|Wildcrafting in Washington|
Mikey and are looking forward to hiking the Northwest in search of wild edible plants. Wildcrafting is our favorite way to explore a new place. When we head out into nature, we know we'll have an adventure, gain knowledge, and if we're lucky, acquire food or medicine that will last a winter or two. Unlike the goods for sale in the mall, those found in nature are free and so is the adventure. The knowledge obtained while having the adventure is priceless.
While in the Northwest, we hope to find plants that are not available to us where we live in the Chihuahuan Desert. Osha, for example (a.k.a. wild lovage or bear medicine), is a mountain plant that likes moist soil rich in organic material. There is little chance of it popping up in the dry caliche floor of the desert we live in. Osha resembles poison hemlock and so it must be carefully verified before consumed. Osha's pungent, celery-like smell can be used to verify it as authentic. Wildcrafters are well served by knowing the circumstances surrounding the plant. For example, bears, who use the plant to help them awaken from a winter of hibernation, can often be found hanging out near osha (thus one of the plant's nicknames).
Before heading out, we made a list of items that are needed for an afternoon of wildcrafting:
- Local medicinal plant book, earmarked to show the plants that are ripe for picking this time of year. We'll have to look for plants that store their alkaloids in the flower or leaf; plants that store their potency in the root or bark are best picked in autumn.
- Small, sharp knife; small shovel; small pruner/clipper; pair of gloves
- Sack or backpack to carry samples, variety of paper bags to separate plant samples
- Marker for labeling bags
- 20x loupe for viewing the very tiny (Bausch & Lomb makes a great keychain loupe)
- Never consume a plant if you are uncertain about what it is.
- Check your plant guide to know which parts of a plant to use: leaf, bark, flower, seed, root, sap.
- Avoid plants by roadsides and ditches or near any kind of contaminant or waste.
- Always collect where the plant is abundant, and never collect more than 20 percent of the amount visible to you.
- Never collect in national forests or wildlife reserves.
- Most plants can be dried in a paper bag tacked to the wall and left alone for a week or two.
- Plants can also be steeped in alcohol (vodka or Everclear is recommended) or honey to extract their medicinal properties while also preserving them for future use.
Have fun and be safe.
Illustration (c) Allegra Lockstadt. Excerpted from The Good Life Lab
(c) Wendy Jehanara Tremayne. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.
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