LEARN HERBAL MEDICINE-  How to Collect and Forage For Medicinal and Edible Plants

American Gypsy Herbalist, Foraging, Healing, Herbal Medicine, How to Forage, How to learn herbal medicine, Medicinal -

LEARN HERBAL MEDICINE- How to Collect and Forage For Medicinal and Edible Plants

Written By: Zach Champ

This is the first article in a series of blogs designed to teach individuals the basics of Herbal Medicine!


NATURES BOUNTY!

If you are new to herbal medicine, you may be wondering just how you can get access to dried herbs for use in home remedies and recipes. The great news is that many herbs can be found right outside ready to forage for FREE! Foraging for herbs is a great skill to learn that can provide hours of fun and outdoor entertainment. Many of these wild plants are great sources of nutrition and vitamins with unique flavors and tastes you won’t find in the local supermarket! Wild herbs can be great medicine for treating a variety of sickness and illness.  Learning how to forage can help you fill your kitchen and herbal apothecary with plenty of edible and medicinal plants!

American Gypsy Herbalist- Basket of Plants photo from unsplash.com

Photo Courtesy via Unsplash.com  

 

THE BENEFITS OF FORAGING & GATHERING WILD PLANTS FOR MEDICINAL & EDIBLE USE

There are several benefits to foraging wild herbs and plants. One of the most important is that you save money on your groceries! Food and grocery bills are one of the biggest expenses for most households. By learning how to forage you can gain a large supply of food that is locally sourced and harvested! What’s even better is that this food is healthier for you than eating the normal processed foods common to American diets. Many of the wild plants in your woods, fields, forests, and mountains are rich in a variety of biochemicals and compounds that provide an amazing and astonishing array of effects on the human body. 

American Gypsy Herbalist - Berries in basket photo from Unsplash.com

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash.com 

 

HOW DO I LEARN TO FORAGE & GATHER WILD PLANTS FOR MEDICINAL & EDIBLE USE?

For individuals who are interested in learning how to forage for plants, there are a few steps you can take that will help you learn this valuable skill. The first thing you should learn and practice daily is the basics of botany and plant anatomy. You should learn the parts of plants in their various lifecycle stages. After you are familiar with the parts of a plant you should learn how to identify common plants in your local area. Start looking around nearby woods, forests, fields, next to the sidewalk, wherever you can for plants that you recognize!

Try and get in the habit of bringing a guidebook with you when you start to go foraging. This way if you find a plant you don’t recognize you can easily reference it. Most people prefer the standardized Peterson’s guidebooks which feature excellent descriptions and color photos of plants. At American Gypsy Herbalist we also agree that this is a great resource for beginners and recommend obtaining a copy, new or used.

If you have a family friend or relative who is really good with plants, ask them to take you on a walk and to point a few out to you. Be opportunistic! Plants are EVERYWHERE, and if you don’t keep your eyes open you may miss out on some cool specimens! When foraging be respectful to the plant and the habitat, and don’t overharvest. Take only what you need and know you will use, and make sure to not strip a plant of all it’s berries or fruit. Try and harvest a little from each individual plant if there is a group of the same species in an area.

American Gypsy Herbalist- People Hiking in Woods photo by tyler nix from Unsplash.com

Photo Courtesy Tyler Nix via Unsplash.com 

There are many great naturalist clubs, herbal medicine schools, and other groups to look into. Joining a group is a great way to learn from the experience and knowledge of others, and is perhaps one of the most memorable ways of learning how to identify native plants. Nothing beats a good walk in the woods with a well-trained herbalist or naturalist who can continuously point out amazing specimens to marvel at. Here are some recommend groups you can join:

 

WHERE CAN I FORAGE FOR AND GATHER WILD PLANTS?



You can find wild plants to forage for food and medicine pretty much anywhere in the world. Plants thrive in a variety of different environments, and at all times of the year. When foraging for wild medicinal or edible plants you will have to keep in mind seasonal conditions and your search location. Some plants like shady areas, whereas others like locations that are well-lit and sunny... it all depends on the specific plant you are looking for. When you are foraging your goal should be to cross through a variety of different ecosystem environments so you can maximize on the variety of potential specimens to collect.

