Harvesting from

Harvesting wild plants for food or medicine is a great pleasure, and healing in its own right. We all need the company of plants and wild places in our lives, whether this is in an old wood, a mountainside or the seashore, just down the street, or in our own backyard. Gathering herbs for free is the beginning of a valuable and therapeutic relationship with the wild. Here are a few basic guidelines to help you get started.

Why pay others to frolic in the luscious gardens of Earth, picking flowers and enjoying themselves making herbal products? You can do all that frolicking, immersing yourself in wondrous herbal beauty, and uplifting your mind and spirit. Making your own herbal medicine both enhances your happiness and boosts your immune system.

When collecting, try to choose a place where the plant you are harvesting is abundant and vibrant. Woods, fields, and minor roads are best, though many of our fifty plants are also found in the city. Avoiding heavy traffic is safer for you and your lungs, and plants growing in quiet places are less polluted. Plants growing next to fields may receive crop sprays.

We usually want to harvest herbs when they are at their lushest. It's best to pick on a dry day, after the morning dew has burned off. For St John's wort and aromatic plants the energy of the sun is really important, so wait for a hot day and pick while the sun is high in the sky, ideally just before noon.

It is really important to make sure you have the right plant. A good field guide is essential - for North America we recommend the Peterson Field Guide series, which has regional guides including A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America . Some herbalists and foragers offer herb walks - great for learning to identify plants. For distribution maps and other information, go to the USDA PLANTS database: http://plants.usda.gov/.

Harvest only what you need and will use; leave some of the plant so it will grow back. When picking "above-ground parts" of a plant, only take the top half to twothirds. Never harvest a plant if it is the only one in a particular area.

We have included a few roots in our recipes. It is important not to over-harvest these, even though most of the plants we describe are widespread. The law states that you must seek the permission of the landowner before you dig up roots, if this is not on your own land (see p. 198 for more on law).

Collecting equipment is simple: think carrier bags or a basket, and perhaps gloves, scissors, or shears. If you are harvesting roots take a shovel or digging fork.

A quiet English country lane in May, with hawthorn flowering and a healthy undergrowth of nettles and cleavers.

A quiet English country lane in May, with hawthorn flowering and a healthy undergrowth of nettles and cleavers.

Using your herb

Herbs can be used in many different ways. Simplest of all is nibbling on the fresh plant, crushing the leaves to apply them as a poultice, or perhaps boiling up some leaves as a tea. Many of the plants discussed in this book are foods as well as medicines, and incorporating them seasonally in your diet is a tasty and enjoyable way to improve your health.

But because fresh herbs aren't available year round or may not grow right on your doorstep, you may want to preserve them for later use. Follow these guidelines.

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