This topic has been on my mind lately. I’m fairly sure I’m preaching to the choir but I still feel it’s important to talk about what is the etiquette for those who forage and/or enjoy nature in any way.
My first pet peeve with those who come before me in an area is litter. I cannot express how much litter gets on my nerves. I wouldn’t come into your house and drop crap on your floor so I can’t understand why people think it’s okay to drop crap in parks and other natural areas. I don’t really get people who throw it out their car window either. It’s just plain rude.
One of our favorite fishing places has no services so no trash but people pack their crap in and leave it. There’s a certain amount of expected litter – fishing line and bits that get caught in trees or vegetation in the pond, bits of food that drop in the dirt and light things that blow away from the owner. That’s understandable but cans and bottles are inexcusable. You had enough room and strength to carry the containers filled to the fishing spot, you can carry them back to your car. I know this is possible because we not only trek our garbage out but whatever we pick up in the area we are in.
The other thing that just rubs me raw is mistreating the plants. Nature has value, regardless of whether or not it’s edible for humans. Plants provide shelter and food for every living being in that environment. They are not just for human use. There are rules for those who forage.
If it’s a plant that you remove from an area – remove no more than you can use in a short time and never take it all. The amount you do take will depend on how plentiful the plant is, what parts you take and the number of people who look for that specific plant. I will say that much of foraging is still exotic. Most people look for berries and mushrooms but not a lot are looking for the plants. If you are the only person using a plant in an area, you could take a touch more but still don’t take more than you can process at home. There’s no point picking the plant if you are going to let it rot.
Pick only what you need. Don’t rip up an entire plant if all you need is the top leaves or the flower head. You want the plant to remain prolific – if for nothing else but for it to be available for you next year.
When it comes to fruits, I’m a little more greedy. I take what I can use but I respect the plant. I don’t mutilate the bushes or break branches. We have blackberry bushes near us that are quite popular for picking. I can’t imagine that the berries will run out. However, this past weekend someone came to those bushes and cut huge sections out to make it more accessible to the person picking. That was rude. Don’t ruin the bushes for others. Cutting huge chunks out of the bush may seem like a good way to get to the ripe berries in the middle of the bush but it eliminates all the unripe ones for later picking. We do cut paths into the bushes as the season goes but these are narrow paths, just wide enough to walk through so that we might access more areas of the bush. We cut with respect for the plants and for those who come after us. Getting to the back side of the bushes are difficult so we make areas that open it up for more people, not take away.
Wildlife enjoys the plants too. We remember we are going into their homes. We don’t kill the animals but prepare for anything that might be dangerous. We were high boots in areas there might be rattle snakes and bring a rake. The plan is not to kill the snake but prevent it from biting us before we are able to leave their home. Last time we went berry picking and saw a snake. That signalled the end of our picking at that place. The snake was not poisonous but it meant that the conditions were right for snakes to be in the bushes. We had also picked nearly a gallon per person so we were good to go.
We don’t take our animals out with us but I know people do. Remember it’s still areas other people go – we don’t love your dog and we don’t want it’s poop all over the park. One berry patch we visited shared a space with a large rose bush right next to the river – guess what was the only thing we could smell, yep – it was awful.
I know people view living in a free country as permission to do whatever they want. The reason we have so many laws is because people forget that freedom is for everyone. We are not free if you take away the rights of other people. Showing respect when visiting nature not only protects nature but the rights of those who follow you. I have the right not to have to swim through your garbage because you have the right to throw it where ever you like.