Organic is always the best, right? As an herbalist, I have mixed views.
First, let’s define the three different growing classifications for herbs.
Commercial: These plants are farm raised, non-organically. Typically fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides are used. Produces nice, large plants, but laden with chemicals that have been absorbed into the plant. Why would we use these medicinally? We would be taking in additional toxins into our bodies.
Organic: These plants have been cultivated by natural means on unpolluted land without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Hopefully they have not been fumigated, irradiated, or genetically altered.
Wildcrafted:These plants have been grown wild in nature without human intervention and ideally have been harvested following wildcrafting guidelines (see end of article).
Plants, just like humans, are living organisms and thus have an energetic life force. Plants living in their own environment undergo stress due to too dry or too wet conditions, competing plants, insects, etc. but these natural conditions make for a plant with more vital energy.
“Generations of herbalists have emphasized the quality of wild versus cultivated plants. This bias was not based on plant constituency, which is often higher in cultivated species, but rather on the energetics of wild plants. There is a spirit, and energy inherent in wild things, both fauna and flora, that is apparent to anybody who has visited the last remaining wilderness areas of this country. That essence is hard, if not impossible to capture.” – Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs – ed. Rosemary Gladstar
Organically cultivated medicinal herbs are pampered. They are raised under the ideal growing conditions and soils. Watered when needed, naturally fertilized, weeded and treated with organic pesticides. Healthy? Yes, but without out the stress “to be all they can be.”
However, as medicinal plants are becoming more and more popular, some wildcrafting practices are placing a great burden on the wild plant populations. Commercial over harvesting is wiping out many species of medicinal plants. It is important to follow wildcrafting guidelines and not collect threatened or endangered species. Wildcrafting is a great way of connecting with the spirit of the plants and nature before using them for your medicine making. For plants that are at-risk or on the to-watch lists, organically cultivated is the only way to go.
“But let us not make a reactionary mistake of construing wildcrafting as something negative. It is not in the least; it is an herbal art and a craft that commands respect when performed by a skilled artist and craftsman. Pursued with intelligence and understanding, wildcrafting is a process of harvest pruning, which when practiced knowledgeably never exploits or diminishes wild plant communities, but instead supports and enhances them. What is needed is not condemnation of this ancient, honorable craft, but more well-trained teachers and fervent, plant-loving students.”
The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green
So are organic or wildcrafted herbs better? I feel it depends upon the circumstances.
- Always gain permission from landowner.
- Positively identify the plant.
- Never collect plants that are endangered or at-risk for the area.
- Collect plant in the proper growing phase.
- Pick on a sunny day after the morning dew but before hot sun.
- Do not “ring” a tree if taking bark.
- Never collect more than 15% of the species in any given area.
- Never take more plants than you will use.
- Leave the area undisturbed, do not damage other plants or disrupt the earth.
- Always leave largest and smallest members of the community. Take only from the middle growth.
- Never collect plants located close to highways or industrial areas.
- Never collect from areas with livestock, or downstream from livestock if collecting streamside.
- Do not collect in areas of known pesticide use or possible chemical contaminants.
- Take care of your harvest immediately.
We are connected with all living beings. Adding in some spirituality during collection is a nice way of honoring the plants. Show respect and gratitude to the plant for giving itself to create a healing medicine by connecting with the plant, ask permission and offer thanks.
“Ritual helps you allow yourself to function at an altered state of knowing and receptivity.” ~James Green