What Is Wild Harvesting: Learn About The Dangers Of Wild Harvesting

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

It’s tempting after a lovely walk in nature to want to bring home some of its beauty. Perhaps you spied an unusual flower or small tree that would look fabulous in your landscape. Wild collection is frowned upon by the Forest Service, plant experts, and many others. But why is wild harvesting plants seen in a bad light? These aren’t just free plants but part of complex ecosystems. They can also pose real dangers to your landscape and other plants and animals in your care. The following is a breakdown on what is wild harvesting and what can and can’t be collected.

There is a huge variety of unique flora in our parks, forests, and waters. Gardeners whose landscape mimics the natural landscape may find themselves enticed by the plants in public spaces, but in most states, plant harvesting from wild sources is illegal. There are also other reasons not to remove plants from their natural state.

What is Wild Harvesting?

You may think wild harvesting is simply gathering blackberries in the forest or mushroom hunting. There is some truth to this, but it also refers to collecting wild plants and taking them home for personal use. Wild harvesting plants can destroy fragile ecosystems and, in some cases, an animal’s habitat.

Additionally, many plants in nature have diseases or come with tag-a-long invasive or nuisance species. This is particularly common with water plants, which may bring into your pond such weeds like milfoil or Elodia. These can invade your system, choke out other plants, and clog your filters. Introduced species with disease could kill your fish or other domestic life. This is one of the clearest dangers of wild harvesting.

Plant harvesting from wild sources is never a good idea and may even be against the law.

Wild Harvest Do’s and Don’ts

As long as you aren’t gathering native plants, wild foraging is fun and a great way to spend the day in nature. Before you go collecting, check with the local forestry service and obtain any permits necessary. You also need to ensure the plants are in season. The rangers can usually give you a guide or map to known locations of your desired food or herb.

Never collect things like herbs or mushrooms if you are not knowledgeable of these plants. One of the dangers of wild harvesting edibles is that you might mistake one food for another as in the case of poisonous mushrooms. Many a forager has ended up in the hospital, or worse, from ingesting the wrong food.

There are a few basic wild harvest do’s and don’ts to remember when gathering edibles:

  • First, never take white or green berries and avoid any plant with a milky sap. Purple and black berries are usually okay, but never eat a berry unless you know what it is. Watch what animals eat to gauge if it is edible.
  • Anything that looks like parsley or carrots is likely unsafe to eat.
  • You can always rely upon the adage, “leaves of three, let them be.”
  • Never take all of a food, as it is necessary for wild animals and removing it will prevent seed production for future crops.

If you have any doubts about a plant’s level of safety, leave it alone and don’t take any chances. Follow these basic guidelines and have a fun and productive gathering trip.

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Read more about Gardening Tips & Information

How to Grow Chickpeas, Garbanzo Beans

The chickpea or garbanzo bean is a cool-season annual that requires about 100 days to reach harvest. Sow chickpeas in the garden about the date of the average last frost in spring or slightly earlier. Chickpeas require a long growing season to get a head start on the season, sow chickpeas indoors in a peat or paper pot several weeks before transplanting out. Set the chickpea and biodegradable pot whole in the garden when the plant is 4 to 5 inches (10-12cm) tall.

Description. Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans and gram, are regarded as beans, but botanically are neither beans nor peas. The chickpea is a tender annual legume, a bushy plant that grows to about 18 inches (45cm) tall and has pairs of dark green, compound leaflets that look like vetch. Chickpeas have swollen, oblong pods to about 1 inch (2.5cm) long and nearly as wide that contain one or two large, cream-colored, pea-like seeds each. Flowers may be white or violet colored depending on the variety.

Yield. Grow 4 to 8 chickpeas plants per each household member.

The chickpea is a cool-season annual that requires 100 or so days to reach harvest.

