Foraging & Harvesting Guidelines

A few weeks back I posted a brief video on Instagram regarding some upsetting things I had started to see on social media (watch the full video below). At the time, I felt a bit overwhelmed seeing posts asking questions like ‘what should I do with this herb I just picked‘. This really struck me because the idea of harvesting any plant with no clear intention feels incredibly disrespectful and reckless. I am of the firm belief that plants serve us in their natural state and habitats and that we should only be removing them from that with a very specific purpose and desired outcome. For example, the calming and relaxing energy of Lavender is just as palpable in a potted plant as it is in a dried bundle with no need to harvest or disrupt the growing plant.

Yes, there are times when harvesting herbal allies is appropriate, needed, and enjoyable. The key here is doing so in a manner with respect and a clear desired outcome and plan for the materials you are harvesting. Here are some guidelines to help you harvest herbs, flowers, and plant allies with consent and respect:

  • Ask permission from the plant!
    • Yes, this may feel a bit uncomfortable the first few times, but once you learn to connect with and hear plants, it is truly magical. Sit with the plant for a time, deeply observe it, and experience it’s environment. During your moments of meditation, ask the plant if you may harvest from it. You’ll likely ‘feel’ your answer and know if you are welcome to it or not. If the answer is no, kindly move along without anger or frustration. If the answer is yes, gently harvest your portion and take an additional moment to express your thanks and gratitude. A silent prayer, audible ‘thank you’, or loving smile are always welcomed and appreciated by our sacred herbal allies.
  • Harvest 20% or LESS of any plant.
    • 20% is the absolute maximum you should ever harvest of a plant. Taking too much can damage the plant, put it in shock, or kill it.
      • Spare yourself the math: 20% is the same thing as 1 flower in a group of 5. Since you cannot harvest half of a flower, a minimum of 5 flowers, stalks, branches, or leaves would be necessary to harvest a single one.
  • Be certain what you are harvesting.
    • Many plants have doppelgängers, especially when they are young and just beginning to flourish. Seedlings and young leaves can look remarkably similar to a variety of plants that can be drastically different. Also, never underestimate the prevalence of toxic and deadly plants all around us. If you are not 100% sure you have identified the plant correctly, do not harvest any.
  • Harvest only when plants are healthy and in their growing season.
    • Part of respecting the plants we harvest and forage is knowing about them, their environment, and their life cycle. Be sure to have full clarity from a minimum of 3 sources before you take any action. Knowing how you can best harvest from a plant without hurting, damaging, or killing it is essential and the basis for our relationships with the plant world.
    • Also be aware that which parts are usable/medicinal may change over the course of a season for any given plant. For example, some plants are best when harvested you before their stalks become woody or fibrous.
  • Use snips or shears to harvest.
    • Tearing or ripping can cause damage to a plant with catastrophic outcomes. Using snips or shears can ensure a clean cut that the plant will be able to heal from and continue growing. This is especially critical when placement of cuttings will result in propagation or spur new growth. All cuttings should be done with an appropriate tool as to not cause unintended harm. Young stalks and most herbs can be safely cut with scissors but young branches or more fibrous plants will require high grade pruning shears and small hand saws.
  • Harvest legally and according to watch lists.
    • Any harvesting should always be done ethically and legally. This comes into play when considering who may have rights to or own the land you are harvesting from. The difference between private, public, and state/federal owned land can make a huge difference in terms of what you can and cannot have access too. Do a little research and always have clarity as to ownership and access before any harvesting.
    • Watch lists help us to be aware of which plants may be threatened or endangered, thus impacting how we treat them. This may vary based on your location so be sure to do research and keep your list handy. Here are examples of watch lists:
  • Know the surrounding environment.
    • It is a good rule to not harvest any closer than 50 feet from a roadside or where humans or animals are known to have voided. While the plants themselves may be resilient to a dog ‘watering’ them, it is in your best interest to let those plants alone. It is also imperative to know if any chemical treatment, fertilizer, or insecticide has been used in the area, on the plants, or close by. The residue of these chemicals can easily be transferred to your preparation without any visual clues, smell, or texture signals. If you wouldn’t consume it on it’s own, don’t consume it on a plant!

These guidelines are in no way intended to be a deterrent, only a reminder how to respectfully harvest and forage at all times of the year. Connecting with live, growing plants can be a profound experience that is truly wonderful and should never be taken lightly. I hope this information aids you in your foraging and harvests this year and for many season to come.

Love & Light, Kristen

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