Wildcrafting is the the act of gathering edible and medicinal plants from their natural habitat. Gathering edible and medicinal herbs can be a rewarding activity, especially when learning to identify plants to safely use as medicine for your family. God has provided a way to naturally care for the health of our family through the use of herbs from His creation. The desert is not the first place that people think of when learning about wildcrafting. It is true that desert wildcrafting can be challenging, but it is also rewarding. Surprisingly medicinal herbs are more common than wild edibles in the desert. Let's look at some safety considerations before learning about our plants.
Proper Plant Identification is Essential To SafetyThere are several things to keep in mind when wildcrafting for your safety and the health of our wild plants.
- Be certain you have properly identified your plant.
- Make sure you do not gather any species that is endangered.
- Only gather what you need making sure that the plant or plant stand can still survive.
- Wear any necessary protective clothing or gloves.
- Do not take plants that might be an animal home.
- Always label your plant when storing and include the location you gathered from.
- Choose the correct season and time of day if applicable. Each plant has a different season for harvesting.
- Harvest the appropriate plant parts, this also varies with each plant. Plant parts are aerial parts, leaf, stem, berries, and root.
- *Be certain you have properly identified your plant- a second and even third time.
Wildcrafting in The DesertToday we are going to take a brief look at three desert plants that grow in my area and then use them in a recipe. As discussed above it is very important that you properly identify your plants prior to use. I am only sharing a brief description of each plant so be sure to take a look at the resources below to assist you with proper plant identification.
Chaparral (Larrea tridentata)Chaparral, commonly called creosote is a resinous and very strongly scented desert bush that grows 3-10 ft tall. The leaves are small dark green and curled. Spring to summer it blooms all over with small yellow 5 petaled flowers followed by white round fluffy seeds. The aerial portions can be used and gathered all year. It is important that chaparral is thoroughly dried before storing because of it's strong resinous quality. This plant was commonly used by Native Americans and in Mexico for snakebite, and infections. Topically it has antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic qualities. Do not use in pregnancy. Caution or avoidance with internal use in those with history of liver disease as idiosyncratic liver damage has occurred with the internal use of this herb.
Juniper (Juniperus californica)Juniper is a Biblical herb with a rich, pungent pine like scent. Junipers can be low shrubs or large trees. They have grey green course scaly leaves that are more like needles. The berries are actually hard cones with fleshy outsides and 1-2 seeds inside. The seeds change from green to blue or purple over a period of three years. The most common Juniper used in herbalism is J. communis however my local species is j. califonica. There are many species of Juniper and the majority can be used. J. sabina a low shrub should not be used medicinally. The foilage of J. virginana and the J. silicicola should not be used. The leaf and cones, often called berries are used in food, and medicine. Juniper berries are used to flavor gin and meats. The berries make an amazing oxymel that can be used for respiratory congestion, and other ailments. Some of the qualities of this herb are antimicrobial, astringent, diuretic, anti-rheumatic, and antispasmodic. Topically it is used for arthritis and muscle pain, lymphatic massage, and wounds. Juniper should be avoided in all trimesters of pregnancy and internally by those with kidney disease. Long term internal use may cause inflammation, irritation or damage to kidneys.
Desert Sage (Salvia Dorrii)Sage is a common culinary and medicinal herb. There are many salvia species. I am using a small amount of a sage that is very common in my neighborhood, Salvia dorrii, in my recipe. Most sages can be used in medicine. Sages are part of the (Lamiaceae) mint family. Salvia dorrii grows 8-32 inches tall. The leaves are pale silvery green long, oval and wider at the tip. It blooms spring to summer with gorgeous pale blue to purple flowers. The leaves are used medicinally and are best gathered before blooming. Sages are commonly used for respiratory ailments. It is astringent, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and relieves muscle aches. Sage should be avoided in pregnancy.
Gathering Herbs and Making MedicineAfter you have properly identified and gathered your plant you will need to clean and dry the plant matter. Run the plant through water just to remove excess bugs or dirt. You can gather these into bunches, tying them together and hanging them up to dry completely or you can put them on a screen, rack, or basket and allow the plant to dry. Each plant takes a different amount of time to dry and drying times differ depending on climate and location. When I am drying small amounts I usually lay them on a tray inside my house and turn the herbs once in a while. When dry separate leaves from any stems that need to be discarded and store in a tightly sealed jar labeled with the date, plant name, location gathered. Moisture left in herbs during storage can result in mold and the herb will need to be discarded. One of the first herbal salves I ever used was Shoshanna's Eden Salve. Many years ago, on a camping trip, my son climbed into his sleeping bag only to lay down on several wasps. Eden salve was able to calm his red welts down bringing healing and relief within minutes. Herbal salves are one of my favorite herbal concoctions to make. We use them in one form or another daily in our home. This recipe will use the three desert herbs we just learned about to make a salve that smells like the desert after a rain. In our house we use this salve on bug bites, fungal infections, and wounds.
Desert Rain Salve Recipe
IngredientsWe will use a total of 1 ounce by weight of combined herbs in this recipe.
- .7 ounce (approx. 20 g) Chaparral leaf (Larrea tridentata)
- .2 ounce (approx. 6 g) Juniper leaf (Juniperus califonicus, spp.)
- .1 ounce (approx 2-3 g) Sage leaf (Salvia dorrii ,spp.)
- .4 ounce (approx. 10 g) Beeswax
- 4 liquid ounces combination of grape seed, olive, sunflower, apricot, or almond oil
- 2-2 ounce tins or jars.
- Crush your herbs slightly with a mortar and pestle to reduce bulk if necessary. Combine your herbs together into one oven safe glass dish.
- Pour the oil over the herbs and stir to be sure the herbs are covered by the oil.
- It is very important to now turn off your oven. This will allow your herbs to slowly infuse as the hot oven cools. Place the dish with herbs in it on a cookie sheet and place in your oven. Leave in your oven 3-4 hours or overnight.
- Remove from the oven and strain through a strainer and cloth. Squeeze all of the oil out of the herbs and discard the herbs.
- Add your oil and beeswax to a stainless steel or glass pan and place on the stove on low heat. You want the beeswax to slowly melt but never simmer. Stir and remove from the heat.
- Carefully pour your oil into your tins. Allow to set for 15-30 minutes until firm. Label your lids with the date, and ingredients. Store unused tins in refrigerator to preserve longer.
Resources For WildcraftingMaking Your Own wild Field Guide USDA Plants Database Eat The Weeds-Juniper Edible Wild Foods The Medicinal Plants of the Southwest (MPSW) program-chaparral The Medicinal Plants of the Southwest (MPSW) Program- Juniper The resources below may contain affiliate links. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West-Michael Moore
A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs (Peterson Field Guides)Botany in a Day-Thomas J. Elpel
Returning to God's Ways
In today's fast paced world we are very removed from nature and God's natural provision. Wildcrafting can be an incredible way to provide food and medicine for your family and teach your children how God created the plants for our use and enjoyment. We can teach our children the safety aspects as well as how to identify plants so they can pass this blessed provision down to their children.