Where to find Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic or Ramsons is found across most of the country. The map below from the National Biodiversity Network shows there is barely a 10 kilometre square in the country without it unless you are in the Highlands or Ireland. It is found in damp, Ancient deciduous woodlands, shady lanes and some hedgerows. Like Bluebells, it prefers slightly acidic soils so if you know a good Bluebell wood it might have Wild Garlic too. Given suitable conditions it can be prolific carpeting significant areas, almost turning the woodland floor white.

The information used here was sourced through the NBN Gateway website and included many resources. Accessed 1 March. 2016. The data providers and NBN Trust bear no responsibility for the further analysis or interpretation of this material, data and/or information.

Benefits and Uses for Dandelion:

Oh, the benefits and uses are many! All the parts are useful in both culinary endeavors as well as medicinals in your home apothecary.

Benefits & Uses of Dandelion Flowers:

The bright yellow flowers contain high levels of beta-carotene, indicated by the color. They also contain lutein, and both of these compounds are excellent for your eye health.

The flowers also contain skin loving constituents that provide relief for minor pains, skin-softening benefits, and may even help skin further by being anti-aging and sun-protective.

You can make a dandelion flower infused oil from the flowers by letting them dry for three or so days, then infusing them in your favorite skin care oil. Once you have your lovely dandelion infused oil, you can easily create your own dandelion salve for sore muscles and rough, dry skin. You can find out more about making your own salves here.

You can make a lovely dandelion salve with the flowers!

Learn to make herbal salves, oils, and balms in your own home for healing and beauty!

Benefits & Uses of Dandelion Leaves:

Dandelion leaves are fabulous for your digestive system! They help digest heavy foods, including fats, and are excellent for supporting your gall bladder. They also help produce bile, which in turn helps with digestion. Eating some dandelion leaves before your dinner can help stop flatulence and indigestion later.

The leaves have strong diuretic actions. This means they are kidney supportive and help the body filter toxins through the urinary system, especially the kidneys and bladder. Drink some dandelion leaf tea if you are experiencing water retention!

The leaves are excellent in salads, especially when harvested in the spring and early summer. Later in the hot summer, they turn very bitter.

A great reason to eat your dandelion greens is they are highly nutritious. They contain high levels of vitamin A, and C and B6. They also contain important minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium.

So, eat your dandelion greens and drink your dandelion tea! These two methods of preparation are really the best ways to obtain the nutrients from this powerful herb.

Benefits & Uses of Dandelion Roots:

Just because the root is hidden away below the surface of the soil is no reason to disregard this important plant part of the dandelion! The root contains compounds that are incredibly healthy for your liver and its detoxifying actions.

Dandelion roots actually work to improve liver function and protect it from damage due to toxins from alcohol, acetaminophen, and other sources. When you consistently consume dandelion root, you are helping your body with the natural detoxification and filtration process.

Your skin benefits tremendously from the consumption of dandelion root, too! This is because so many skin complaints present themselves because of liver toxicity. When you treat your liver right, your skin will glow!

Dandelion seeds are ethereal, great for making a wish!

Practicing Sustainable Wild Harvesting

  1. Only harvest plants you know are safe and can identify
  2. Only harvest plants in safe areas that are not contaminated or polluted
  3. Do not harvest on private property without permission
  4. Harvest no more than 10% or use the method: take 1 leave 2
  5. Know how to handle and prepare the plants you are harvesting
  6. Always check the legal status of the plant you want to harvest (is it endangered?)

The most important thing to do is to make sure you correctly identify the plants you are harvesting. Some plants have poisonous look-alikes so you must be 100% sure. If you aren’t sure, don’t harvest or eat it! Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America is a great field guide for medicinal plants in the area. Also, look at joining some online identification groups to get second opinions. Facebook and Reddit are a great place to find some of these groups.

Medicinal Uses

Common Name : Passionflower, maypop, old field apricot

Scientific name :

  • Passiflora incarnata – official species. Native vine to the southeastern US, growing west to eastern Texas and Oklahoma, and north to southern Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Passionflower grows south throughout all of Florida.

