No, this isn’t as adventurous as wild watering rafting, but for me it is far more interesting. So what is wildcrafting? Simply stated, wildcrafting is collecting plant materials from wild areas and using them for a variety of purposes. Mostly, the plant materials are used for teas, tinctures, salves, and ointments.
Last summer I was able to join a wildcrafting workshop at the Devonian gardens. Our instructor had arranged for us to take a foraging walk to collect and identify natural species. We collected plantain, dandelion leaves, and even the “lovely” stinging nettle. These are only a few of the plants to collect and use. The plant species of Alberta are too numerous to mention and much of what we know can be attributed to our First Nation peoples and those early settlers who relied on plant materials as cures for ailments. The instructor recommended a wonderful book, “The Boreal Herbal,” by D. Gray, which I strongly suggest you find if you want to learn about native species or would like to try wildcrafting. This book has everything from plant descriptions to plant poetry. The recipes mostly include common ingredients, however, there are a couple that ask for bear fat. Personally, I am not in the habit of using or even trying to get fat from a bear (I like them too much). So this is an ingredient you might find a substitute for. On this note, my grandmother, Hilda Monteith, was given a recipe for exzema that included bear fat and poplar buds picked from trees in early spring. My mom called it, Bam Bud salve. While my mom claimed it cured her own eczema and was quite excited by it, I can’t say the bears were equally as happy about the salve.
This summer, I ventured into the bush around the Fox Creek area to collect materials. One thing I must stress is the importance of not causing harm to the plant species we harvest from. I never take too much from a tree or plant. I only take two of anything from the plants and trees. Two berries, two leaves, two branches and so forth. I ensure tree bark is never harmed as that would allow for infection. As much as possible I take from fallen logs, but am cognizant dead plant material on the forest floor has a purpose and is important for the process of decomposition. My collection this year was not extensive. I picked plantain, spruce pitch (sticky stuff!), and yarrow. I found some rose hips as well, but did not have a plan for them so I put them in the freezer. I intended to take only what I needed and had planned for. I would suggest you start with one recipe and make a list of the materials to collect. This way you won’t waste time and precious plant materials.
Once home, I decided to try using the heated method to infuse oils from plant materials. A photo is included and shows my crude method of using two pots as a double boiler. Direct heat on fresh plant materials can easily ruin the infusion. This method also works faster than the sun infused method I described in another post. There are many recipes for salves, but I consulted The Boreal Herbal for an easy salve of beeswax, infused oil and vitamin e oil. The vitamin e oil acts as a preservative. More photos are included within this post.
My salve included, yarrow, plantain and Usnea lichen or Old Man’s Beard. Usnea is known to have antibiotic properties and the yarrow is a great astringent. Plantain leaves work well on insect bites and help to take down swelling. I thought the combination would be great for treating minor scrapes and cuts. As a note, it is difficult to determine how much of the medicinal components of the plant materials is actually derived in the oil, so caution is advised when using any herbal preparation.
I encourage you to put a little wildcrafting into practice. Not only is it wonderful to spend an afternoon foraging in the bush, but learning about the plants and trees that have grown around us for thousands of years is intriguing.