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Tending Seeds Transcript - Episode 10

Wildcrafting Thoughts

Sara Schuster  0:08  
This is tending seeds, a podcast about my adventures and homesteading and herbalists on. I'm Sara Schuster, and I'll be your host. Thanks for being here today. Hi, friends. Welcome back for another episode. I hope your June is going as well as mine is. We just had a beautiful full moon. And we have the summer solstice coming up in just a few days here. I have to say I am absolutely loving this month. I don't know what has shifted for me, but there's so much going on so much great stuff. I am just so energized. And yeah, I don't I don't know what switch got flipped for me. But I am like working on stuff until like nine or 10 o'clock at night when Normally I'm in bed by nine since we get up kind of early here. And I just can't stop like last night my partner actually like brought my food to me was like you left your dinner in the kitchen like are you nice eating, I was just like, Oh, I just got busy just got so absorbed. And what I was doing was just cleaning, lemon balm and making tinctures and drying herbs for tea and I'm just loving life right now. Everything's going on, everything's awesome. There's so much happening outdoors in the garden and things to forage and see. And life is everywhere. I'm seeing tons of turtles and deer would Chuck's just so much happening. And I am definitely like loving every minute of it. We've had a lot of projects going on here. In addition to that wildlife I mentioned, you know, it's nice to look at, and I love it. But the flip side is it is definitely now time to put a fence around the garden. It is necessary. I was hoping that I don't know had some naive hope or belief that maybe I wouldn't need to do that. So yeah, I am having fun. Haha, driving fence posts, which Luckily, after the first one that I attempted just with a hammer, I went and coughed up the 35 bucks for a fence post driver, which I was hesitant to do. But our soil is so compacted after the first couple inches, there's no way I was going to be able to do that. Even still, even with the fence post driver just to drive the tea posts for the garden fence. It's taking me usually about 12 hits with that, and it's a 16 pound post driver. So it's it's not a lightweight thing. So that's keeping me busy, and will be lots of fun. I'm also having to make some hoops out of chicken wire to put around the fruit trees and the elder and things like that. Because Yeah, the wildlife is out and about, and they have found all of the good things. So it's time to intervene. I talked a few episodes ago about some of the things we've discovered about our house after the previous owners and we have discovered a new one, funnily enough is linked to the to the previous thing I talked about, I talked about before, how I was wondering, you know, these people smoked, where did they smoke in the house, even though they told us that they didn't. And then we discovered that the master bathroom was definitely where they've been smoking because the walls started bleeding nicotine A few months after I painted them. So that was its own thing that still needs to get fixed. So it kind of looks like a horror movie in there, if you look close enough. So I just don't that would be a winter project once there's less to do outside. Because right now, like I said, we are so busy. So the other thing we discovered, here's the thing about home ownership, for those of you that haven't explored this realm yet, but for those of you who have I'm sure you can relate to this, you'll see this like tiny problem or project that you think he wants to do some small improvement or something or a tiny thing to fix. And then once you start exploring that, it's kind of like tugging on the end of the string. And then the entire skein of yarn just like wax you in the face. So this story started with ants, we had seen ants at points around, you know, the frame of our door, the main door to the house on the inside. Never a lot. It was it was never super disturbing. few times, it was enough that I sprayed like a non toxic like essential oil base like cedar oil spray, it took to kind of kill some of those ants and get rid of them. Because they were definitely a lot more than I could just move outside, that's for sure. But anyway, we had some rain. And I guess the moisture sort of drove them inside because I went to go leave the house one day to go do an errand. And I looked down and on both sides of the door down the door jamb, there was a pile of basically like ant larva and ants making these little miniature mounds or pyramids inside the house on either side of the door, which was sort of alarming, and pretty gross to be, to be honest. So clean that up.

