Plant Ethics

I belong to a group called the Milwaukee River Advocates. We work to protect and restore the natural habitat of the Milwaukee River. The green corridor along the Milwaukee River in the city of Milwaukee is an important gem in a heavily urbanized setting. The corridor provides a home to many different species of animals, birds, reptiles, fish and plants. Recently our group lead a plant hike for the community. One important topic that we discussed was the ethical treatment of plants.

Now that the DIY movement is so popular, many people are making their own herbal goodies that range from teas to tinctures. The method of gathering wild plant material is called wildcrafting. People often go into a "wild" setting (i.e. the forest, fields, etc.) and collect plant material for consumption. And for certain herbs, this may be the only technique to obtain the plants. However it is always good to remember a few things:

1. Be Respectful.
Plants are sensitive, some more than others. Always be careful of where you step. Don't over-harvest. If there is a small number of certain plant species, do not harvest at all. Remember they are not ours for the taking, they have a right to exist. Plants hold an important place in the complex web of life.

2. Be Ethical.
When harvesting, remember we want to take as little as possible. We want to ensure healthy and productive plant populations. For example, do not harvest a plant while it is in flower, but wait until it has produced seeds first. You can help some plants by dispersing the seeds as well.
Don't kill the plant by harvesting too much or uprooting the plant. Some may argue that it is fine to dig up roots if the plant is an invasive specie. I feel that a decision like that depends on a lot of factors. However it is important to understand that even digging up a few invasive species can have an impact on the surrounding area.

3. Be Careful!
Know your plant species! You could seriously harm yourself if you misidentify things. For example, many people like to go out into the woods and harvest wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) in the spring. However the Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis) looks very similar to wild leeks and also comes up in the spring, but is toxic. Some plants can be fatal. You need to pay attention while harvesting.

4. Good Intentions.
It is always good to have the right intentions before harvesting. Plants are willing to assist us in healing. It is a nice gesture to ask the plants to share their medicine and thank them as well. While I am harvesting a plant, I often think of the person I intend to help too. I often tell the plant who they are helping with their medicine :-)
Putting good intentions into your plant medicine and being grateful to the plants makes the medicine much more effective, in my opinion.

Wild Leeks


Milwaukee River resident


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