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This step-by-step guide to ethical wildcrafting and foraging will guide you through harvesting wild edible plants responsibly and respectfully.

Wildcrafting gives you access to the most nutritious and flavorful food and makes a great connection with nature. Additionally, It also offers an abundance of natural remedies that differ from the season.

Foraging gives us a sense of self-reliance and preparedness to better look after ourselves and our families. In addition, this ancient practice positively impacts physical, mental, and emotional fitness!

foraging wild edibles

What is Wildcrafting?

Wildcrafting is harvesting wild plants for food, medicine, and other uses. This can include foraging for medicinal plants, wild berries, mushrooms, and herbs and collecting wildflowers, nuts, and seeds. Wildcrafted plant materials can make medicines, teas, spices, and other products. The practice of wildcrafting can also include the cultivation of wild plants in a garden setting. Individuals interested in natural living, herbal medicine, and sustainability often do this practice. 

wild garlic
wild garlic

1. Know the plant identification

These are certain steps involved in harvesting food and medicine ethically and sustainably. Let’s take a look at what every forager should master:

Learning to accurately identify the plants, fruits, or mushrooms you plan to forage for is an essential part of foraging safely and responsibly. Here are a few tips for learning to identify wild edibles:

  1. Consult field guides: Field guides are a great resource for identifying wild edibles. They typically include information on the physical characteristics, range, and habitat of different plants and how to use them.
  2. Attend foraging classes or workshops: Many organizations, parks, and community groups offer classes or workshops that can teach you the basics of edible wild plants, native plants, and poisonous plants.
  3. Join foraging groups: It can be a great way to learn about local wild edibles from experienced foragers and connect with like-minded individuals.
  4. Learn from experts: Consult botanists, mycologists, herbalists, or other local authorities to be sure you know the species if you need more clarification on identification.
  5. Practice in the field: Take the time to observe plants in their natural habitat, practice identifying them, and make notes of the characteristics that are important to the identification.
  6. Take photographs or draw: As you learn to identify wild edibles, take pictures of the plants or mushrooms you find to reference later. It can also provide creative drawing ideas for adults who enjoy nature and want to capture its beauty in their artwork.
eat weeds

2. Eat wild weeds from your backyard.

Certain plants commonly grow in backyards and gardens that are easy to identify.

These include dandelion greens, which are high in vitamin A and C, and minerals like iron and calcium. Plantain leaves, a common weed found in lawns, can be used as a natural remedy for insect bites and stings. Wild garlic, which often grows in shaded areas, has an intense flavor and is rich in vitamins A and C and sulfur compounds.

By learning to identify and incorporate these wild edibles into my diet, I not only get to enjoy a variety of new flavors and nutritious foods, but I also reduce the need to rely on store-bought produce.

wild violets

3. Respect laws, regulations, and property rights

Learn laws and regulations for foraging in your area, and avoid harvesting protected or endangered species. Seek permission before foraging on private property and leave the area around as you found it.

how to ethically forage weed

4. Protect endangered plant species.

Many plants from the wild have specific ecological roles and are essential for the health and balance of their ecosystem. Over-harvesting or collecting too many plants from a single area can lead to a decline in population and ultimately threaten their survival. As a result, threatened plants will likely become endangered in the foreseeable future.

One way to protect vulnerable plant populations is to only take a small portion of the plant instead of removing the entire plant. This allows the plant to continue growing and reproducing. Additionally, it’s essential to spread out collection efforts to different areas and times of the year, to avoid over-harvesting from a specific population.

This includes harvesting only plants that are in abundance, invasive species.


5. Take only what you need.

In addition to laws, it’s important to follow the ethical foraging principle of “take only what you need” and “leave plenty for others and future generations.” This means taking only what is necessary for personal use and being mindful of the potential impact on the ecosystem and its inhabitants. It would be best if you never harvested more than you can use.

 It also means leaving spaces beautiful and tended, not digging up a bunch of something and walking away from a big mess. Leave the area you harvest from in the same or better condition than you found it. In other words, harvest in a way that is unnoticeable.


6. Learn proper foraging techniques and tools.

When foraging for mushrooms, take care not to damage the mycelium. Instead, use a sharp knife to remove the upper part of the mushroom, leaving the underground root-like structure untouched to allow the mushroom to grow back.

When foraging for herbs or other perennial plants, it’s important to use sharp shears or pruning snips to make clean cuts rather than pulling or tugging at the whole plant. This helps minimize damage to the plant, promoting re-growth and maintaining the plant population.

