Sustainable Foraging


Once you’re confident about your first-hand experience identifying a wild plant, know the right time of year to harvest, and feel the calling to pick and use it, the best way to do that is to grow it yourself or harvest it from a friend who has it on his/her land or from a farm that is growing it. If you choose to harvest in the wild, please do so in a mindful and respectful way. Here are some guidelines:

  • The Chumash and other indigenous tribes give thanks and ask permission of the plants before picking. This may be done in the form of a prayer, a song, or a small offering of a sacred herb or something symbolic of the plant’s value. Juanita Centeno, my Chumash teacher, instructed us to do this upon encountering the first specimen of a native plant we intended to harvest. She told us to then continue looking for the plant where it was abundant before picking. Jacque Nuñez of the Acjachemen tribe of the Orange County region gives this simple advice:
    • “Don’t take more than you need.”
    • “Give back.”
    • “Be resourceful.”
  • Learn about the ecological status of your chosen plant at or the California Native Plant Society’s Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants. Is it native or introduced? Harvest native plants only where they are abundant or, at the very least, not rare or endangered. Eat the weeds!
  • Pick where local laws allow it and, again, only where sufficient quantities of your chosen plant are growing. Preserves, state parks, and designated USFS campgrounds and wilderness areas are set aside for the public and not intended for harvesting. Some National Forests, such as the Los Padres, do not have an official policy but allow for gathering small quantities of aboveground parts for personal use (i.e, what will fit in a grocery bag.)
  • Collect only the aboveground parts unless you are on private land with permission or you are in possession of a USFS collecting permit for educational purposes. In any case, never take more than 10% of the mass of any single plant. Prune while picking to try to encourage new growth and leave the plant looking better than you found it,
  • For your own protection, do not pick where there are signs of pollution, spraying of herbicides, or alongside paved roads and highways (where most spraying takes place). Dust can be washed off before preparing fresh or drying for storage.

©2019 Lanny Kaufer