Saturday, August 8, 2015

My Stint As A Wildcrafter

The term “wildcrafter” always made me think of the folks who take items from nature and make useful or decorative things from them. Not so. It’s a term used for those folks who gather herbs, roots, or other such things, and sell them to companies that produce seasonings, flavorings, herbal remedies or medicines from them. (For a bit of irony, be aware that while drug companies pooh-pooh herbal medicines, a surprising number of the herbs and roots purchased eventually end up in the hands of drug companies, who turn them into “regular” medicines.) There are a few folks, most of whom live subsistence-type lives, who do wild crafting as a large part of their income. As a young man who grew up in the country, I realized the abundance of some of the plants purchased, and decided to try my hand at it, just to see the practicality of supplementing my income by such efforts.

The desired plants most common to my immediate area were may-apple, yellow dock and burdock, so they were my target. The may-apple was the most bother to “dig.” Though you actually just used your fingers to pulled it carefully from the forest duff, or from under a little soil, it was quick to break, and the companies preferred the roots as long as possible. However, a light rinsing was all it required and then it needed to be dried. I accumulated several pounds of it, rinsed it and then, for lack of anywhere better, laid it on some dry hay in the barn to cure. I SHOULD have spread newspaper down on the hard floor and laid the roots on that. The weather turned hot, rainy and humid and the roots all molded. I don’t know if they had that many mold spores already on them, or if they picked them up from the hay, but my efforts were wasted.

The dock roots had to be rinsed and brushed gently with a soft brush to remove all dirt. They could be split, if desired, to hasten drying. Since the weather was so humid, I did choose to split them, but not completely. That allowed me to hang them on strings, that I’d put up like miniature clotheslines, in the boiler room for the apartment building where I lived at the time. Mine was the only apartment with access. They were ALMOST dry when the owner happened to stop by on one of his rare visits and found my project. He requested that I remove them. They spent the rest of the time drying on a newspaper in my living room.

The day finally came when I deemed them ready to ship, so I wrapped them in newsprint, boxed them up and sent them to one of the better-known buyers. At least the buyer promised to reimburse me for shipping. All things considered, it seemed like too much bother for what I knew would be very little return. I had a rough idea as to the weight, but had no scale, so I was curious what they’d bring. A couple weeks later, my check came in the mail. It was for less than $20, including the reimbursed shipping. With all the effort involved, it was both amusing and mildly aggravating to see the word “samples” on the check memo.

Needless to say, I never bothered doing it again. Still, if I wasn’t working, I might consider it as something to do for a hobby. The problem is finding room enough to dry the stuff. Yellow dock is everywhere around here. If I were retired, and bored, I MIGHT consider digging it again. When the time comes, I just hope that I’m not that bored (OR that desperate). Still, I’m glad that I dug a few roots, those 40 years ago, since I learned a few things. © 2015


Lady Locust said...

Interesting. I wonder if it has changed as far as who the drug companies can buy from, licensing, inspections, yada yada - if you would even recover your postage.

Sunnybrook Farm said...

When dealing with that little bit of money, you don't need a middleman to help with the profits. There are some guys around here who harvest and sell on the internet, they must make good money as they wouldn't do it otherwise.

Gail said...

Dad, as a child in the Great Depression, dug ginseng and may apples to help the family with income. He used to rule, take one, leave two but many did not and it took years for the land and plants to recover.

My grandmother was a midwife so she used many self-harvested and cured herbs in her practice.

Oh, it is hard work. I remember many spots where herbs and fruit were drying during the season as I was growing up. The smoke house rafters were full with plants drying.

We have a company in the next county that wants baby pine cones and other items for the potpourri and many people follow loggers for the "easy" picking and supplement their income that way.

None of it is easy. I continue to air dry herbs for my personal use since, whether real or imagined, I think the dehydrators don't do as well.

It is good that we know how in case the need arises again. We are the lucky ones. Not many know these methods nor even what to pick.

Once again, a great post.

Gorges Smythe said...

I have no idea, LL.

Sounds like a good idea, SF.

Thanks, Gail; I'm glad that you're saving some of the old ways.

Chickenmom said...

Good to know about such things. Like most people, I only know about dandelions.

Gorges Smythe said...

I try to keep learning a bit now and then, Cm.