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What are Wildcrafters?

Wildcrafters collect wild mushrooms and other plants.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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Wildcrafters are people who harvest plants and fungi from their natural environments, rather than cultivating them. Some plants do not do well under cultivation, forcing people to harvest them in the wild, while others are simply readily available in the wild in some regions, leading people to harvest them in situ rather than attempting to grow these plants. The practice of gathering wild materials is known as wildcrafting, and in some regions wildcrafters are subject to an assortment of laws which are designed to keep wildcrafting safe and ecologically friendly.

Many wildcrafters enjoy working in nature, and they consider themselves to be stewards of nature, caring for it while they benefit from it. A number of wildcrafters subscribe to a code of ethics which includes respect for endangered species and cleaning up after themselves. If possible, only parts of a plant are harvested, rather than the entire plant, ensuring that the plant will continue to thrive, and in the event that an entire plant does need to be harvested, a wildcrafter will plant a new one or leave seeds behind.

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Herbs are commonly collected by wildcrafters, who may sell them fresh, dry them, or distill them into essential oils. Some wildcrafters are also herbalists, offering a variety of herbal treatments to their clients including tisanes and infusions, and they may create specialized herb blends as needed. Many of these herbs are rare and they do not do well in gardens, so wildcrafters are needed to harvest these wild plants.

Fungi are another common choice of harvest for wildcrafters, who may sell the mushrooms to mushroom buyers or directly to restaurants and other food companies. Others may dry mushrooms and sell them packaged this way, or offer their products at farmers' markets and other community markets which encourage people to connect with the individuals who produce and harvest their food. In addition to harvesting food mushrooms, wildcrafters can also collect fungi for dyeing, and some may distill their own dyes for textiles.

Becoming a wildcrafter takes time, as people need to learn to identify and harvest plants. Especially when plants are being collected for food, it is extremely important to know what you are doing, and to handle the plants in such a way that they will retain their desirable properties on the path between wildcrafter and end consumer. Many wildcrafters learn through apprenticeship, working with experienced wildcrafters who also pass down knowledge about running an ecologically friendly wildcrafting business.

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ladyjane
Post 8

@ZsaZsa56 - I'm a little curious about how you first got started in the business of wildcrafting herbs and such. I live on three acres of land in north central Florida and my property backs up to a wildlife preserve.

I would say that over two acres of my woodsy property backs up to the woods of this natural habitat. I can only imagine what delectables might be growing out there. Any advise you can offer as far as books, websites, etc., would be greatly appreciated.

Perdido
Post 7

@ZsaZsa56 – Wildcrafting is awesome when you live out in the country! I know what you mean about finding a salad outdoors. My aunt, who is really into all natural herbs, recently pointed out several things in my own yard that I could be eating.

She said that dandelions are good in salads, as well as nasturtiums, those peppery little flowers with edible leaves and blooms. Lots of people use them in salads, and I have been growing them for years without knowing.

She also pointed out a certain type of weed with heart-shaped leaves and tiny purple flowers that has been taking over my yard in the spring. She said I should be taking advantage of this invasion, because this weed adds a minty taste to salads.

orangey03
Post 6

@wavy58 – Your wildcrafter neighbor reminds me of a man I know. He lives on an herb farm, but he exclusively makes teabags.

He can definitely market his product as all natural, because all he does is dry the leaves or fruit, shred them into tiny pieces, and put them in homemade teabags. He sets up a stand at every outdoor festival and produce market that will allow him to sell his stuff, and he always has several pitchers of various teas for you to try before you buy them.

I love buying from a wildcrafter, because I know that no preservatives or chemicals were added to his products. I try to buy all my herbs, fruits, and vegetables as direct from the source as possible.

wavy58
Post 5

There is a lady who lives on my street that never mows her lawn, because instead of growing grass, she grows herbs all over her property. The neighbors have complained about how unkempt her yard looks, but she says that growing herbs is her livelihood. I never knew the term before reading this, but she is a wildcrafter.

She has a stand set up at the local farmer's market, and she sells her herbs from here. Her crop always looks fresh and healthy, and I have bought parsley and cilantro from her many times. It looks and tastes much better than the kind you buy in grocery stores.

People have tried to sneak into her yard and steal herbs from the ground. After catching a couple of them, she fenced in her yard and got a guard dog. She hasn't had any trouble since!

lighth0se33
Post 4

Being a wildcrafter sounds like fun! I don't know a whole lot about herbs and what they look like, so I would have to do some serious studying before even attempting to harvest them from nature.

I would hate to accidentally pick poison mushrooms and sell them to people! Can you imagine the trouble you could get into? Wildcrafters must really have to know their stuff before they begin, or they could end up killing someone unintentionally.

It would also be terrible for someone to sell hallucinogenic mushrooms without knowing it. I have heard of people having a bad trip on these things and never being the same again.

jonrss
Post 3

@zsazsa56 - Wow, your post really got me excited. I have always waned to get involved with wildcrafting but I am kind of nervous. You always hear horror stories of people eating poisonous berries or mushrooms that ruined their nervous system. I don't want to be one of those people who eats the wrong thing.

So maybe you could give some advice to a beginner like me. Should I just get a guide book and head out into the woods and try and start identifying things? Or is this dangerous? I know that there is a company not far from me that leads harvesting tours. Would it be better to go out with an expert my first few times? Any tips you can provide would be great.

ZsaZsa56
Post 2

I have lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of my life and have been wildcrafting for almost as long as I could walk. Its so much fun and it makes so much sense. Who would want to walk through the supermarket when you could take a nice walk through the woods?

Now, of course, I don't get all my food from the woods. You don't find a lot of rice growing in Oregon. But you would not believe how much delicious, exotic and expensive stuff you can get for free from nature. I have harvested rare mushrooms, delicious herbs, berries and lots of other edible products that I make salads, teas and broths out of. A lot of times you end up with flavors that you would not find anywhere else.

I know it takes a little courage to get started, but the best way to dive in is just to go into nature and start looking around. Don't try to eat anything on your first few trips, just familiarize yourself with your surroundings. There is delicious stuff all around you. With a little bit of experience you will be able to find it.

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