Wildcrafting for Beginners article by famous herbalist Howie Brounstein.
United Plant Savers maintains a list of medicinal plants the consider to be at risk of severe overharvest.
Among the species on the UpS list are Ligusticum porteri (Osha) and Lomatium dissectum, both of which grow in much of the interior and mountain West. Both are important medicinals that are difficult to cultivate. Other plants may be used to substitute for these in many cases.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is one of the early poster children for overharvesting. Remember Daniel Boone? He made his family’s fortune not as a trapper, but by using native folks to dig up ginseng root and sell it. American ginseng remains one of the largest herbal commodities nationally and internationally. In the process, the plant has been severely overharvested, and extirpated in some areas.
Wild American ginseng is listed as at risk by United Plant Savers. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists American ginseng in appendix II: “species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.”
Some jurisdictions restrict harvest to protect what’s left. For instance, Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest requires would-be wildcrafters to get annual permits and not exceed one pound of fresh, 5-year-old roots per year. This is based on findings by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees most threatened and endangered species.
Increasingly, supplies of American ginseng are being cultivated rather than taken from the wild. The plant has very specific growing requirements and often isn’t easy to cultivate. Veteran herbsman Richo Cech details ginseng-cultivation needs in an article published on the UpS website.
Organizations, schools and individual herbalists offer guidelines to help prevent overharvest.
Planting the Future by Rosemary Gladstar and a host of other herbalists.