Proper pruning involves cutting back the plant at the base or taking only the leaves or fruits from the plant. With herb pruning, prune just above a leaf node, which will help the plant bush out and produce more leaves. Avoid pruning too much; this way, you’ll ensure the plant will continue to grow and propagate.

The goal of pruning should be to maintain the plant’s health and encourage new growth without over-harvesting or damaging the plant.

Harvesting roots can harm the plant population, as it can prevent the plant from regrowing or harm the root system, which is important for the plant’s survival. Instead, consider using the leaves, seeds, fruits, or flowers, as these can be used for food, medicine, and other purposes, without damaging the plant’s ability to reproduce.

Developing harvesting techniques that benefit the growth of plants will ensure that we have access to these medicines for many generations to come.

guide to ethical wildcrafting

7. Give thanks.

Giving thanks and showing respect for the plants and weeds we gather is an important aspect of sustainable foraging, helping to maintain the balance of the ecosystem and our connection with the natural world. Take a moment to thank the plant or tree for providing nourishment and medicine. You can say a prayer, make an offering, or simply take a moment to appreciate the beauty and abundance of nature.

Establishing a relationship with the living plant world that involves giving and not just taking is essential. 

drying elderberry

8. Be prepared.

Bring along a field guide, a water bottle, snacks, a first aid kit, and appropriate clothing for the weather and terrain.

9. Share the knowledge.

Please share your knowledge and experience with others, and teach them about the plants you have harvested and how to use them.

These are my favorite foraging tools.

Forager’s pocket guide

Herb-stripping tool

Plant identification tote bag

Rite Edge Pruning knife

Mushroom foraging basket

Foraging basket

Is foraging for food illegal?

The legality of foraging for food can vary depending on where you live and what you are foraging for.

Generally, foraging for wild berries, mushrooms, and nuts on public land is considered legal in most places as long as it is done sustainably and responsibly and does not involve trespassing on private property or damage to the environment.

However, certain foraging activities may be regulated or even illegal in some places. For example, foraging for certain protected plant or animal species may be prohibited. Some places might have specific rules about foraging in certain areas, such as state parks or national forests. In some urban areas, specific bylaws may prohibit foraging on city-owned land.

It is important to be aware of and comply with any laws and regulations for foraging in your area.

wildcrafting and foraging

Wildcrafting vs. Foraging

Wildcrafting and foraging are similar practices, but they have some key differences.

Foraging generally refers to finding and gathering wild food, such as berries, nuts, and mushrooms. This can include gathering plants, fruits, and fungi that grow wild in the woods or on the side of the road. Foraging is often done for personal use or small-scale commercial purposes.

On the other hand, Wildcrafting is a broader term that refers to harvesting wild plants for food, medicine, and other uses. Wildcrafted plant materials can make medicines, teas, spices, and other products. The practice of wildcrafting often emphasizes the use of wild plants for medicinal purposes, as well as for their spiritual and cultural significance.

Overall, foraging and wildcrafting overlap in terms of what they involve. Still, wildcrafting generally has a broader focus on harvesting wild plants for various uses, while foraging is more focused on gathering wild foods.

Ethical Wildcrafting checklist

before you go for your foraging adventure, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Have you obtained the necessary permissions or permits to collect at the site?
  2. Are you confident in your plant identification?
  3. Is this the best location to gather this plant, and is the stand large enough?
  4. Are you at the correct elevation for the plant you are gathering?
  5. Is the location away from roads and trails?
  6. Is the stand of plants healthy and well-established?
  7. Is there any indication of chemical pollution in the area?
  8. Are you in a delicate or fragile ecosystem?
  9. Are rare, threatened, endangered, or sensitive plants growing nearby at any time of the year?
  10. Is the stand stable, increasing or decreasing in size?
  11. Is the plant annual or perennial?
  12. Does the stand require any maintenance to sustain it?
  13. How much should be harvested, considering the plants need to propagate?
  14. What is the optimal time of day and time of year to harvest?
  15. How will your harvest impact the stand long term?
  16. Are you in the right mindset to forage responsibly and respectfully?
  17. Are you moving around during the harvesting to gather from multiple areas of the stand?
  18. Have you inspected the area after harvesting and made sure it’s left as it was found?
  19. Are you grouping similar plants when harvesting to save time?
  20. Are you cleaning the plants as you harvest them?
  21. Do you have the necessary tools and equipment to process the plants in the field?
wildcrafting and foraging for medicine

Resources for learning

Foraging curses from Herbal academy

The complete guide to edible wild plants

Medicinal Mushrooms

Foraging and feasting

Making plant medicine

Vladka on January 13th, 2023

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