on mutual sustainability and wildcrafting

  • Posted on: 23 February 2016
  • By: Previous Farm

 by Chappell on our previous farm

it's hard to believe that it was springtime here for a few days now that winter has returned. i just returned from knocking snow and ice off the greenhouse roof for two hours, when just two days ago, i was rushing to beat the return of the lushness of spring in order to clear away overgrowth for a couple of elderberry bushes i found last summer. when i discovered them while picking berries behind the greenhouse, they were choked by clematis as thick as a hangman's noose and fortressed by brambles all round, which made it impossible to even approach or harvest any umbels offered on her branches in the fall. i spent two days hacking at clematis as thick as my thumb, unraveling it from branches and bramble and pulling up yard upon yard of it's shallow roots. the elderberry should be very happy come spring. 

because we depend on our plants to sustain us and provide for our well being, it's important to provide in kind for them. wild harvesting doesn't mean simply taking what is there. it means establishing a working relationship, fostering the plants' health and well being, so they can do the same for you. 
the ethical rules of wild harvesting promote this behavior; if a stand of any sort is in trouble, it's important to do what you can to help, even if that means harvesting no medicine from that stand until health is regained. 
it is also an important tenet of ethical wildcrafting to foster the continuance of any plants you gather by gathering at the proper times, broadcasting ripe seed, and replanting corms or crowns. while there are plenty of elderberry here on the farm, this year i'm experimenting with dormant hardwood propagation, to add to their bountifulness.  last year, i tried propagating the elderberry --which is the cornerstone of our perennial garden-- from early spring shoots. 6 out of 8 took hold. my method was to take the early shoots with a bit of wood left at the bottom and place them in pots of loamy soil mixed with coconut hull which i kept in the speckled shade. i kept them wet with willow water for a couple of weeks and then maintained their moisture. after a couple of months their root systems were established so i planted them out. i made the mistake of planting them along the crick, down where the mother bush is well established. of course, those young 'uns were swept away by the summer flood, like osiris' coffin in the nile. maybe they'll show up established somewhere further down stream. only time will tell. 
there is nothing quite like learning about the foods and medicine available to you in your bio region. it's empowering, and good for you, and it should be good for the environment too. i am a big believer in the plants best suited to your good health are those which grow in wild abundance in your general surroundings... which calls for patience, trust, and keen observation. that being said, some plants that are not in great abundance are sometimes necessary to seek out and they make for very precious medicine indeed. regardless, it's important to foster the continuance of any plants gathered through the above methods and the time honored tradition of thoughtful harvest --taking only what you need at the proper time and leaving plenty unharvested growth in high enough number to allow for genetic diversity. with this in mind, it is also best to leave the healthiest examples untouched. a good rule of thumb is to take no more than 10% of ariel growth, half that if you're gathering root, and half that again if you're gathering bark. you don't want to kill a tree, or disrupt a micro niche, or even strip other beings of access to their necessary resources. why, think of the birds and the bees (we won't talk about bears and other such things)! 
of course, wildcrafting here on the farm is much different than it is for a lot of folk who don't have a long term relationship of mutual sustainability with the environment they are harvesting in. the relationships we've developed with the various plant life on this property are a privilege not afforded to so many.  i've barely skimmed the surface on the basic ethics of wild crafting because it's beyond the scope of what i sat down to write about tonight. suffice it to say that wildcrafting is currently in the throes of a cultural renaissance, with wild harvesting celebrity chefs and wildcrafted herbal medicine being all the rage in the new green economy, it's important to understand that plants can be over harvested into near extinction, just like animals-- american ginseng and goldenseal are two species that come readily to mind.
if you are interested in wild harvesting and want to know more, the herbalist, seven song has a pdf of ethical wildcrafting guidelines available here ... and michael vertolli has another set of guidelines which are equally important to abide by. we also think united plant savers is a great organization worth everyone's attention. they have tools to help keep you informed about endangered plant species and they work toward helping to sustain and conserve plants for future generations. 
a pdf on elderberry propogation can be found here.
it is not necessary to use rooting hormone. if willow (salix spp.) is growing anywhere you can access it, just trim some young shoots. strip the shoots of their leaves. chop the young shoots well (more surface exposure for maceration) and place in a jar or enamel pot until it is at least half full. bring a pot of fresh water to boiling point. remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes so it's still hot, but not hot enough to break down the salycillic and indolebutyric acids (the active ingrediants of this recipe). pour over willow bits to fill the container. cap the container lightly and allow to steep over night or longer (the longer the better). pour the liquid off through a strainer to remove willow bits. store rooting liquid in a clean, sterile, sealable container for up to two months in your refrigerator.
to use: soak your cuttings in the rooting liquid for a couple of hours before planting in a growth medium. or allow the cuttings to soak in it for a day or two, until replacing this with clean water.
alternately, you can try the lazy man's way and simply place your stripped young willow shoots in the water or dirt with your cuttings, but this seems less effective to me.
the first liberated elderberry and clematis pile in background
the first liberated elderberry and clematis pile in background