ethical wildcrafting

9 Basic Principles of Ethical Wildcrafting for Beginners

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Here you will find my top nine rules for ethical wildcrafting, and why they’re so important.  But first, let’s start with some basics.

What is Wildcrafting?

Wildcrafting also known as foraging is the process of harvesting plants from their natural or “wild” habitat for food or medicine, the way our ancestors did. It’s reclaiming the sacred knowledge of plant wisdom and reconnecting with our natural world on the deepest level.  

 The act of finding, identifying, and harvesting foods or medicines yourself can serve to deepen your connection with nature the way not much else can, especially when it would be so easy just to shop at the market or pharmacy. 

Wildcrafting develops in us a feeling of self-reliance, as well as a certainty that we are better prepared to care for ourselves and our loved ones. 

Wildcrafting is also about stewardship of the plants, and our natural world. That means harvesting responsibly and ethically to avoid damaging the health and population of the overall ecosystem, and only collecting herbs when you know the conditions are right.

ethical wildcrafting

The Basics of Ethical Wildcrafting

Below are the basics of ethical wildcrafting to consider before harvesting plants from the wild and will help you to be a good steward of your natural world.

1. Learn to Identify

Proper identification of the plant you wish to harvest is key and cannot be stressed enough.  Never harvest a plant without being 100% sure of its identification. 

Do a little research before you head out.  Find out if there are any harmful or poisonous plants that are known to the area and learn what they look like. If you know what poisonous plants you may encounter, you’ll feel more comfortable foraging for the edible species.

I would recommend finding a mentor or joining a plant walk that specializes in edible plant identification. Learning directly from an expert will go a long way in building your confidence in plant identification.

If finding a mentor isn’t possible, then I would suggest investing in a few good field guides. You can find my favorite ones below: 

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate (The Wild Food Adventure Series, Book 1)

Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America (Peterson Field Guides)

The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Mushrooms, Fruits, and Nuts: Finding, Identifying, and Cooking (Guide to Series)

2. First, eat your weeds.

There are certain plants…the weeds that commonly grow with wild abandon in backyards everywhere. These plants tend to be invasive and are the perfect plants to wildcraft. Herbs like dandelion, chickweed, purslane, plantain, and lamb’s quarters are some of the most sustainable herbs to harvest and have both culinary and medicinal uses. They are also typically easy to identify and have great nutritional value.   

Here’s an article I wrote about the wild edible plants in my area, many if not most are considered weeds: 70 Wild Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat

3. Protect Vulnerable Plant Populations

Discover the vulnerable plants in your region, including rare, unusual, threatened, and endangered species. Ethical wildcrafting involves recognizing these plants and acting as a responsible steward by protecting them, often by simply leaving them undisturbed.

4. Avoid Overharvesting

You never want to harvest all the plants or herbs from a particular area.  Move around, collecting only a small amount of plant material from any one population or stand. My rule of thumb is to only harvest 5% of any particular stand that I find. 

The exception to the rule is harvesting from a limb or plant that is already down. 

5. Bring Proper Tools

Ethical wildcrafting means causing as little damage to the plants you are harvesting as possible. When I harvest I try to do so as if I were merely pruning the plant to make it healthier or tending to it in a supportive and not destructive way. For instance, using shears to clip a twig or branch is less invasive and makes it easier for the plant to heal from than simply twisting it off. 

Developing ethical wildcrafting techniques that benefit the growth of plants will ensure that we have access to these medicines for many generations to come. Every wildcrafter should learn proper plant pruning techniques. 

6. Be Opportunistic (in a good way)

If you know that there are plants of food or medicinal quality growing on open land slated for development, you may want to consider bringing some pots and transplanting some native plants that would otherwise be destroyed.  Again, this goes back to being a good steward of our natural world.

Also, I think that once you establish a relationship with the living plant world that involves giving and not just taking, you will develop a much closer bond with the plants and will be more mindful and ethical in your harvesting efforts.

7. Assess Your Environment

Be sure that you are harvesting from areas that are free from environmental toxins. 

A good rule of thumb in ethical wildcrafting is to avoid gathering from roadsides (100–200 feet from well-used roadways), or anywhere pesticides are used, or near any other potentially toxic exposures.

8. Be Undetectable

Leave the area you harvest from in the same or better condition than you found it. Fill in holes after harvesting roots. Don’t leave discarded leaves or other plant parts lying around where others can see them. Whenever possible replant root crowns or scatter seeds. It should be difficult for others to tell that you’ve been there.

9. Offer Gratitude to The Sacred Plants

Always be mindful when you are harvesting. It’s important to recognize that the plants you are harvesting are sacrificing to you their sacred medicine.  I like to incorporate a ritual of gratitude when I harvest plants. My harvesting ritual is personal, but I always offer a prayer of thanks to Mother Earth and give a small offering of thanks.  Whatever you do should be meaningful to you.

ethical wildcrafting

Wildcrafting Checklist

This list is From Howie Brounstein’s checklist for ethical wildcrafting.  

Below are a few guidelines I follow that all foragers should ask themselves before harvesting.

Remember – ***Wildcrafting is Stewardship***

  • Do you have the permission or the permits for collecting at the site?
  • Do you have a positive identification?
  • Are there better stands nearby? Is the stand big enough?
  • Are you at the proper elevation?
  • Is the stand away from roads and trails?
  • Is the stand healthy?
  • Is there any chemical contamination?
  • Is there any natural contamination?
  • Are you in a fragile environment?
  • Are there rare, threatened, endangered, or sensitive plants growing nearby at any time of the year?
  • Is wildlife foraging the stand?
  • Is the stand growing, shrinking, or staying the same size?
  • Is the plant an annual or a perennial?
  • Is tending necessary and what kind?
  • How much to pick?
  • Time of day? Time of year?
  • What effect will your harvest have on the stand?
  • Do you have the proper emotional state?
  • Move around during harvesting.
  • Look around after harvesting. Any holes or cleanup needed?
  • Are you picking herbs in the proper order for a long trip?
  • Are you cleaning herbs in the field?
  • Do you have the proper equipment for in-field processing?


  1. Brounstein, Howie. “Wildcrafting for Beginners”. Columbine School of Botanical Studies. Viewed January 14, 2010.
  2. De la Foret, Rosalee. “Part 1: Introduction to Wildcrafting and the Ethics Involved”. Reference, Wildcrafting. September 7, 2010.
  3. De la Foret, Rosalee. “Part 3: Tools of the Trade”. Reference, Wildcrafting. September 28, 2010.
  4. De La Foret, Rosalee. “Part 4: Before You Harvest”. Reference, Wildcrafting. www. October 13, 2010.
  5. De La Foret, Rosalee. “Part 5: Harvesting”. October 27, 2010.
  6. McDonald, Jim. “Gathering Your Own Herbs”. Jim McDonald Herbalist. Viewed January 14, 2020.


The Outdoor Apothecary website is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, it is the reader’s responsibility to ensure proper plant identification and usage.

Please be aware that some plants are poisonous or can have serious adverse health effects. We are not health professionals, medical doctors, or nutritionists. It is essential to consult with qualified professionals for verification of nutritional information, health benefits, and any potential risks associated with edible and medicinal plants mentioned on this website.

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