And that was like, all right, well, we need to figure out how to seal this door, figure out what's going on. Why is you know, how are they getting in? And where and why? Because after you know, we moved in, we had painted everything we had put new molding on, because we had to redo the floors because they were so gross. So it's like we thought we had still things happening well, so really, how are they getting in? So we start exploring this. And I'll just jump to the punch line right here is that at some point, our house was on fire. Not in a big way, I guess. But still, that's kind of an alarming statement. I'm guessing this is related to smoking. Also, because of just the positioning of the fire and how low to the ground it was, I think what happened is that you know what restaurants, the the bins, they have to drop your cigarette butts. And I've worked in restaurants I've seen those occasionally catch on fire if they don't get cleaned out often enough, and it's not fun. And so this looks like I'm guessing it was something like that ever sceptical for those cigarette butts. I'm guessing it caught on fire, it was up really close to the side of the house, which has, you know, siding on it, it basically caught the side of the house on fire burned or melted away all the siding, they're down to like the interior plywood of the house and eating into part of the framing and molding for the front door. And the people that lived here previously did do anything about it, you know, they put the fire out. And then they just decided to slap on some shutters on either side of the front door that looked you know, they put them on both sides to make it look like a decorative choice. And they matched them up fairly well, at least color wise to the shutters that are on the windows. So when we looked at this house, and when we bought it, we always thought it was kind of a weird choice. But the front of the house is pretty plain. So we were like, well, it kind of works. And I guess it gives a little something to the front door area. And so we had left them there. We had never looked behind them. The home inspector when we were buying the house never looked behind it either, I guess. So yeah. When we were exploring to figure out how the ants were getting into the house, we ended up on unscrewing the shutter and finding all this evidence of Yeah, it's just open and the shutters, you know, have slots in them to allow airflow, like most shutters do. And so there's just been rain coming through these, say moisture and stuff and a huge ant nest. That was really great discover. So yeah, so we have put in a new front door, that was sort of an all day project to get that leveled and put in at the right angles and everything else and wedged that in. But the cool thing is now I have a front door that has some windows up at the top. So we get some more light into the house, which is pretty nice. I'm going to hopefully paint that at some point here. And we also got a screen door to put on there. So now we can get a full breeze going across the house from the front to the back door. So it's a good improvement. But definitely a more expensive thing than we really, you know, had budgeted for right now. It wasn't, it was on our Sunday list of Hey, maybe we'll replace the front door at some point. It was not our list to do right now. So that was fun. We still have to try to find an order sighting that will match up to the rest of the house as closely as possible in terms of color, hopefully doesn't look too off. I'm definitely not putting those shutters back on there. So yeah, homeownership, y'all. It's always an adventure. But everything else here is going really great. I was just pretty flabbergasted at that. Because

I feel like we're working so hard to move forward on all these different projects. It's like you get one thing done and one thing scheduled. And then other things pop up. Like literally the day that this happened was the same day that we had just shelled out money for an electrician to come to get power run out to the workshop, and I was feeling really good about like crossing that off the list. And then we discovered this thing where it's like, oh, there's gonna be multiple days of work and several hundred dollars to repair this now instead. But the good thing is the electric has run to the workshop. That's awesome. In two weeks, we are getting the woodstove installed, I've had that scheduled for about a month now it just has taken them. They weren't available until this time. So in two weeks, we'll have that hooked up, which means that we can figure finish out the rest of that room, getting the walls and everything put up and then doing the flooring. So we are making progress. Sometimes it feels like two steps forward, three steps back. But overall, we are making progress. I guess at least these are new problems that are coming up. We're not having to reach work that we've already done that goodness is just frustrating at points. So but everything else is great. Like I said, I'm loving everything that's happening with the farm and the garden. I always wish there were more hours in the day because there's always more that I want to be doing. But at least what's happening and what is getting done is stuff that makes me really happy. And I'm super pleased about so getting lots of herbs into the house elderflower, and lemon balm, sage and rosemary, Mimosa, spotted some black walnuts the other day is probably going to do something with those. So yeah, lots of great stuff happening. No complaints, really just those occasional frustrations that make you want to pull your hair out. I'm sure you all can relate. So that's why I want to share, feel free to message me and commiserate. If you have other ridiculous projects of things that you discovered after purchasing a house, I would always love to read them. But first, I want to jump into the main topic for today, which is going to be discussing ethics and practices around wild crafting and forging. I try really hard to not get into arguments with folks online, I'm always willing to talk to people in person where we can actually look each other in the eye and treat each other with hopefully some kindness and respect even if we're disagreeing. And so yeah, I try to stay off the online arguments just because they quickly just get so dehumanizing where you're just attacking someone and you're not thinking about them as a person, you're just launching into stuff through your keyboard. But every once in a while, something sneaks through, and just gets me so much that I end up having to jump into something and say something. And that happened last week. And it has stayed with me, I still am thinking about it. And so I decided to talk about it this week. I'm not going to name this person or the group happened in or anything else like that, because I don't think it's important. I think it's more important to talk about the conversation and what issues that brought up for me and what I think we can do about it. So the basic gist of it is that someone popped up and a local or group to my area on Facebook

