Poor harvesting practices have led to an adulteration of Arnica flowers all over the world. Though incredibly powerful in the form of natural medicine, wild Arnica montana is actually quite fragile and hard to grow. Thus, industry experts like Cassidy Schlager, an herbalist in Asheville, NC, have become more conscious of how they acquire and use Arnica on a regular basis. Although Arnica is Cassidy’s go-to remedy for sore muscles and bruises, she is always aware of her impact on the species, both in her practice and in the wild.
Discovering Arnica in the Wild
Cassidy first encountered wild Arnica in a high-elevation wilderness area of Colorado, USA, while on a research excursion with a team of fellow herbalists. To Cassidy and her colleagues, seeing Arnica in its natural state (not just dried) “felt like meeting someone for the first time; someone they’d heard about for ages.”
Although very excited about her discovery, Cassidy was hesitant to disturb the Arnica plants: “Even though this was my first opportunity to harvest Arnica, as an herbalist, I knew I needed to take a moment and reflect on the ethics of harvesting a wild plant.”
The Ethics of Wildcrafting
The ethics of wildcrafting (harvesting and using wild plants) were put into place to protect plant populations and decrease the chances of overharvesting or damage to the species. These ethical practices include:
- Consideration of the environment: Inspecting where the plant is growing. Noting possible impacts on the land apart from you (other harvesters, animals, etc.).
- Assessment of the plant’s state: Confirming whether or not the plant species is at risk. Checking on the health of the plant.
- Observation of the entire population: Ensuring there is a dense range of ages within the population and harvesting only from a wide age range to preserve reproduction.
- Proper harvesting for that species: Taking only the parts of the plant that can be used to produce medicine. For example, with Arnica, the above-ground parts of the plant are typically used to make herbal medicine, so the roots should not be removed or damaged. This ensures the plants can continue to grow and produce flowers for years to come.
- Harvesting of an appropriate quantity: Harvesting only what you can process. Wildcrafting is similar to buying groceries: It is never wise to buy more than you can eat; otherwise it will spoil.
For the Love of Arnica, Ethics Cannot Waver
With all of these ethics guidelines in place, Cassidy was able to harvest a modest amount of Arnica in Colorado and use it to make topical Arnica ointment. But harvesting is not always this lucky. Years after her first discovery, Cassidy came across another Arnica population in Canada. This time, environmental conditions and population health were not acceptable, so she left it untouched:
“Regardless of how rarely you come across a plant or how badly you want to harvest, sometimes you know you just can’t. I truly love and respect the plants I harvest. Moments like I experienced in Colorado remind me of how pure the entire process can be.”
About Cassidy M. Schlager, Clinical Herbalist: Cassidy Schlager is madly in love with plants of all kinds, although she is especially partial to the wild, unruly weeds that push up through cracks in the concrete. She has studied and practiced botany and herbal medicine for the past twelve years, and has completed courses at the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine, the Mountain Spirit School of Herbalism, and the Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism. Her passion for plant medicine takes her from formulating herbal protocols for clients to wildharvesting adventures in fields and forests. These days, she is likely to be found concocting medicinal tonics or brewing up a batch of herbal beer.