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What is Wildcrafting?

N. Phipps
N. Phipps

Wildcrafting is a term used to describe the practice of collecting or gathering plant materials from their natural environment. Harvesting wild plants in this manner is done for a variety of reasons, most commonly for medicinal purposes or nature crafts. Anything from herbs and flowers to berries, branches, and foliage can be used for wildcrafting.

Natural environments, including gardens, have been a long-time source of many wildcrafting traditions. Herbal remedies, supplemental food, and decorations came from what was readily available in and around the homesteads of early settlers. Wildcrafting has continued to be a time-honored tradition for many nature lovers, even becoming a popular hobby.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

While the majority of wildcrafts are harvested among uncultivated plants in various native habitats, they’re not just limited to wilderness or wooded areas. In fact, nowadays many wildcrafting materials can be collected from home gardens and landscapes in addition to the wild. Although gardens can be a never-ending source of wildcrafting materials, wooded areas still remain the most popular locations for harvesting wild plants.

There are, however, certain guidelines that should be followed before collecting wild plants outside the home garden. Wildcrafters should not only be familiar with the types of native plants within their particular region, but should also be well-versed in the current laws that govern both rare and endangered plants. Local cooperative extensions usually provide free information about the native plants within a given area.

When harvesting plants in the wild, it’s important to take only what is required for a specific wildcrafting project and nothing more. For instance, in most cases only the branches, foliage or flowers are taken while leaving the remaining plant intact. In rare events, an entire plant may be used. However, this is often replaced with seeds from the harvested plant. This helps to ensure that enough plants and seeds remain for continual growth and survival.

There are other considerations when wildcrafting. Regardless of whether an area looks abandoned or vacant, the property itself will most assuredly have an owner. Therefore, obtaining permission from the landowner before collecting wildcrafting plants is vital to avoid legal retributions later. In some areas, the Organic Food Protection Act may even regulate wildcrafted plants. In theses instances, wildcrafters must designate the area being harvested along with its history dating back at least three years.

When done respectfully and legally, wildcrafting can be a fun, inexpensive way to create native crafts for decorating as well as for medicinal purposes.

Discussion Comments


This article just gave me a great idea. I know it sounds silly not to have thought of wildcrafting before when surrounded by a little bit of wooded area, I just did not grow up with a family that ever had live plants hanging out in the house.

And when I married my husband discovered how much I love to arrange flowers. He would bring them home and instead of putting the flowers all in one vase just as I found them; I would gather up two to three vases and make several different arrangements.

I just had not thought outside the box enough to use the plants around me to do the same!

My great idea is coming from the entrance to my neighborhood. We have these wild flowers that are just growing rapidly and all over the place and I could just ask for permission to make do a little wildcrafting myself from those flowers and add some wildcrafted herbs with my own little collection.

It will be gorgeous and much less expensive than a bouquet of flowers from the store.


My neighbors own the pasture that surrounds my house, and they are totally cool with me going out there and harvesting what I find. They don’t grow anything on the land, and they no longer keep cows out there, but they do have trees and bushes that grow wild.

One bush produces fruit that smells and looks like a lemon on the inside, but on the outside, it is perfectly round and fuzzy. It is yellow, and you can smell the sweet lemony aroma without even cutting it open.

They also have several pine trees on the property. I collect the miniature lemons and pine cones and put them in a basket on my desk for a fall nature display. People walking past have commented on the lemony smell. It lifts my mood at work.


My friend lives near a city park where chamomile grows wild. She got permission from the city to harvest some from time to time to use in her medicinal tea.

Their only condition was that she try to be discreet about it. They didn’t want her to gather chamomile while lots of people were in the park, because they didn’t want everyone else to think it was okay and start doing it.

She goes out there either really early in the morning or after dark to get the chamomile. She makes a tea from it that she uses to treat her menstrual cramps.


@StarJo - The sad thing is that the law probably wasn’t enough to deter everyone. I don’t understand why people can’t just leave endangered plants alone and choose something else for their projects! There are numerous beautiful flowers in the world that are in no danger whatsoever.

When I was young, my older friend taught me how to make use of abundant plants when wildcrafting. She chose violets and dandelions for our project, because the property around her house was teeming with them.

We placed the leaves and flowers in between two sheets of waxed paper and ironed them with a warm iron. This permanently pressed the sheets together, and you could see the flowers through the paper.

Some people use this technique on fragrant herbs. I have seen a peppermint leaf pressed this way, and the aroma created by the heat from the iron lingers, trapped between the sheets.


My husband is originally from upstate New York, and he said there is a certain type of purple flower that grows there and only there. The environmental conditions are perfect for it, and it is very particular.

Because this flower can only grow in that one area, it is illegal to pick it or to remove the plant. It is one of the few plants I know of that is protected by law.

The flower is gorgeous, and I can see why people would be tempted to use it for wildcrafting. I would imagine that the hefty fine involved would be enough to deter them, though.


When we were growing up my mom loved to collect bittersweet vines in the fall. These vines have small berries on them that turn a deep orange in the fall and look so pretty in fall decorations.

We lived in a rural area and every year would get in the car and drive around until we found some bittersweet. Some spots we returned to every year and knew we would find some.

Other times, we drove around until we found a place we had never been before. Most states have bittersweet, but it seems like you don't see as much of it as you used to.

You aren't going to find it in an urban area, and need to head out to the country to find it.

This was always an adventure, and even though I didn't know it at the time, we were wildcrafting for bittersweet to bring home and use for decorating and crafts.


In my garden I have a lot of herbs for medicinal purposes. When I plant an herb, I usually have a specific plan in mind for what I want to use it for.

What started out with one herb has turned into a garden full of them. Not only do I use them for make salves and balms, but also for teas and in cooking.

Even though these herbs are not grown in the wild and all I have to do is walk out to my own garden, every time I gather some I am doing a little bit of wildcrafting.

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