Let’s say your car broke down, and you desperately needed to borrow your friend’s to get to work. Would you hotwire that sucker and speed off without a thought? Or maybe your partner’s dessert looks ‘ono, and rather than kicking yourself for “being good” you decide to take a few bites. Would you simply attack the sweet stuff without a word? Or would you at least ask before you annihilate everything in sight?
Hopefully we all have the courtesy to ask before taking, no matter how valid our reasons for doing so. But guess what? Showing respect doesn’t only apply to relationships between human beings. No, it’s also an integral aspect of healthy, conscious, and reciprocal relationships with other forms of life including plants, animals, the land and sea, and even the air we breathe. Respect is a key characteristic of an ethical forager, wildcrafter, and let’s face it – a decent human being.
Foraging for wild plants to be used as food, medicine, or both, is one way to commit to action in the Kanaka Maoli indigenous resurgence movement (if you’re into that kind of thing). By connecting with the ‘āina in search of our own food and physical nourishment, we are spiritually nourished by strengthening and respecting our familial connection to the natural world around us. The following is a foraging code of ethics detailed by my kumu lā‘au lapa‘au and the class during one of our discussions:
- Center yourself and come to a place of pono.
- Pule for yourself, the plants, and for those receiving the medicine on your way to gather plants, while you are gathering, and after you have finished gathering and have returned home. Basically, pule always.
- Be sure that your heart is filled with good intentions and gratitude.
- When you find the first plant, pass by so that the plant may go to seed. Pass by the second plant for the health of the environment and the animals, insects, and plants who live there. Pass by the third plant for a brother or sister in need.
- Before harvesting the fourth plant, ask the plant for permission, let the plant know your plans, and offer thanks to the plant.
- Once pau gathering, thank the plant once again and bow deeply. Walk backwards and facing the remaining plants before turning at a respectful distance.
- Continue to pule until you’ve reached home and used or stored the plants.
When foraging for plants, I make sure to gather from an area that I know is free of pesticide spray and GE crops. I also keep in mind the importance of harvesting plants that are far away from high traffic areas, ensuring that they are clean and free from harmful exhaust fumes, chemicals, and debris. I hope that you’ll join me, dear reader, in practicing the points listed in this ethical code of foraging the next time you’re out and about, no matter where you are. Happy foraging, friends!