Gathering & Wildcrafting 101
One of the most important lectures I remember from my Herbal schooling was simply talking about HOW we should go into Nature to gather. Here is a good primer for all the steps to take into account when beginning to gather from the wild.
Before ever leaving the house, I like to ask myself what I want to create with what I intend to gather and why. Have a plan in mind, otherwise you may end up wasting the plant material you bring back. First, determine the area or region you would like to search. It may be a place you know well or somewhere completely new. Then, tap into the feeling of that place and see if it's amenable to you visiting. Does it feel like a good match? Looking at a map or pictures of an area can help with this visualization. (Also, be sure that you are legally allowed to take from an area. Public lands, or private lands where you have permission from the owner, are best.)
Plan ahead! Bring some nice strong plant clippers, a small trowel, twine, and a gathering basket or bag (maybe several depending on what you're gathering). Gloves are never a bad idea either.
Once you reach your gathering area, stop and take a deep breath of the air. Get it deep in your lungs and reach out with your energy feelers to greet the place. As I start down my path I like to begin with a spoken or silent prayer of gratitude. I look around, thank the spirits of the land for their beauty and generosity, and state my intention to gather with respect and care.
Now is also a good time to consider how what you take will affect the other life of the land you're on. Good questions to ask are: Am I taking a large amount of some creature's food or nesting source? Am I taking a plant that has a difficult time reseeding or takes ages to mature? Is it a threatened species? It's a good idea to educate yourself on what plants are considered invasive, local, and threatened to the region you're in, before venturing out. Most States will have easily accessed lists of these on their Bureau of Land Management websites.
As you set out, resist the urge to start gathering from the very first plant you come across. Just walk a little while longer to take in all of the land and its life that surrounds you. Drink in its beauty. Let your mind calm. As you do this, make mental notes when you see your plant, but continue on and survey the area for a while. This will allow you to plan out how much plant material from each stand you can take. Most likely you'll always find another stand a little further down the path.
Gathering is a meditative process. I like to do it as quietly as possible and listen to my intuition and knowledge about what a plant needs to thrive and how much I can take. It's also important to ask permission of a plant before you begin cutting. (I do the same for gathering resin and beach stones.) I close my eyes for a second and state my intention again and ask if it's ok to proceed. Often, I get a yes feeling but sometimes it's a no and it's important to respect the plant's wishes. Most of the time Nature Spirits are ignored and allowing them to have a voice is an important part of building a relationship with them. I want them to trust me so I can trust them when I venture into the wilds.
Another important thing to remember is to remain aware of your surroundings as you gather, take in everything around you. Good questions to ask yourself: Where am I putting my feet? Where am I putting my arms? What am I about to brush up against? Am I in an area where snakes hide? Is there enough light left for me to do this and get safely back? It's easy to get so focused on one plant that we become blind to everything else. But, keep in mind that we want to respect the whole ecosystem we're moving through and be safe at the same time.
As you cut, keep in mind that a plant should never look like you’ve trimmed anything from it. Your cuts should be hidden low on the stem below the axillary bud, so the plant can continue to grow. If it's a single stem plant, cut close to the ground. Be sure to vary your cuts about the plant or stand of plants so everything still looks balanced and full. Again, stop periodically and take a step back to see what you’re doing. Move around the plant or stand, don't stay in one spot, this will help you to take sparingly across a larger area.
Lastly, always express your gratitude to the plants for their generous nature as you depart. Sometimes I like to bring an offering of tea, water, grains, or seeds, (anything that would be safe for small creatures to eat.) Even crystals, stones, or small statues make good offerings.
We want in our wandering to be companions to the plants and spirits that inhabit a place and leave it just as sacred and full as when we approached it.