Community Agriculture Alliance: Wildcrafting in the Yampa Valley
May 25, 2012
Yampatika is grateful to the following sponsors for their support of the Wild Edible Feast:
The Naked Grape
Lindarose & Richard Berkley
Steamboat Springs — How would you like to have the ultimate local produce?
Wildcrafting, according to Wikipedia, "is the practice of harvesting plants from their natural or 'wild' habitat for food or medicinal purposes. It applies to uncultivated plants wherever they may be found and is not necessarily limited to wilderness areas. Ethical considerations are often involved, such as protecting endangered species." Humans have been wildcrafters for thousands of years. We live in a very different world than the humans of even 200 years ago, and I think the practice of wildcrafting should be examined in a new light with a focus on sustainability and respect for the plants. With more than 7 billion people on Earth, if everyone were to hunt and gather, our natural resources soon would be gone. So, let's see how we can enjoy the pleasures and reap the healthy bonuses from our plant world with minimal impacts.
In my garden, I grow sweet anise, onions, glacier lilies and wild mint, among many other wild edibles. I believe this is the best way to enjoy my plant buddies and beautify my landscape, all with no impact on natural populations. I love having mint in my tea in the morning and sweet anise in my salad at night, each after a little stroll into my garden. Many natives are very easy to cultivate in our own gardens. Notice where they are growing in their natural habitat and copy that. Collecting seeds and sowing them throughout a variety of conditions in your landscape is a great experiment, and it's so much easier than transplanting.
If you want to collect in the wild, the No. 1 rule is to know what you are collecting — not just being able to identify the plant but knowing, even before you go out, what plants are protected in your area because of their vulnerability and rarity. The Natural Heritage Program in Fort Collins (http://www.cnhp.colostate.edu) has a fantastic database of plants rated by their protected status. I also urge you to visit the United Plant Savers database (http://www.unitedplantsavers.org), which focuses on the impacts of human activity on wildcrafted plants across the U.S.
The second most important thing for collecting also is to know what you are collecting. If you can not absolutely identify a plant, do not use it. We want you to be safe and healthy. But this also means knowing what part of the plant to collect, knowing when to collect it and knowing how to collect it.
Let's focus on the how to collect the plant. You will kill the plant if you harvest its roots, so give serious consideration to using roots. In many cases, the above-ground portion will have similar qualities. Collect only 5 percent of the population (1 plant in 20, 1 berry in 20, etc.). Consider the production for that year (Is it a good berry year or a bad berry year?). If there is scant production that year, leave it for the wildlife; they will need all they can get. Try a plant before you gather an armful. You might not like it. Scatter seeds for future generations, and leave pieces of rootstalks buried in the ground.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gathering our local produce. Take advantage of area residents with vast knowledge of the plants and areas to harvest. Yampatika is hosting the Wild Edible Feast on Wednesday. The dinner is almost sold out, but we always are looking for eager hands to help gather and prep the goods for chef Fawn at Sweetwater Grill. This is a great opportunity to learn about harvesting and identify many of the wild edibles of the area.
To learn more, call 970-871-9151 or visit http://www.yampatika.org.
Karen Vail is a naturalist with Yampatika.