The ethics of picking from the wild

Picking wild herbs is a highly debated issue. Man and animals have been picking and using herbs intuitively, since the beginning of their existence to address health problems or to promote their health. The have been doing it only when they needed it and only in the quantities they needed, with balance and sustainability, the key to manage any natural resource. The rise of the global commerce though, combined with the greed and opportunism of some people and companies, have devastated areas that were rich in wild herbs once.

Having to use natural resources in order to survive is something non debatable for all species, that is if they want to exist. How to share and manage though these resources can spark endless political debates and it has. It has been the basis of all politics throughout human history. Every tiny action each one of us does in any given moment, relies on the use of one or more natural resources. It is something that if we are not, we should be aware of.


There is a common acceptance that “nature knows better”, “animals know better”, “our ancestors knew better” when it comes to managing natural resources. We think for ourselves that we, today, are greedy and feed off the planet without thinking for the future, to satisfy our current guilty pleasures. Well, yes, that is true. For us. But also for nature, for the animals, for our ancestors, for every living mechanism of the universe. Everything is greedy. Greed defines and drives stars and galaxies, fungi and bacteria, grass and trees, lions and swallows, people. When natural resources they need, exist freely accessible around them, they will keep on consuming them in perpetuity.


Greed is countered only when a natural resource is limited. When something does not exist anymore, it simply cannot be consumed. This simple rule of the universe, embedded in this yin and yang dipole – greed and nothingness – creates its beautiful ever-changing complex systems. In places and times where greed is moderated by lack of natural resources, or lack of the ability of its consumers to consume them quickly, we humans have given the status word balance. Of course balance is nothing more than a stage that will appear once, more or never and last for a while, throughout the life of any system.


Just one more case when greed can be moderated, is when the consuming entity has enough intelligence to absorb experience, calculate and project its needs in the future. Such an intelligent consuming entity can put the brakes on its greed and manage the natural resources available around it, in order to ensure its existence in the future. A step further on its intelligence would be to identify the complex relations of all other entities around it and see how all of them are sharing the same natural resources. If it could calculate and manage those resources so that there will always be enough for every entity’s existence, then it can succeed an artificial balance for its system, that could last for a very long time. This would mean though that the managing the natural resources effort would be constant and never ending.


Every consuming entity has some means to access and process the natural resources it needs to consume. These means can be a limiting factor to its greed. A natural resource will not be consumed by an entity if the resource is hidden from its perception, or if the means the entity has are not capable to reach and capture it. We humans, used to have a lot of limitations in that aspect until an evolutionary event changed everything. From the moment that the development of our limbs and brain allowed us to create tools, use and combine previous knowledge, we became unstoppable. We used all of those abilities to find out, reach, extract and consume as many natural resources as possible and still haven’t stopped or are even trying to moderate that increasing greed.


At the same time, since the author of this post is human, we seem to be aware of our greed and have the intelligence mentioned before, that we are on a course heading fast towards the end of our existence, taking along with us a big chunk of the planet’s species. That of course is of no concern to the universe and nature, since it will be just another twist on the ever-changing flow of things. Wisdom would be defined as having that knowledge and taking action in order to prevent the unfortunate outcome. This is another highly debatable issue, if the human race, collectively, has wisdom.

Back to the herbs – Sustainability

After having stated the facts, taken a trip around the universe both in space and time and having seen the end of things, we can return to our matter in hand: picking wild herbs. Having that awareness about natural resources, even if renewable, is an absolute prerequisite in order to pick wild herbs. The awareness can come through knowledge, experience, discussion, observation, intuition or any combination of these. Having the sensitivity to apply that awareness to one’s mindset and control their actions in order to achieve sustainability in the natural resource called wild herbs is the other prerequisite.


Should there be more than one humans needing and acting for it, the natural resource called wild herbs, located in common ground, they should use all communication skills nature has given them, to find out a fair way to share that resource and keep the holy grail of sustainability. If no such agreement can be reached, they should both walk away from the given location and let it rest in peace. Any alternatives involving the use of any kind of weapons, are highly discouraged by the author of this post.


Of course nobody is perfect or Wise with capital w and whoever thinks that, should not be missing out on their psychotherapist appointments. This is why any action taken, for example picking wild herbs in a certain way that we think ensures sustainability absolutely, should be revisited and reevaluated often. No amount of experience or knowledge is ever enough to make us perfect, especially when we are playing in the complex field of nature. If at some point something that was right up to that point, turns out to be wrong and hurting the wild herbs, we simply change it in a way that does not. Or at least that’s what we think!

To pick, or not to pick?

That is definitely up to each one of us to answer. Having an idea though of all of the above and having respect for all things, would be highly appreciated by this post’s author, before an affirmative decision can be made. And if we’re out there noticing something hurtful being done, it is our duty to condemn it, as it is our duty to praise all actions promoting collaboration, kindness and sustainability.