Going Foraging? What to know before you go

Posted by Amy Johnson on

Foraging also is known as wild harvesting, wildcrafting, is the practice of respectfully harvesting and gathering plants that grow in the wild for nourishment and medicine. 

"And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul."

John Muir

There are many wild plants in the Edmonton area that are easy to forage for such as Dandelion, Plantain, Wild Chamomile, Cleavers, Spruce (tips and resin), Rose (petals and rosehips), saskatoon berries, highbush cranberries and more.

Plants contain spirits like us and spending time with them is magical and a way to get to know their spirits and what gifts they have to offer. 

Before you go harvesting, read through these tips to make it an enjoyable and safe experience for you and the plants.

Safety

Be prepared for the weather, how long you plan on being out, and get to know where you are going before you go.

  • Dress in layers
  • Wear appropriate footwear
  • Bring water, snacks
  • First aid kit 
  • Map, compass, GPS, etc. 
  • Watch for wildlife, make your self know by chatting, talking, singing and give them space
  • Choose a harvesting space away from roads/highways to reduce pollutants and increase your safety. Plants absorb pollutants so it's important to choose an area that's away from industrialization and vehicle traffic.
  • Be sure you can identify the plant correctly
  • Only take what you need and what you can process and last but not least,
  • Have fun! Bring a notebook/journal and a camera to capture your experience!

Wild-harvesting Basics


Is the area clean and free of pollutants?
You may see lots of plants you want to harvest but the area is polluted. Harvesting these plants could do you more harm than good as plants are excellent toxin absorbers and help break down toxins in the environment. Find a different spot to harvest that plant. Before you start gathering plants for food or medicine, take note of some key observations like

  • Can you easily identify the plant(s) you are wanting to harvest? If in doubt, pick a sample and bring it to a local plant expert in your community like a botanist, plant biologist, herbalist, or an elder before harvesting to use.
  • Is the plant you are wanting to pick healthy and vibrant? Are there several? Do they look well established? We want to tread lightly and softly. Be gracious & kind. The plants are offering gifts to us to harvest and it's kind to ask their permission before harvesting, to leave a gift, and not to over harvest. How do you know how much is okay to harvest? I try to only take less than 20-25% from one plant before moving on to the next one. This means not taking all the rosehips on one bush for example, but taking some and leaving some for the wildlife and to let the plant flourish and continue to grow. Over-harvesting can diminish the plant making it harder for it to grow back the next season.

Plant Harvesting Times - Seasons, Moon Cycle and Time of Day


Gathering plants at a specific time increases your ability to capture it at it's most vital energy point in its cycle for that plant part and it will have a strong nutritional and medicinal value.  I remember once reading in one of my herbal textbooks that before you go harvesting, it's fun to follow a plant through its life cycle, by going to observe it throughout the seasons so you get to know the plant and when it's vital force energy is abundant and when it's sleeping/resting and what those different stages look like. I love this concept but  waiting a whole year to harvest something can be so hard! That being said, knowing the optimum time in a season to harvest a plant in your region can be tricky without keen observation and going to visit your nature areas on a regular basis. 

Time of Day - The best time of day to gather aerial parts of a plant (leaves, flowers, stems) might be in the morning after the dew has lifted and before the heat of the day or the early evening. Volatile oils will evaporate in the midday heat and sun, but the sun helps draw out the resinous compounds into the aerial parts. So, depending on what aspects of the plant you are wanting to capture can help you determine when is the best time of day to harvest.

Seasons - Knowing when to harvest a specific plant part comes from knowing the plants' cycle through the seasons. e.g. when is the best time to harvest rosehips? Well, they first appear on the rosebush in the summer and slowly turn red into the fall. But they aren't at their highest nutritional value for us yet until after the first frost in the fall and can be harvested throughout the winter.

Moon Cycle - Plants are affected by the flow of a lunar cycle just like us and the tides. They are affected by the light of the moon and its gravitational pull.  Plants and the soil at the surface has a higher water/moisture content when the moon is full. Knowing where the moon is at around the time you have determined is best to harvest can be helpful. For example, when harvesting aerial parts like leaves, and flowers, aiming to harvest between a waxing gibbous and full moon, the plants will have higher moisture content in those parts of the plant than if it's between a waning gibbous and new moon when more of the water-energy is in the roots. But that new moon waning gibbous phase is ideal for harvesting roots for that very reason. So fascinating, right?! Knowing a bit about the lunar cycle can be helpful and a fun way to connect with the moon and plants, giving you a more grounded and spiritual connection to the sacredness of plant medicine in the wild around us.

References: 

Gray, Beverley. Boreal Herbal

Bennett, Robin R. Healing Magic. A Green Witch Guide to Conscious Living

 Farmers Almanac. 2020. Gardening by the Moon

Keepers of Life: Discovering Plants through Native American Stories 


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