Distribution of species by US County/State Note: caution using other Passionflower species, as not all have been used traditionally and some may be toxic.

Family : Passifloraceae

Cultivated/Wildcrafted: Passionflower is abundant throughout an extensive range, so it’s not under threat as a species. Although, in the peripheries of its range, it may be only sporadically found. At the time of this writing, most of the major herbal distributors in the U.S. are selling organically grown herb from Italy, which is surprising considering its abundance and ease of cultivation in the southeastern U.S.

Part used : Leaves, stem, and flowers, harvest when the leaves are green and vital

Preparation & Dosage :

Tincture: 1:2 95% fresh herb

1:5 50 % freshly dried herb

Both preparations: 2-4 droppers full up to three times/day

Tea: .5 to 2 grams of herb per cup of water as an infusion up to 3 times/day

  • hypnotic (sleep-aid)
  • analgesic (pain-reliever)
  • hypotensive (lowers blood pressure)
  • nervine
  • anxiolytic (anti-anxiety)
  • anti-spasmodic
  • antidepressant

Energetics : slightly cooling and drying, mildly bitter

Traditional Uses: The Cherokee used the roots as a poultice to draw out inflammation in thorn wounds tea of the root in the ear for earache and tea of the root to wean infants. [iv] The Houma people infused the roots as a blood tonic. ii

It is interesting to note that contemporary herbalists use primarily the leaves, stems and flowers, whereas the ethnobotanical literature cites medicinal use of the roots only. In discussing its inclusion into the Eclectic material medica, Felter and Lloyd state in King’s American Dispensatory: [v]

Passiflora was introduced into medicine in 1839 or 1840 by Dr. L. Phares, of Mississippi, who, in the New Orleans Medical Journal, records some trials of the drug made by Dr. W. B. Lindsay, of Bayou Gros Tete, La. The use of the remedy has been revived within recent years, Prof. I. J. M. Goss, M. D., of Georgia, having introduced it into Eclectic practice. Prof. Goss, who introduced it to the Eclectic profession, employed the root and its preparations. We know of physicians who prefer the tincture of the leaves, and others still, who desire the root with a few inches of the stem attached.

Indications/Usages :[vi] [vii]

Nervous system/antispasmodic: insomnia, anxiety, anxietous depression, hypersensitivity to pain, headaches, agitation, transitioning from addictions, tics, hiccoughs, overstimulation, nervine tonic in preventing outbreaks of the herpes simplex virus, stress-induced hypertension, and menstrual cramps. The mandala-like flower demonstrates the powerful signature of its use in circular thinking, especially during insomnia passionflower is especially suited for folks who have a hard time letting things go, mulling them over incessantly in a repetitive manner.

Children: insomnia trouble sleeping through the night teething colic adjunct treatment in asthma especially with panic around asthma attacks whooping cough. See the notes below on calculating dosages for children.

Pregnancy: [viii] [ix] headache and pain, in general prevention of herpes outbreak hypertension help with insomnia and exhaustion in postpartum depression insomnia and anxiety. Please see the notes in the contra-indications section regarding passionflower’s safety in pregnancy.

Eclectic specific indications and uses: [v] irritation of brain and nervous system with atony sleeplessness from overwork, worry, or from febrile excitement, and in the young and aged neuralgic pains with debility exhaustion from cerebral fullness, or from excitement convulsive movements infantile nervous irritation nervous headache tetanus hysteria oppressed breathing cardiac palpitation from excitement or shock.

Michael Moorisms: [x] Cardiovascular excess in mesomorphs, sthenic middle-aged women complementary with Crataegus, lowers diastolic pressure PMS depression, PMS with insomnia insomnia in sthenic individuals and headache in hypertensive states with tinnitus.

Personal experience: I use passionflower, primarily in tincture form, for insomnia, especially with circular thinking. The person is lying in bed mulling over an unpleasant situation in their life or something they said that day, and they just can’t let it go. It is beneficial in both sleep onset and sleep maintenance insomnia. I often combine it with valerian and/or skullcap, and less frequently, hops.

