By Ashley Litecky Elenbaas, MSc., RH(AHG)
Have we as a culture lost our wildness? Take a look in 90% of American’s kitchens and you will find pre-packaged jars containing evenly ground roots and spices and very few kitchens with bottles and jars containing wild foraged roots and whole plants. The same thing goes for our medicine cabinets. What has happened?
One thing we can all agree upon is that we are as a culture very busy. Many of us feel that we don’t have the time to learn about wild local plants and to make our own medicines. To me this is a symptom of a deeper cultural illness that causes us to feel separated from nature and in a race with time. As creatures on this planet who are just as earth reliant as birds and beavers, somehow we have forgotten that we too are simply upright wild animals. That we need the earth, her rhythms, her medicines, her wildness, and her teachings to be well and well-adjusted to life on this planet.
I recently came across a definition of wildness that I really like. It is, “Wildness: adj., living in a state of nature” which points to the idea that wildness is natural. To get back to this state of being we don’t have to renounce all of our human comforts but it does mean that we will have to pay more attention to what is going on outside and staying abreast of the subtle changes in our environment. Very simply, embracing our wildness means living in a way that honors our relationship with our natural world and acknowledges that we too are natural wild beings.
One of the easiest ways we can reconnect to nature and engage in the natural world is through the gathering and using of local wild medicinal foods and plants. The benefits of foraging for your foods and medicines are many.
The primary benefit of wild foraging is that it connects you to the biome and ecosystem where you are living. Eating off the ground where you live literally roots you to your location. The plants growing in Brooklyn contain a particular intelligence that is suited that location on the planet. When we eat those plants it informs our bodies of our own microclimate, adaptive challenges, local bacteria, and environmental gifts. Eating these plants gives us access to all of the information that we need to know to thrive in our current location and tells our bodies that we are in Brooklyn, not Hong Kong, and not Chile.
Secondly, wild foraging gets us outside and moving around. We all know how important vitamin D is for our health and spending time outdoors gives us a natural boost of this mood elevating nutrient. We are also gaining the physical benefits from walking, squatting, forward folding, reaching, and stretching. All great things for our physical and mental health. In Japan they have a wellness practice called “forest bathing” which is the simple practice of going out into nature to be and to breathe. I think the therapeutic benefits of spending time in nature just on its own is enough to help us feel our connection to the land and world around and within us.
The third benefit is that you are getting nutritionally intact foods and medicines. We all know that nutrients degrade over time. There is nothing like a fresh picked tomato or freshly harvested herbs to show us this difference. When we go out and harvest wild onions to make fire cider or fresh violet leaves to add to our salad we know we are getting all of the important phytochemicals we need in their most intact state.