I spent 6 summers in awe of, sitting with, and watching this plant before I had the courage to ask for permission to harvest. I later would discover why; Monotropa uniflora is an otherworldly existence. Deep spirit medicine. I was granted permission from this plant spirit to work with it as medicine over two years ago now. Ghost pipe is a POWERFUL plant spirit, and can offer many teachings about deep physical and emotional pain, in this world and accessing (and crossing over into) others. It is imperative that we protect these (and all) plant (and animal) species and not abuse them for their gifts. I think it’s beautiful (and often alarming) there is so much interest and attention to plant medicine now. So many more are searching for and reawakening to the earth for her healing gifts that she so graciously and abundantly offers despite our centuries of mistreatment. But Humankind has a track record of abuse of power, destruction and greed, and even within industries such as plant medicine, environmental conservation, and animal health.
Plant spirits like this, and so many others, will cease to be in existence if we do not make efforts to protect them and respect them. I believe that power plants like Monotropa, are here to share their gifts with us, and lives in abundance on my land and surrounding areas, but should be reserved for certain circumstances. Monotropa is not currently on the United Plant Savers At Risk Species list, but lets not let it get there. There are so many other effective, abundant and sustainable allies.
We can all do our part by supporting organizations like United Plant Savers, educating ourselves, friends, and community on sustainable and environmentally ethical practices around wildcrafting, and repopulating at risk plant species, and questioning your local markets as to where their wild plants come from.
Just a few notes on respectful and sustainable earth stewardship and wildcrafting:
If you're beginning your journey into herbalism, or even are a few years into it, welcome!, and on the right path, you will continue to be reawakened over and over to a deeply magical world.
Herbal medicine is the peoples medicine and we have an inherent desire to aligning with love and the earth for healing. We also have an inherent DUTY to care for and protect this earth so that she will continue to care for and protect us. If you have begun this journey, you have accepted the responsibility of protecting the earth and not abusing our resources for financial gain, greed and power.
Wild harvesting is exciting, but it must be done respectfully.
Below are just a few absolutely imperative, guidelines for wild harvesting plants.
do not ever harvest a plant without the guidance of someone who can show you the correct way to do so. The slightest error in fragile plants (like monotropa) can slowly bring an end to their existence. If youre not sure, ask! You're local green witches are usually more than grateful to share their two cents!
educate yourself! make sure you're harvesting the correct plant, as some "lookalikes" can be toxic. (For instance, wild carrot and poison hemlock.) Also, some plants are safer to harvest in one season than another, so its important to do your homework!
make sure you are aware of its availability. MANY medicinal plants are at risk of being extinct, so it is imperative to be aware of this before going out in search of a plant. United Plant Savers has a frequently updated resource for at risk plants available on their website
if you come across an endangered plant, admire and send it love and leave it alone.
before harvesting, ALWAYS ask for permission, and if you do not receive a clear YES, exercise your patience, take it as a lesson it is not your time to work with that plant, continue to send love, and try again later. As I shared above, it took me 8 years to receive permission to work with monotropa. I have heard of some herbalists waiting 15+ years before receiving permission to harvest a plant. This spiritual work is SO IMPORTANT. Sit and pray and listen. You will be eternally grateful for the teachings you receive through waiting.
if you are granted permission, ALWAYS OFFER GRATITUDE. A gift of tobacco or other sacred plant, a song, a favorite item. This gift is commonly offered to one plant in a harvesting area and that plant it is offered to is not harvested from.
organically cultivate whenever possible, and when wildcrafting never take more than 5% of what is there and never take more than you will use. Remember, we are not the only ones who need these resources. We are all connected in this web of life. Every bit of our existence creates a ripple effect in our ecosystem, affecting every living creature on this planet.
never harvest within 50-100 feet of a roadside
be aware of the health of the land. has it been treated with pesticides? was it previously a dump site or where a lead factory once existed?
have multiple harvesting spots. if you know about it, it's a good possibility someone else does to. protect the health of the plant by moving around and also coming back to check on the health of the plant and send it love
check in with yourself regularly and ask why you're doing this work. make sure your motives are not leaning into cycles of greed.
Support local and/or small batch herbalists you know that uphold these values.
do your part in speaking up and giving voice to these allies, helping to further protect them.