Weaving together botany and ecology.

Botany has been my favorite subject this learning season, and our study of herbs only adds to the daily marvels. However, kids seeking plants in fields contributed to some pillaging of local species, so I was grateful to discover a few “golden rules” (as well as a general primer for learning about herbs with little people) at Herbal Roots Zine. Here are the practices that we reviewed today (and will review again tomorrow):

Be a good land steward. Always pick up any debris you find on hiking trails, in the woods, etc. Teach them respect and awe for the beauty of nature and set a goal to always return a setting to its pristine state. When harvesting, don’t leave a mess of plants behind. Be discreet.

Make a positive ID every time. Always double check your plants to make sure you are 100% sure of what you are harvesting. If unsure, leave it! Don’t start tasting plants and berries if you don’t know what they are.

Leave more than you take. When harvesting plants from the wild, only take what you need or a quarter of the stand, less if it is struggling or an endangered plant. Before harvesting, make sure there are other stands of the plant in the area. Never harvest from a weak looking stand.

Do not harvest endangered species. Learn to cultivate these plants in your local wild areas to help bring them back. Grow a patch in your own yard if possible for harvesting purposes. United Plant Savers offers a list of endangered species on their website.

Harvest at the right time. Don’t harvest plants out of season. Dig roots in spring or fall, harvest leaves before the flowers bloom, harvest flowers as they open, etc. Teach your child(ren) the correct harvest times for each plant you are harvesting to avoid unnecessary waste. Plants harvested out of their peak harvest time will be less effective and possibly unusable depending on the plant.

Get permission. When harvesting on property that is not yours, make sure you have permission to harvest. Double check with state laws regarding wild crafting on public lands as well. Some conservation areas allow harvesting, others do not. Each area often has its own rules about harvesting as well.

Avoid roadside harvesting. Plants growing near roadways are often contaminated with pollution from vehicles. Make sure you’re off the beaten path for healthier harvesting.

Avoid treated lawns. Teach your child(ren) the importance of avoiding yards that are sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and other chemical sprays. Also have them be on the look out for run off from such lawns that go into wild areas. Some subdivisions have retainment ponds where the run off drains to after a rain. These areas are often teaming with lots of wild plants that are prime choices for harvesting. If they are in the path of the run off, do not harvest them.

I might add that one of the most effective ways (in our experience) to demonstrate the importance of herbs to the little folks is by incorporating an ecological element into the hands-on study of each plant. Rather than talking only about the features and characteristics of the herbs, we also discuss their natural relationships as a part of a unique local ecosystem or niche.

For example, who relies on this plant for food? What important roles does it play in the system as a whole? What threatens its existence? What invasive plants also thrive in the area? How much (or how little) is this a problem in this particular field location? How might this plant be affected by climate change or natural disaster?

Project Budburst (citizen science from the NSF)
Invasive Plants Brochure (Center for Plant Conservation)
Downspout Bog Gardens (Native Plant Society of North America)
Gardener’s Tip Sheet (Center for Plant Conservation)
Green Medicine (NPS)
Easy-to-Grow Native Grasses 1 and 2 (North American Native Plant Society)
Invasive Plants Recipes (National Audubon Society)

Musk Thistle Fact Sheet
Fig Buttercup Fact Sheet
Purple Loosestrife Fact Sheet
Black Locust Fact Sheet
Kudzu Fact Sheet
Porcelainberry Fact Sheet
Princess Tree Fact Sheet

Dark woods violet
Skunk cabbage
Showy milkweed
Woodland beardtongue
Purple loosestrife
Scotch thistle
White trillium
Wild strawberry
Wild ginger
Florida Wildflowers Coloring Book
Utah Native Plants To Color

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