Passionflower is one of the herbs I use commonly for dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps), often in combination with motherwort, black cohosh, and kava kava. Many women find relief with passionflower for cranky PMS moments.

Considered safe for children, it is beneficial internally to take the edge off teething, and to help children relax when they are climbing up the walls. Many parents use it to help children who wake frequently throughout the night sleep more soundly. As one of our safer anti-anxiety herbs, it can be helpful in treating children’s acute or chronic anxiety, and also to help them deal with an acutely traumatic or stressful situation.

Passionflower is one of my favored remedies for acute musculoskeletal pain I use it in combination with meadowsweet, black birch, and skullcap for muscle strains, sprains and joint inflammation in general.

Contra-indications/ Side effects : [x] bradycardia hypotension concurrent use of pharmaceutical sedatives.

According to Mills and Bone[xi], passionflower is in the following category of herbs:

Drugs that have been taken by only a limited number of pregnant women and women of childbearing age, without an increase in the frequency of malformation or other direct or indirect harmful effects on the human fetus having been observed. Studies in animals have not shown evidence of an increased occurrence of fetal damage.

In the American Herbal Products Association Botanical Safety Book[xii], Passionflower is not contra-indicated in pregnancy or lactation.

In Herbal Medicines, third edition , Barnes et al report no recorded drug/herb interactions, however a hydroalcoholic extract was reported to potentiate rhythmic rat spasms in isolated rat uterus, and based on these results, the author’s caution against using passionflower in pregnancy.

I am particularly conservative with herbal use in pregnancy, and believe that herbs should only been used when necessary and when there is a strong historical precedence. It is difficult to extrapolate from the ethnobotanical literature on passionflower’s use during pregnancy since little has been recorded on the herbs usage in general contemporary use of the herb does not seem to match the recorded uses. That said, many contemporary herbalists and midwives recommend the herb’s use in pregnancy, and it is generally considered safe by most sources on botanical medicine safety. In addition, there are no adverse pregnancy events reported.

I also think intuition is a valuable tool in determining whether on not to use an herb in any situation (in combination with expert advice and research). Trust your body and trust your instincts if they tell you not to take an herb!

Determining dosage in children by weight:

To determine the child’s dosage by weight, you can assume that the adult dosage is for a 150-pound adult. Divide the child’s weight by 150. Take that number and multiply it by the recommended adult dosage. For example, if your child weighs 50 pounds, she will need one-third the recommended dose for a 150-pound adult. If the adult dosage is three droppers full of a tincture, she will need one third of that dose, which is one dropper full (1/3 of 3 droppers full). A 25-pound child would need one-sixth the adult dose, so he would receive one half of a dropper full (1/6 of 3 droppers full).

[i] Dai, C. and Galloway, L. F. (2012), Male flowers are better fathers than hermaphroditic flowers in andromonoecious Passiflora incarnata. New Phytologist , 193: 787-796.

[ii] Austin, Daniel. Florida Ethnobotany

[iii] Strachney, Wm. (1612) 1953. The Historie of Travell into Virginia Britania. London (Wright, L. B. and Freund, V., Eds. Reprinted by Hakluyt Society, London.)

[iv] Hamel, B. and Chiltoskey, Mary U. Cherokee Plants and their uses- a 400 year history

[v] Felter and Lloyd. King’s American Dispensatory

[vi] Barnes, Joanne, et al. Herbal Medicine, Third Edition

[vii] Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism

[viii] Romm, Aviva Jill. The Natural Pregnancy Book – Herbs, Nutrition, and other Holistic Choices.

[ix] Romm, Aviva et al. Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health

[x] Moore, Michael. Southwest School of Botanical Medicine, 2001. Author’s personal class notes

[xi] Mills, S. and Bone, K. The Essential guide to Herbal Safety

[xii] McGuffin, Michael et al. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook

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