            Different types of ecosystem environments could include:

  • WOODS AND FOREST
  • FIELD
  • SWAMP
  • DESERT
  • SHRUBLAND

American Gypsy Herbalist- River Woods - Herbal Medicine

American Gypsy Herbalist- Swamp Photo - Herbal Medicine

American Gypsy Herbalist- Field and Mountains - Herbal Medicine

One of the best locations to find a large variety of plants is in the transitional areas between two different environments. For example, the wood line where a field meets a forest. Here you will find all types of medicinal and edible plants that can take advantage of the conditions of both shady overhanging trees and the bright rays of the sun. This includes plants like Yarrow, Clovers, Berries, and so on.

 

DANGERS TO LOOK OUT FOR WHEN FORAGING & GATHERING WILD PLANTS:

When you are foraging and gathering wild plants for medicinal and edible use you will need to consider other important factors besides just the location’s environment. The most important external factor to consider is pollution. If you are gathering wild plants to eat, you want to make sure they are not contaminated. You will have to look and see if you are near roads, buildings, sources of water if there are any signs of disturbance. You don’t want to forage or gather plants from these areas. You generally want to try and go into a remote or isolated natural setting. If you live in an urban area and have a harder time getting access to such an area, you could potentially harvest some edible plants you find in an urban area, but you would want to rinse them off completely several times before consuming to remove as many impurities and pollutants as possible.

You should be careful because in many natural settings near human-occupied areas herbicidal poison is applied to prevent the growth of so-called weeds. These poisons are extremely toxic and can cause sickness to a person if accidentally ingested. Ironically these so-called weeds are the opportunistic all-natural food and medicine you are seeking! You should try and avoid foraging for plants in areas near roads and buildings. Going into the woods, or to a remote field, or up a mountain will allow you to find suitable sites for foraging that definitely have not been tampered with by human activity. This ensures healthy and quality natural food and medicine.

American Gypsy Herbalist- Worker in a Field Photo from Unsplash.com

Photo Courtesy via Unsplash.com 

Look out for wildlife when foraging! It is not uncommon to find spiders, bees, hornets, wasps, snakes, or any other kind of critter or bug when you are out in the wild digging and collecting plants. Make sure you take a moment to look before you stick your hand through dense brush or before you step in tall grass. Be aware of what types of venomous and poisonous animals and insects there are that live in your area.  If you notice a nesting site or habitat of an animal while out foraging, appreciate it from a distance and don’t disturb it. Show your respect to all things in nature when you are taking from it.

American Gypsy Herbalist - Spiders photo from Unsplash.com

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash.com 

WHAT TOOLS YOU WILL NEED TO FORAGE & GATHER WILD PLANTS: 



You will occasionally need to bring a few tools or supplies when you are foraging for wild medicinal and edible plants. All plants are unique, and many have characteristics that make it difficult to simply walk up and harvest the plant. Some have thorns or prickly hairs, others have large and tangled root systems. Plants can be stubborn and resistant, and you should respect that. Some basic tools you will need to forage include gloves, a pair of scissors or shears, and in some cases maybe even a handsaw. You will also need paper or plastic bags (preferably recycled and reused!). Beginners should bring their guidebooks, notebooks, and maps if needed so they can identify, record and take observational notes on specimen locations, lifecycle stage, etc. Being a herbalist means being a scientist!

All your supplies should be carried and stored in a backpack so you can maneuver through your environment easier and keep your hands free. Personally, I like to punch a hole in a corner of both of my gloves and use a carabiner to keep them attached to my pants when working or foraging in the woods as this allows quick access to them and prevents me from losing them. 

 

American Gypsy Herbalist- Tools Photo from Unsplash.com

Photo Courtesy via Unsplash.com 

As you can see, learning to forage and gather your own medicinal and edible plants isn't that expensive or hard of a hobby. Tune in again next week for more articles that go further in depth into topics such as how to dry and store the wild plants you forage and gather, as well as specific remedies and cures! 

Leave a comment below and feel free to like and share this article with friends and family members! 

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2 comments

  • Patti

    What a great blog! So many people are not aware of the bounties nature offers us. You have inspired me to look into a course offered at an herb store in my city.

  • Heather

    That’s a really cool idea. I usually just grow what I want to harvest in my yard — lavender is my favorite.

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