Freshly dug wild aralia root from a day hike we did in the redwoods.
Aralia californica is the only ginseng family native to California. John Muir used to harvest the berries and carry them with him in the Sierra Nevada to cure his aches and pains. Aralia roots have a delicious, medicinal, spicy smell that always reminds us of the dense coastal canyons where they grow.
Hall, our founder and Chief Nature Freak, has been stalking redwood trails for giant patches of this plant for years. We usually harvest wild overgrowth, but working with aralia can have a lasting impact on the plants and ecosystem if not done carefully. Harvesting this plant, especially its roots, is delicate work.
99.9% of the plant material we harvest is evergreen trimmings, perennial shrub trimmings and annual herbs; stuff that can be easily trimmed without having any impact on the plant or larger ecosystem surrounding it. When we’re digging roots, we have to work with caution because gathering roots essentially means killing the plant. We rarely do this, but since we’re skilled nature freaks, we take steps to make sure we are gentle on the surrounding ecosystem.
Hall studied with hippie herbalist Howie Brounstein in Eugene, Oregon. Howie is something of a legend among our circle, having spent decades immersed in and writing about the world of sustainable harvesting. He’s widely regarded as the foremost expert on harvesting the wild plants of the West.
Here are just a few of Howie’s guidelines for sustainable harvesting, which we modeled our standards after:
- Do you have the permission or the permits for collecting at the site?
- Are you at the proper elevation?
- Is there any natural or chemical contamination?
- Are there rare, threatened, endangered, or sensitive plants growing nearby at any time of the year?
- Is wildlife foraging the stand?
- Do you have the proper emotional state?
- Look around after harvesting. Any holes or cleanup needed?
- Are you picking herbs in the proper order for a long trip?
It’s a long, thorough list, but following it in detail keeps us diligent and responsible in our work. In addition to meeting the qualifications on this list, we make sure to only take excess growth, that is, smaller plants that won’t survive in the middle of larger, mature plants. Generally speaking, we harvest one plant for every hundred you see.