and said, Hey, I spent a lot of time doing foraging and while crafting. This was a group specifically for herbalists. So it was a pretty small group, I think less than 200 people. And so this person was offering offering medicine, offering plants for medicine making and said, What are you all looking for. And he listed a few specific types of plants that he knew he could obtain. One of those plants is a plant that is on the endangered Plant List. Just going to put another plug in here for United plant Savers, please check it out. It's a great, great organization and conservation group. They're so knowledgeable, they share so much great information. But anyway, so yeah, he offered up blood route, which is an endangered plant and not one that I really see very often in Middle Tennessee, I was talking to another friend and herbalist about this as well, who saw the exchange and messaged me about it. And she also confirmed that she was like, Yeah, I really don't see much blood at all. And Middle Tennessee, which just goes to show, you know, things can vary from area to area, and something may be prolific in one place in the US and really endangered or non existent somewhere else. So it's good to know where you're thinking about foraging and harvesting, and what the region is like. But anyway, so I just commented and said, Hey, please don't wild craft blood group. And I'll add this was this person's first post ever in the group they had never interacted in the group before. Facebook, for some reason gives you lots of little push notifications. And so it actually marked his post as being his first one. And sort of giving you this notification of like, Hey, welcome this person, you know, welcome the person to the group, you know, they're interacting. So I just very nicely said, Hey, please don't harvest blood route. And of course, he was like Why? I said, Well, because it's an endangered plant, I linked him to the blood route page on united plant savers on our website that has all the information about it. And his response was, I was worried you were gonna say something like this. And then just jumped into this mode of, I guess, man, explain to me how plant stand tending works and plant propagation, and everything else. My response to him and I stopped responding after this. My response was basically,

your post didn't say anything about you doing any sort of plant propagation. You literally just came in here offering to wild craft plants and sell them to people. You didn't say where you were getting these plants, you didn't say what your ethics and practices were in regards to forging. And also like, I don't know you like even if you did say that, if I don't have a relationship with you, or any understanding of your stance and ethics and what you're doing. You know, I don't I don't know that you're really doing what you're saying. Other people got on the post that point and it just sort of devolved from there. And I was like, I can't keep putting energy into this. I had to get to work. But it really stuck with me. And I've been thinking about a lot. So that's what I want to talk about today is how and when we wild craft and forage what plants we are wild crafting and foraging and the decisions we're making in regards to those plants. Because I think it's a really important topic for us. Whether you're an herbalist or a homesteader, or someone who's just starting to get interested in plant medicine or foraged foods, I think these are things we need to be considering and thinking about. And it's a nuanced conversation to have. There are lots of factors, just just like I said, a minute ago, where a plant may be really prevalent in your area, but not in mine. And so, to me, I might think, Oh my gosh, I would never harvest that plant because it's really rare, not risk. Whereas you might be standing in a different part of the country, and looking at, you know, fields of that plant going, what are you talking about? And so again, it's it's about nuance, but it's about asking those questions before we harvest, with blood rue, in particular with this endangered plant, as an herbalist one of my questions would be, why do you need that plant and specific, it's, it's not something you're harvesting to eat, it's something you're harvesting to make some sort of plant medicine out of? And so I would say what qualities or actions or properties are you hoping to get from that plant? And could you get those from other plants that are growing more abundantly in your area and aren't at risk or endangered already, I would be hard pressed to come up with a plant that there are no other plants that have similar actions to it. We see this in regards to things like golden seal, which is also an endangered an at risk plant the property in it, you know, birdbrain there are other plants that have that same constituent, sometimes that lesser at lesser volumes, but it's still there. And so you know, you can use things like Oregon grape or yellow root. They're not always interchangeable at a one for one ratio. But a lot of times we can find other things that will work and get similar results. So I would ask why do you need to pick that particular plant? I think sometimes the fact that a plant is less calm, it gives it this sort of magical draw for us where we value it more because it's more rare. And that's how overharvesting happens.

