in Buena Park, CA, bones were found in someone's backyard and they turned out to be bones of an indigenous person. We are on native land, unmarked graves are everywhere, we must reclaim history in order to heal the land

Yerba santa.

An important thing to also consider is that most of us living in the modern world are not solely gathering for survival and that many herbal companies also ‘wildharvest’ for profit. Another angle to address in our modern world is the culture of social media. Too many times I have observed accounts with large followings sharing styled photos of wildharvests and very rarely are these folk's ancestors born from the land they currently inhabit. Don't miss an opportunity to share and celebrate native garden grown plants by forgetting to share your mindful sourcing. You will rarely see an indigenous person partaking in this kind of glorification at the sake of more ignorant ecological disruption. There is no room for that kind of behavior with protectors of the sacred.
mindfulmedicinals: Every day is Earth day 🙄🌿 Spent my Saturday morning pulling invasive plants w/ Santa Monica park service ❤️ #malibu #Euphorbiaterracina @santamonicamountainsnps {+ fennel, wild mustard}

Don’t get me wrong, moving away from the consumer cycle by gathering plants for your own medicinal use is indeed a beautiful and empowering action especially if you are focusing on harvesting invasive plants, like Blaire pictured above, role modeling how to work with and support local land as an herbalist and Florida newcomer. For example, forage for mustard, with a focus on seed removal to allow native species to thrive. After all, mustard is made from mustard seeds. I've also seen a few folks make some sauces from mustard too, now that's good stuff to share on social media, check out Oak and Flower's instagram post below. Have a cough? Gather some horehound, it is not native to California, it comes from Europe and if not managed in dense patches its seed can be aggressive especially within island ecosystems making it more difficult for native seeds to establish. Need some liver love? Harvest milk thistle seedheads before they spread. Harvest tip: cut off milk thistle seed heads, leave in a brown paper or cloth bag, shake, and all the seeds will be at the bottom of your bag, super easy! These are examples of things you can learn when spending time in nature and researching your local land. 

oakandflower: I was feeling inspired after @poormansalad's post yesterday and decided to use black mustard flowers as the base for a spicy sauce. It's incredible. Fresh Brassica nigra flowers with red wine vinegar, olive oil, pine nuts, chopped capers, a little Greek yogurt, salt and pepper. It's a wild version of my horseradish sauce and I think I'm in love.



Now for the ever common, take only 10% from a plant. Every time I hear this I look at the group it is being told to and then I times that number with 10% and then I also consider the status and range of the plant being discussed. This formula of sorts is not detailed in communication and can lead folks in forgetting to consider the status of a plant and its ecosystem before gathering. 


What, never wildcraft or gather?! No, that's not what I'm saying.  

Moving in and around nature should be practiced by a seasoned gatherer, no pun intended, who has spent many seasonal cycles either cultivating plants and/or (combo is great) simply observing the wild. If your blood does not carry that of the local indigenous folk it would be of great respect and honor to also reach out to those that are and ask for guidance and to volunteer for whatever the land may need. The trauma that can be resurfaced from "outsiders" coming in an harvesting native plants that your people have protected for generations is real, it hurts, it burns and it cuts deeper into wounds that are still healing. It is easier to take than it is to leave something, especially in America, where we value the sense of appearance and the power or ownership.

Homegrown CA Sagebrush.

A communication trend within 'wildcrafting' that I’ve also recently observed and have heard about is the practice of leaving an offering or saying a prayer before gathering plants. I think this is great and a kind way to work with nature but I really think there needs to be more emphasis on the sacrifices one endures to cultivate such a connection to the wild before gathering and leaving an offering. To me, that’s like making a whole bunch of withdrawals from an overdrawn bank account. I like the idea of making offerings season after season without gathering to build a relationship. These offerings in turn, I believe, become personal sacrifices that then transform themselves into the most beautiful and profound teachings. Just you watch, plants will start to arrive on your doorstep. In many traditions one must go through rites of passage before practicing certain crafts and rituals, again, with social media, as a culture we are painting a different picture for the viewer when harvests, rituals and sacred scenes are shared without a healthy and educational foundation for the viewer. The real work is rarely televised. 

Rosa californica in our frontyard. I owe this rose so much for her medicine, my thanks is growing her so that I am not reliant on wild sources.

I'm speaking from experience here in LA friends, I drank some of the wildcrafting Kool Aid for just a second there but was quickly smacked upside the head by elders and plant guides, like, hello, you are rooted in growing my dear, stay focused. Transparency is essential for real discussion. 

My words come from not only my spirit but from the influential elders and spirit guides that have shared their voice and energy with me. Thank you for sharing, much gratitude. I too am always learning, for I am alive. Discussion, as always, is welcome. To know that folks care enough about my path to ignite such conversations makes me feel really really good about my craft. 

Inspiring resources:
Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 by Alfred Crosby
Tending the Wild by Kat Anderson
Tending the Wild | KCET 
Mapping Indigenous LA
Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation
What To Grow In Your Forage Garden by Julia Wasson
Southern California Ethnobiology: Traditional Use of Native Plants by Dr. David Curran
The Pinnacle of Permaculture: Tending the Wild Book Review by Root Simple
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I. By David Grann 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this post! I have been wondering about the implications of wildcrafting with settler lineage so I really appreciate your point of view. I've been inspired lately to start from scratch -- learn the land, the original inhabitants, grow my own plants, 'sit with' instead of 'take from' -- there is a lot to learn from slowing and rooting down. Thank you!