Have you seen the label Ethically Wildcrafted online, at the farmer’s market, or maybe at your local co-op?

It is something we might look for in the store when choosing products, a goldenseal tonic perhaps, which is helpful for soothing digestive as well as respiratory complaints. We act like the term “ethically wildcrafted” give us permission to proceed with a purchase, though we often do not understand what it means.

We, I am not excluding myself from this, like to think such unregulated labels means that our shopping cart is free of atrocities committed both upon the human and natural world, but things are rarely so black and white, especially when they are intermingled with the business of making money. 

Coming back to my goldenseal example for instance, did you know it is an at-risk plant, threatened in most of the states and provinces it grows in?

Goldenseal lives in increasingly diminishing old deciduous hardwood forests, requiring the shade and leaf litter this habitat provides. Logging has disrupted and continues to disrupt it’s deep forest home. It grows slowly and is vulnerable to disturbances, meaning intrusion of hikers who do not keep to designated trails is destructive to the plants. Novice foragers, in their excitement to find such a medicinally desirous plant often to succumb to the impulse to harvest regardless of goldenseal’s fragile status.

Which begs the question, can it even be ethically wildcrafted? While we like to think that wild harvest is better, in this case, cultivated would actually be the way to go.

I do not think goldenseal can currently be ethically wildcrafted. However as an herbalist and forager I also know that the roots of the Japanese barberry, a non-native plant, have the same berberine alkaloid in them that goldenseal roots do. Not only does harvesting Japanese barberry replace the need to intrude on goldenseal’s fragile environment, but in doing so we are also removing an invasive species from our lands, giving space back for native plants to flourish.

(Japanese Barberry, an ethical substitute for Goldenseal.)

It is up to us as consumers to do better, and it is up to us to demand companies be transparent about their methods. The pursuit of money can suly the waters and businesses will often use vague marketing terms like “sustainable harvested” and “ethically wildcrafted” with no visible way to quantify how they measure these supposed goals.

Unfortunately the answer to these challenges is not simple. It takes both time and emotional labour to investigate the items we chose to spend our hard earned dollars on. In the case of wildcrafting, you might find an herbalist or forager to advise you, or start down the path of intense research and study to obtain the knowledge needed to make your own informed choices on this topic.

It is also important to remember that none of us are perfect, but if you are still reading this, you are willing to do the work to do better. I am grateful for that.