5 Tips for Foraging Ethically

It’s that time of year in the Midwest where plants are finally starting to bloom and everything is green again! After the long winter, this time couldn’t come soon enough, and I am so excited to get out on the trails near my apartment to start foraging. There are many different edible and medicinal plants that are sprouting up this tie of year, as well as other items that can be used for spells and altar supplies.

I love collecting what I can from nature for my practice, but I also believe it is important to gather and forage in a way that is respectful to the environment and spirits of the land. Keeping a few simple things in mind can help every witch make sure they’re being respectful of the natural world they live in.

1. Only Take What You Need

berries

This should go without saying, but when you are foraging and gathering items from nature, only take as much as you need. Just because you have ideas for how you can use items in the future, does not mean that you should take it now. Leave items you don’t think you will use right away for when you are ready to use them. It’s nature. It will always be there for you to use later on.

2. Do NOT Over-Harvest

This goes along with the previous point, but always be careful not to over-harvest the plants your foraging. If you come across a large patch of the plant you’re looking for, you can take some of the whole plants, but be careful to leave some there so the patch stays healthy and can repropagate. If there are only a few plants, either take a few parts so the plant can continue to grow, or more on and keep looking for a larger patch.

Similarly, if you’re harvesting bark from a tree, pull it off of the branches and not the trunk. You should also try to take only small pieces from a few trees, rather than pulling bark from all the way around a branch. Bark protects the tree and helps it to keep nutrients in, so taking too much can badly effect the health of the tree and introduce pests and disease much easier.

3. Observe the Health of the Area

While you’re out and about, try to keep an eye on the health of the area you’re foraging in. This becomes much easier when you’ve spent a lot of time in the same area, because you are more familiar with the regular activity of the land. Something suddenly changing can be a sign that the area is suffering.

One vital aspect to look out for is invasive species taking over an area. Your local DNR website has comprehensive lists of invasive species effecting the area, and they are also the best resource to contact if you see one of these species in your regular foraging grounds. Familiarize yourself with dangerous species that can threaten the native plants and animals in the area and do what you can to help keep it healthy.

4. Leave the Area Better than You Found It

I was a girl scout until the end of high school, and one of our (many) sayings was leave a place better than you found it. I didn’t take a lot out of girl scouts, but I think doing what you can to improve an area you’ve been is always a great practice. This is especially important in natural areas.

When I’m walking on the trails there is inevitably trash laying around, so I try to always have a bag on me to collect the bits of garbage that I see and dispose of it properly. Bottles, bags, and other pieces of trash are at best an eye sore, and at worst a threat to the wildlife in the area. By taking some garbage out with you, you’re showing respect to the land and a desire to take care of it the best you can.

5. Leave an Offering

Finally, I think it’s important to always leave an offering when you’re foraging. You’re taking something out of the environment, so it’s respectful to show your gratitude for the spirits of the area by leaving a small offering. Use your intuition when leaving something for the spirits. Something as simple as a pile of nuts, fruit, honey, or libations poured right onto the ground is enough.

Just be mindful of what you’re leaving to ensure it’s not going to be invasive to the area (if it’s nuts or fruit that can possibly grow) and that it won’t adversely effect any of the wildlife if they eat it. Most importantly don’t leave an offering on a dish or in a container. This is more non-biodegradable garbage that can pollute the area. You can leave it right on the ground, on a leaf, or in the crook of a tree instead.

As witches, we strive to be closer with the natural world and live in unity with it, rather than using it for our needs only. By striving to take care of the natural areas around us and showing respect to nature, we can bring ourselves closer to it and become a part of it.