Plant walks build awareness of wildcrafting,


click to enlarge Plant walks build awareness of wildcrafting, foraging and our relationship with the planet

Courtesy photo

Michael Pilarski is a walking encylopedia on wild plants.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” said Hippocrates … maybe (or maybe not). There’s no doubt, however, that medicine’s founding father from ancient Greece understood that what we eat and drink impacts our health.

Ginger tea to help mitigate a cold or tummy ache, or turmeric to keep harmful inflammation at bay? Yes. Even coffee to feel more awake. From herbs and spices in our foods to plant-based foods themselves, humans the world over have always employed the power of plants for specific effects.

And yet, plant knowledge and its usage has ebbed from our everyday experience, especially in industrialized societies, often reduced to ingesting a pill, whether a typical boost of vitamins or something with a questionable origin or efficacy. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn, however, including from reams of vetted print and online materials.

Plant expert Michael “Skeeter” Pilarski has another suggestion.

“You can learn things from books and look at guidebooks and stuff with pictures, but nothing is as good as going out in person,” Pilarski says. His more than five decades of relevant experience includes organic farming, permaculture, wildcrafting, foraging and more.

“People love to look at plants,” Pilarski says. “So, a plant walk is one of the most friendly, fun, easygoing, non-stressful ways to learn something.”

On May 14, Pilarski is guiding participants in a Spokane-area plant walk (originally scheduled to happen at Riverside State Park but since relocated; register to receive location details) focusing on wildcrafting and foraging.

The terms are somewhat interchangeable, Pilarski explains, “but in today’s terminology, foraging usually refers to food, [while] wildcrafting refers to medicine or craft material.”

Balsamroot, for example, relates to both.

“Native peoples ate the seeds,” Pilarski says, adding that “it’s a really good medicine for the immune system and for the lungs.”

Like balsamroot, dandelions are an underappreciated plant that grows in abundance, and Pilarski remembers eating his mother’s wilted dandelion green salad with bits of bacon as a kid.

Learning about beneficial plants also includes learning about harmful ones.

“One thing I would say is that anybody that’s going to learn about wild foraging edible plants should learn all the poisonous plants in their locality,” Pilarski cautions.

In addition to plant identification, harvesting and processing, plant walk participants also benefit from Pilarski’s vast stores of knowledge, says event organizer Jessica Spurr.

“He’s like a walking textbook,” says Spurr, who took Pilarski’s permaculture class in 2012, then interned with him for several seasons before eventually starting her own business, Earthly Apothecary.

For example, when Pilarski talks about elderberry, which is beloved for its medicinal and edible properties alike, he’ll talk about the folklore, when and how to harvest it, the difference between flowers, berries, and even the bark, Spurr says.

“Like, he could probably go on for 20 minutes, even longer, on one plant,” she says. “And so, I think people are very surprised that somebody can just do that from memory.”

Pilarski’s interest in plants was piqued at a young age growing up in northern Michigan.

“My mom wanted me to learn how to work, so she shipped me off to the strawberry fields in second grade,” Pilarski says, noting he worked eight hour days alongside adult pickers.

In his 20s, Pilarski embarked on a journey that would take him from “organic farming to permaculture and agroforestry and then into ethno-botany and then into forestry and then into wildcrafting,” Pilarski says. “So, I had quite a varied career.”

Throughout that career, Pilarski has been an advocate of building and maintaining awareness about the human impact on the earth. In 1978, he created Friends of the Trees Society, a nonprofit dedicated to “working for a greener earth” through workshops, podcasts, videos, and volumes of written material Pilarski has produced in print and online.

His most recent endeavor is the Global Earth Repair Foundation, which aligns with Pilarski’s interest in permaculture.

“Permaculture is the design of sustainable human settlements,” Pilarski explains, adding that it advocates an approach that builds, improves and restores ecosystems.

“You might call it a way of living that restores the environment instead of harms it,” he says.

To that end, even the plant walks Pilarski leads emphasize harvesting from nature, yet in a sustainable way, one that is also in keeping with another quote attributed to Hippocrates: “First, do no harm.”

Pilarski uses the term reciprocity.

“I would say that it’s not like we live on the earth,” he says. “We are the earth. I mean, if it doesn’t survive, neither do we.” ♦

Plant Walk & Workshop: Wildcrafting &
Foraging • Sun, May 14 from 10 am-4 pm • $60 •
Spokane, location provided upon registration •
Email [email protected]

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