I also think even when we do you know, these plants are endangered or at risk, we can get into this mindset of competition and scarcity, you can definitely see this in regards to maybe a plant like Jen saying, where if you're out hunting Jen saying and even if you know what good plant propagation is, and what it would mean to actually steward a stand or population of those plants, you might just be in the mindset of, well, I could replant this, I could replant these Jensen berries and try to help this stand along. But you're in this competitive scarcity mindset of, well, if I don't take all these plants, the next person who comes along is just going to take them. So it might as well be me, I might as well get the money for you know, harvesting and ripping this thing out of the ground. And it's hard to argue with that. Because Because honestly, there is a very good chance that there is someone else that's going to come along after you and will see that ginseng plant that you skipped over, and they might rip it out of the ground. And you might say that it's a privilege to be in a position where you don't need the money from that plant and so that you can make the choice to not pull it out and harvest it yourself and to leave it and hope that it lives through to the next season. Like I said, there's a lot of nuance to these conversations. And I can't always argue with that I know for some harvesting Jen saying is how they survive. And I wish there was a better way out there. So again, it's a really complicated conversation. I don't claim to have all the answers to it. But some of the things I do want to talk about, if you're not in a position where your entire livelihood is coming from foraging and wild crafting, and you have other options available to you, then let's talk about how we do interact with the natural world as being part of it not viewing ourselves as separate and removed, which I think is easy to do in this day and age. If there's a plant that you're interested in harvesting, I think our first step needs to be observation, you know, observing that plant learning about it, you know, learning about that particular stand of that plant that you've come across, but then also doing some research and figuring out what's the life cycle of this plant? What is it status? Is it at risk or endangered? How difficult is it to propagate? how prevalent is it in this area? And again, especially the lifecycle component there? How long does it take for a plant to go from seed to maturity, when we're talking about woodland medicinal, we're easily often talking about 567 or more years. I also think a huge part of ethical harvest needs to be not just focused on the aspect of taking, but what are you giving back? Have you learned about that plant and its propagation? What are you doing to help to help it along? Are you going to maybe help clear out some competing plants that are near whether those are invasive or otherwise? Do you know enough about the plants growing around it to be able to even make that judgment call, I think there's a lot of research we need to do before we start just grabbing plants and pulling them out for own use and benefit without thinking about what role those plants play in that ecosystem there. I think if you're not ready to do that, then you really shouldn't be out there foraging and wild crafting. I'm sorry, that's harsh, but we need to consider these factors. And if you're just getting started with foraging and wild crafting, then maybe stick to you know the things that are considered invasive, or things that other people would look at, as you know weeds. We call them weeds because they're prolific. So they're not things that you're worried about running out of. So start with those, get to know those plants. And in the course of doing so you're going to learn about all the other plants around them to you know, we don't get all this knowledge dumped into her head overnight. So start with a few simple recognizable plants and go from there and then start learning. Oh, well, there's planting what's the plant next to it? Oh, there's honeysuckle there's no Moza. How do these plants interact with this system here, you know, you can't drive down the highway right now without seeing Mimosa trees just hanging over the edge from all the highways a month or two ago, it was honeysuckle, these are pretty prolific plants in this area. And they're pushing out others, especially honeysuckle. And so if you were telling me, Hey, I'm going to go wild craft some high cycle, go for it, you're not going to damage the population of that plant, at least in this area. I think observation is really the key here to really understand what's going on with a plant in the area that you're living with. For us. You know, we've just been living here in this area for 13 months now. So I'm coming up on my second cycle through being able to observe the same area. I've talked before about how much I love elder elder flowers elderberries, I named my business Fox and elder because I love elder so much. And so this is the second, the second season getting to watch elder in this area. And I could tell you, I have a pretty detailed map in my head of everywhere that I saw elder last year. And now I'm able as I drive around and wander around this area, I'm able to not just observe that but also to compare and analyze because it's changed in the last year. There are bigger stands and some parts there are new plants popping up in other areas. And unfortunately, there are some that have been lost last year, one of the biggest stands of elder that I saw that I was really excited about to get to know better. It's completely gone. It got mowed down sometime last fall after Barry season had passed. And the people who have that property, you know, clear cut the entire area mowed everything down and down to the ground. And I've come back and checked on it throughout the spring and on into summer, I was even just out there not even a week ago looking at it. And none of that elder has come back I was hoping it would have but it's been crowded out by everything else on that land. And so it's completely gone. I think the other part of observation is to learn about how a plant grows, what its life cycles like, and so growing your own is a great option there. So we definitely have plenty of elder now growing on our property, it is small, it is smaller still, because the deer found it last week and ate

