Good morning, good morning, good yarrow
And thrice good morning to thee
Tell me before this time tomorrow
Who my true love is to be
Wildcrafting is the practice of gathering wild plants that are used in herbal preparations and as food or food supplements. In addition to gathering the herbs, the wildcrafter must clean the wild plants (particularly roots) and dry them. Methods of doing this vary according to the herbal product being gathered. Some large roots must be sliced or chopped to facilitate drying. Herbs which are not dried properly may mold which will render them worthless.
The list of wild plants which are of commercial value is a long one and includes a number of plants that many consider to be troublesome weeds. Examples of this would be common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) root and Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana L.) root. At the other extreme, some of the botanical specimens sought after may be threatened or even endangered.
Although there are a lot of plants that can be gathered, prepared and sold, speaking as one who has done some wildcrafting for profit from time to time, my advice is...don't quit your day job. If you enjoy the activity, however, wildcrafting makes a great hobby.
In lieu of trying to cover all of the environmental and ethical considerations of wildcrafting for profit, what follows is a personal example of doing it all wrong. For the record, due to lessons learned from the errors that are recounted here, subsequent wildcrafting activity by this tree hugger was much more environmentally friendly.
The area I reside in is known to be a part of the native habitat of North American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolium) which, as far as I know, has always been the most valuable wild plant in North America pound for pound (no, marijuana doesn't count!). There is also a lot of multiple use National Forest land that is easily accessed; a wildcrafter's dream. I knew little or nothing about wildcrafting at the time I moved here. I wouldn't even know the term until years later. What I did know was that there was a local man who knew how to "hunt ginseng" and had had some success cultivating it. I approached Howard with a proposition. If he would teach me how to hunt ginseng in our local woods, I would help around his farm. He agreed to this and a small group of us (word gets around) met him in the Ouachita National Forest atop Rich Mountain at a location he had decided would make a good starting point.
It took some time but within about an hour or two we were locating some clusters of ginseng plants. Howard told us the right season for harvesting the roots. He showed us how to determine the age of the plants. He showed us how to plant the seeds where the larger roots were harvested. I was a good student as far as learning how to find the plants in the wild. I also pretty much ignored everything else Howard taught us. In the next two or three years I would harvest ginseng too young (for transplanting to my property, which didn't have the right conditions), harvest seed and dry it out (destroys viability), and harvest at the wrong time of year (seed not yet mature). The point is that there is a lot more to wildcrafting than stomping through the woods and harvesting nature's bounty.
The first company listed below will, upon request, send an annual list of the prices they will pay (per pound) for each wild plant. They also reference page numbers in books (which they also sell) to aid in identifying these wild plants. The second web address is an excellent article for those who would like to read more about it.