It’s that time of year again, when some well-meaning but very-new-to-everything Pagans will decide to take a more hands-on approach to their ritual items by seeking out and harvesting their own supplies. This is a generally good idea, but things can rapidly go wrong when they feel moved to harvest a branch from a tree, only to find that the tree they’ve harmed is one of the last remaining American chestnuts. A few basic, precautionary steps can ensure that we avoid a major ecological disaster, however, and these same steps are good for even the most seasoned of us to review each year (as things change, and many times for the worse when it comes to preservation):
- Know your land.
Before you march out with basket and knife, take a moment to make sure you know how to identify the plants in your area. After all, how can you avoid harvesting endangered species if you don’t even know the difference between a Venus fly trap and a patch of moss? Consider beginning in your own backyard by identifying the common plants. Research their properties, magical and otherwise, and what growing conditions they do best in. You may find a better alternative to that rare and expensive herb that flowers only once every three years.
- Know your laws.
Did you know that even if you found a hawk feather laying in the middle of your driveway, you’re not legally allowed to keep it? If that sounds ridiculous to you, thank the feather-obsession of rich people. Not too long ago they had many birds hunted to extinction, not for food, but for fashion. They would use the feathers on large, garish hats which would get thrown out after a season, along with the entire species that had ornamented it. While hats aren’t quite so popular these days (feathered ones, at least), there’s no real way of knowing whether you innocently found that feather, or whether you’ve been quietly murdering entire swathes of birds to start your own fashion empire. If you want to know a good resource to help you determine whether a feather is safe to keep or not, I recommend Feather Folio.
- Know your limits.
If you come across a patch of wild ramps, do you know how much to harvest? If you answered “everything I see”, you’re part of the reason these plants have become so elusive. Learn how much harvesting particular plants can tolerate, review websites on proper foraging etiquette, and remember to always leave plenty behind for the plants to replenish themselves. The goal is to be a mindful steward of the land, not a mindless consumerist.
[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]