all of the leaves off of the ones that I planted this past fall. But that's my bad. So they will be getting some chicken wire on them. If you're you know, going back to this original example of this conversation that started it, if you want to be able to go out and forage and harvest for blood root, then knowing where do you find blood root in this area? Going back and checking on it figuring out you know, how do I propagate this plant? How can I help this stand of plants grow and thrive, and then also plant your own. My friend Sheila, hi, Sheila, I know listens to the podcast. And we were just messaging, you know, about a week before has happened, funnily enough, and she was planting blood on her land not to ever harvest but just because she wanted to give that plant space and to try to nurture it because she knows it's endangered. And so it was sort of a measure of respect for her and her love of the plant world that she wanted to give some space on her property to this plant. And I think that's so awesome and beautiful. And I would encourage everyone to do that if you're able, or if not go secretly plant things other places. Or if you have friends that have land, ask if you can plant stuff there in their woods, I really doubt they'll say no. And I think too, you know, we really need to observe long term to understand how a plant's life cycle works, how easily it propagates, how quickly it grows back. You can get online and read websites or blogs or even just you know books or other people's foraging courses and things like that. And you'll see lots of broad, sweeping, generalized quote unquote rules for wild crafting. And I've seen such a wide such a wide variety of rules in terms of like how much you should harvest of a plant, if you come up on a plant stand of a certain type of plant, you know, I've seen never take more than a third never take more than a quarter no more than one out of 20 plants. And I think it's nice to try to have just a general rule like that. But I don't think it's really what we need. Because every plants different the way you harvest honeysuckle versus the way you harvest bee balm versus the way you would harvest tchotchke you know, these are all very different in terms of how they grow and their life cycles. I know I'm getting into mushrooms now sorry. I recently heard an interview with Arthur Haynes, who is a forger and a research botanist. And he was talking about some of these issues. And I really appreciated that he came to the conversation with some really good hard facts and why the scientific studies that he quoted was one on a stand of wild leeks and the researchers harvested one 10th of that stands. So 10%, which is way less than what you'll see as a common guideline. And a lot of you know foraging programs and books. So you harvested one 10th are not heated, the people doing the study harvested one 10th of the wild leeks, and they found that in order for that stand to be sustainable, in terms of managing it that way, they would not have been able to harvest again from that same stand for 10 years, that's crazy to me, if you talk to most foragers, like some of the info that they love, and prize is like knowing, you know, oh, for this particular plant, this is where I go and harvest from, they're not waiting 10 years to go back, if you know you have a stand of something that's awesome. And that you want to be able to have, whether that's a food or a medicinal plant, you're not waiting 10 years to go back for that you're loving the fact that you know where that is. And you're hopefully keeping that secret, cuz everyone gets real secretive about that stuff. And because you don't want other people coming through and wiping it out. But you're probably going back there expecting that you can go back and take, you know, just a little bit every single year. Like I said, every plant is different. And so if we're not really considering that if we're not doing the research, you know, I don't know if there's a database out there where you can find other similar studies to that wild week study, but for different types of plants and get that info, I would be really interested if anyone has any links or anything for that, please let me know. And I'll share them. But you know, we can't assume that oh, well, I only took 20% of the stand. And so that'll be fine by next year, even if no one else comes along, which if someone else does, and they take 20% and then another person 20%. We've just got huge diminishing returns here. And it may still have some plants by the next year. But what about five years from now? Is that standard going to be around? Or is it going to be gone. And I think we need to start thinking about these things. Also just you know, when we're going out and harvesting, whether it's a plant that is more rare, or whether it's a quote unquote invasive, or whether it's something people consider a weed, I think it's really important to not let our eyes be bigger than our stomach so to speak, please make sure you're only harvesting what you truly need and what you can actually use before it goes bad. I have a rule for myself, if I go out and harvest a basket of something, I don't care what it is, I'm not allowed to go out and get anything else until I've fully processed or put up or dealt with that plant material. Because it's just not right, I'm not gonna waste it

last night, I was up pretty late for me because my boss is a side gig were kind enough to let me harvest a bunch of lemon balm from their yard, it was a huge basket, but I wasn't going to go to bed before I put that up. That's just not how I roll. And I hope that other people feel the same way. We shouldn't be wasting the gifts of these plants. That's all there is to it. And we need to think about how we are in relationship to them. And we need to nurture that relationship and to understand that it can't be a one sided relationship where we're just taking, taking taking. And then a few years from now we're standing in that same spot with a look at disbelief on our face going Why isn't this plant here for anymore? It's because you weren't there for that plan. Plain and simple. So not trying to get too far up on my soapbox today. I feel like most of this stuff should be pretty common sense. But I also feel like it's worth repeating and worth saying, because I think it's a conversation we need to have. I think it's good for all of us to think about especially at this time of year where it feels like there's so much abundance out there. We need to we need to consider these things and think about how we interact with the landscape and whether we're doing as much for it as it is doing for us. All right. I'd love to know your thoughts. If you have any on this episode. As always, you can reach out to me by email Fox and elder at gmail. com or on Instagram box and elder all one word. And I will be back as usual on the first and third Wednesday of each month with a new episode. I hope you're doing well get out there. Go eat something out of the wild. go have some fun. It's beautiful. Until next time, keep your hands dirty and your heart open.

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