My adventures in wildcrafting began in 1992, just after I graduated from college, when I took my first herbal medicine class from native plant herbalist Adam Seller, right here in Oakland. We took a trip into the Sierra Nevadas and harvested for a few days, foraging for things like Arnica and Valerian and Skullcap.
All I knew then was that I was enjoying the shit out of it and thrilled to pieces, I wasn’t thinking about why, about what it was that really hooked me. Years later, now I know. It wasn’t learning about the plants, about to idehttps://juniperridge.com/wp-admin/post-new.php#ntify Arnica when I saw it, it was using my animal senses. It was the quietness that descended as I followed my nose down to the creek where we gathered Valerian and Skullcap, the way the air smelled, my senses heightened, the primitive parts of my brain coming alive with these new sensations as I sensed the land around me, the plants. We’re made to do that kind of thing.
E.O. Wilson’s concept of biophilia, or that we’re hardwired to love nature, is often described as a hypothesis. It’s not. It’s a fact. Of course we’re hardwired to love nature. “We” have been evolving with nature ever since life was born on this planet 500 million years ago. Everything inside of us is engineered to respond to it in a deep way. We are nature, we’re the same thing. So yes, I often describe the sensation of those early days of learning about wildcrafting as being like falling in love— you don’t know why it grabs you, it just does, and nature grabbed me by the fukin’ collar and shook me vigorously and I was like, “Bring it, whatever this is. I want more.”
Soon after those early trips I was off and running, copies of the Jepson Manual of the Higher Plants of California, Mushrooms Demystified, and Gary Snyder’s poetry in my backpack; I was gone and happy as could be. I was working temp jobs in San Francisco which left me plenty of free time to be out on the trail, harvesting medicinal plants for my own collection and sometimes for money, harvesting herbs for tincture makers and wild mushrooms with commercial gatherers, spending whole days harvesting leather leaf huckleberries in late fall in the redwoods just to make a couple of pints of jam, days of harvesting bay berries for candles and coming up with barely enough bayberry wax to make two votives! Plenty of quiet weeks out on the trail just getting to know the plants. I spent the better part of a decade just doing this kind of thing before I even started Juniper Ridge. I was just so deep in it I should have known it would be my life, but I had no idea where any of it was leading or if it was going anywhere at all in terms of a career, I just knew I loved being out on the trail and being with the plants with everything in me. By the time I set up shop at Berkeley and San Francisco farmer’s markets, selling wildcrafted teas, soaps and oils, I really knew my stuff. That was 1998.