Plants have been and continue to be immensely important to people. They provide food, medicine, materials for shelter, fuel for heating dwellings and cooking food, fibers for cordage and clothing, wood for tools and hunting weapons, etc. Aboriginal people knew which plants could be used for various purposes, where to find them, and how to process them. They possessed an intimate relationship with plants that began with learning how to identify them and deepened as they learned their smell, their taste, the quality of their fibers, the timing of their flowers, and so on. Contemporary people still rely heavily on plants, but, unfortunately, most people in developed countries are no longer able to find, collect, and process the materials they need to sustain their lives. Not only has this led to populaces that are entirely dependent on agribusiness and manufacturers, but it has also removed people from direct participation in the circle of life. This, in turn, has created populations who do not know the functions and values of wild places (both large and small) and has led to apathy for protecting these open spaces. The Delta Institute of Natural History is interested in helping people regain the old knowledge of plants and help foster a connection between people and their local landscape. When people are involved in local ecology, they become champions for conservation and voices for the ethical treatment of the organisms we share this earth with. This is a natural outcome of people realizing that wild things are necessary for a sustainable, healthy, and rewarding future.
What does it mean to develop a connection to local landscapes?
Local landscapes are the forests and fields near your home and the trails and roads that pass through them. Though many people appreciate the open space they walk in, or the privacy that a row of trees provides for their home, they don't truly feel like part of the land. This means they may not value the landscape enough to live in an environmentally conscientious manner, let alone protect it. This fact is easily understood when we examine the depth of ecological knowledge most people have in developed countries.
They rely on other people to provide the things they need for survival (e.g., food, medicine, building materials, heating oil, clothing), much of which originates great distances away. They do not see that they are surrounded by highly nutritious food, potent antimicrobials, items for creating fire, and raw materials for clothing. In other words, there appears to be no need to value local landscapes. One manner to help people understand how valuable open space is is to show them how much these areas can provide for them. There is no abstraction, no need to understand subtle conjecture, and no requirement to grasp less tangible ideas. It is solid reasoning that anyone can appreciate—this red oak can provide you with food in Autumn, that common juniper can be used to fight a bacterial infection, those American linden trees can be use to create fire whenever you need it, and so on. As people actively engage local plants, they become more familiar with how their local landscape can provide for them. This, in turn, fosters an appreciation for the inhabitants we share this earth with and how they can enrich our lives. As seasons pass, and people develop a deeper understanding of the land around them, they learn of the many things they failed to observe (such as the emergence of a favored food plant). With increased knowledge comes increased respect and fondness. A tangible connection develops, one that was always present but had not been perceived.
What does it mean to be active in local ecology?
Outside of a relaxing walk or a place to swim, many people in developed countries mainly interact with their local landscape in a negative manner. They clear space to make dwellings and lawns, discharge household and septic waste, and emit smoke or exhaust from heating appliances. They often do not acquire their food, clothing, building materials, and fuel from local areas (these mainly transported from distant sources). They take and pollute, but do not necessarily give. It is in these ways that they influence the open space around them. To truly be active in local ecology, people must also interact in beneficial ways.
It is actually much easier to do than probably realized. Collecting leaves and fruits, digging in the earth for tubers, and harvesting dead stalks for fibers or friction fire material are all actions that can positively affect wild plants and animals. For example, Native Americans were known to increase numbers of food plants, even though they were performing lethal collection of underground parts. This was accomplished by timing collections so that the mature seeds fell to the freshly tilled earth, which was an ideal germination site. The simple act of harvesting dead plant stalks for fibers inadvertently carries seeds further than they may have dispersed otherwise, helping the individual plants move to suitable places for growth. Many, many more examples exist where human use benefits plants. Conscientious human interaction with plants, such as foraging in a careful and sustainable manner, can actually insure the survival of a plant species (think of important food crops and how their value to people has virtually guaranteed their continued existence in some form). This can only happen by people getting out of their homes and taking time to roam over the local landscape, learn the plants and animals that live there, and become part of that circle of life. Through participation in local ecology, people realize the value of open space and how important it is to us (even if only used occasionally or during times of need).
Why forage for wild food?
Collecting wild plants for food is a very rewarding activity. There are as many obvious benefits as there are less tangible ones. Many researchers have confirmed the fact that many wild plants are more nutritious than comparable cultivated ones. This is especially true in regard to Vitamins A and C. As well, many wild plants contain significant amounts of antioxidants and Omega 3 Fatty Acids. It is no surprise that aboriginal people still enjoying their native diets are free from many of the chronic diseases that plague people of developed countries, such as periodontal disease, obesity, diabetes, arthritis, and coronary problems.
In fact, it has been shown that diets rich in wild plants lower cholesterol, are beneficial for the heart, lower blood pressure, and reduce inflammation. Foraging for wild plants takes people out of the home and gets them active in open places where they are meant to roam. The act of searching for plants is a relaxing activity that takes the mind away from the trials and tribulations of fast-paced living, and slows it down to primal functions (i.e., using the senses to find food and raw materials). It helps people become more aware and learn about the world around them. People need not abandon their current lifestyle to enjoy these benefits. Each item of activity, nutrition, and observation that people partake in enriches their lives and promotes health and self-sufficiency.
Why wildcraft medicine for yourself and your family?
Humans have always needed to cope with injury and illness, and for most of human existence, plants have served as the major source of medicine. Plant-based medicines have many benefits to their use. They can be gathered and prepared without financial cost (which is often substantial for modern medicine, especially for people without health insurance). Even for those that prefer to buy herbal remedies, these purchases can support local business and organic farming (rather than large pharmaceutical companies). Consider the large number of deaths that occur each year from known and predicted side-effects of prescription medications.
This alone is justification for considering other methods of healing. However, there are additional, equally compelling reasons to consider herbal remedies. Plants often support the body's response to illness or injury, and practitioners using these remedies consider complaints within the context of a whole human (rather than assaulting ailments with all manners of medications with little regard for the remainder of the body). In fact, there are numerous examples where plants act as modulators, stimulating an organ with depressed function or depressing an over-stimulated organ. Collecting plants and processing them to create remedies is yet another way that people can achieve a higher degree of self-sufficiency. Further, the use of herbal remedies is another avenue for connection to the landscape. In this regard, plant medicines link us to our ancestors, who lived in a self-reliant and sustainable manner.