So it was a dry summer, and the berry picking was poor. Many of the wild herbs had blight and insect damage. Since fruiting was poor, seed production was equally dismal. Does that mean that you had to endure this poor year of harvest? Certainly not!
Almost all of us rely on Mother Nature to provide the harvest of plenty, and we are disappointed when the season is dismal. No wonder we call her “Mother.” We expect her to do everything for us!
I first began to view my interaction with nature’s bounty and wild harvesting differently when I attempted to transplant a few of my favourite wild herbs into a domestic garden setting, with disastrous results. Seneca root, for example, simply refused to propagate or even sprout in a variety of soils, even though it grows with vigour in the most marginal, gravel-based soils in the wild. Some of the wild herbs simply overtook my garden, predictably. They were, after all, weeds. Others produced great leaves when I wanted fruit or berries (alpine strawberries and wild raspberries), while others chose to wilt in the lush soil. They preferred the less nutrient-rich bases.
But, leaving my plants in their natural habitat, and tending them regularly, produced phenomenal results. Each week during one summer, I watered select Saskatoon, high-bush cranberries, raspberry and hawthorne bushes. Similarly, burdock was watered abundantly, while I culled the thistles and dandelions, harvesting crops of leaves and roots throughout the summer.
Even though the plants that we harvest freely in their natural habitat are considered “wild,” they benefit from the same care that we provide for garden plants: adequate light (cull and clean), adequate moisture (provide drainage and water), regular pruning (producing more lush, young leaves) and frequent thinning to ensure good development. Many of the wild plants found in North America today are descendants form domestic European plants. Dandelions, hawthorne, wild horseradish, wild plum, tansy and dozens of others are typically found growing freely in abandoned homesteads, along roadsides and in wasteland across the country.
Be careful with your harvest, as well. Remember that, if you remove too many of the plants that you love to pick, next year’s crop may be diminished. By harvesting selectively, as well, you are assured of getting the “cream of the crop,” so to speak.
Consider that, instead of maintaining a backyard garden, you are growing a multi-acre plot, wherever Mother Nature allows you to do so. By providing for your chosen wild crop, it will provide an abundance of harvestable greens, seeds, roots and fruits for you.