It's ok to harvest herbs

Me with a basket of goldenrod

Me with a basket of goldenrod

“I feel bad harvesting them.”

I hear that so often from students.

We’ll be in the garden, just having discussed the qualities and characteristics of some wonderful herby friends, and after all of that empathy and, yes, personification, some folks feel hesitant to harvest.

I totally get that. After all, if you’re in an herb class, you likely have a high sense of empathy for the natural world. You’re aware that we humans tend to take more than we need, which causes a lot of harm. And if you’re a person of the dominant culture, you’re likely also aware of the harm that’s historically been done by your ancestors over-taking. So you hesitate. It’s totally reasonable.

And yet, here you are, with the plants, in the garden.

I’d like to offer my thoughts on why it’s ok to harvest the herbs.

Note: it is NOT ok to harvest herbs whose wild populations are at-risk or endangered. Do your research. Hold yourself accountable.

Herbs planted in a garden have a special relationship with humans.

Herbs that are growing in a garden have a different relationship with humans than herbs growing in the wild. When humans create the conditions for plants to grow, thrive, and reproduce, we enter into a more mutual, symbiotic relationship with them.

Garden herbs are more energetically available for harvest than herbs growing deep in the forest. They share an ecosystem with the gardener. If the gardener is saving the seeds or allowing the plant to re-seed itself or otherwise spread, the plant and gardener are truly in a symbiotic relationship. The plant understands that part of the relationship

Herbs need us to fall in love with them.

That’s right. You can learn and study and be intellectually intrigued by herbs all you want, but that’s not what they need. Herbs need us to fall in love with them. Why? Because when we love something, we fight for it. We’ll do everything we can to preserve it.

When we love something, we know that we need it. Of course we need plants. We know that in our minds. But knowledge sitting in our minds isn’t exactly at the forefront of our awareness. But love that burns in our heart — we’re aware of that.

How does one go about falling in love? With our senses.

We need to harvest plants because we need to have a sensual experience with them.

We need to smell them and taste them and feel them and feel the euphoria. It is through our sense that we fall in love with plants. It is through our senses that plants move to the forefront of our awareness.

Humans and plants co-evolved. Our relationship is enmeshed in our very existence.

We need each other. Our very existence is wrapped up in each other. We cannot separate ourselves from the plant world. So let’s embrace it.

Approach with reverence, gratitude, and humility, and you’ll be just fine.

It is always important to approach herbs with a reverent attitude. Offer gratitude, ask permission, and listen to the answer. If you hear a “no” then don’t harvest. If you never hear a “no” then you’re not listening. It’s simple. Approach the herbs as you would approach an honored friend. But know that picking an herb is not the same as removing said friend’s arm. It’s different. Plants are different.

If your solution to harvesting guilt is to buy herbs elsewhere, well, that’s not a great alternative.

If you choose to not harvest a plant because you feel bad, but then you go and buy that plant online, all you’re doing is outsource your guilt to a process that you don’t see. You cannot remove yourself from the supply chain. And when you purchase herbs from somewhere else, it’s much more difficult to know how those plants were grown and treated and how they were harvested.

Rather than outsourcing the herbs, have the courage to face them when you pick them. Have the courage to accept the fact that your life is dependent upon other creatures giving up theirs. Whether it’s plants, fungi, or animals, you as a human are dependent upon the death of other creatures to survive. You can face this fact with courage, humility, and gratitude. And if you have the opportunity to thank the creature that is giving itself for you to thrive, that’s amazing.