By Marie Reyes
Generational Herbalist, Medical Scientist
CIO, La Bohemia Natural
The Rocky Mountains have been home to people, plants and animals since before recorded time. Towering peaks 10,000ft to 14,000ft? gaze over deep valleys and slicing, profound gorges. There are countless microclimates which give rise to a wide variety of plant and animal life, rare species, swiftly varying temperatures, and stark fluctuation in water availability. There are particular plants and trees which don’t grow anywhere else in the world. The New Mexico territory houses a substantial chunk of this legendary mountain range. It is a mecca for those looking for variety for their apothecary cabinets and medicinal plant collections. High elevation desert mixed with lush greenery and tall pines, it is a true gem, and makes wild crafting both a very rewarding and picturesque experience.
My family has harvested herbs, food, and medicines in this area since an unknown time. It has been an oral history passed from person to person amongst family, neighbors and friends. At first thought, it seems almost unbelievable and the coincidences are too fascinating to be true. High elevation plants which serve to increase respiratory function for humans and animals grow in abundance. Cacti store water and edible fruit during the hottest months. Our earth mother certainly has answered the call to provide, in extreme environments, which otherwise may appear mistakingly barren.
There is a respectful, ethical way to collect from nature and give back. In our tradition, we ask for permission before cutting something away from the earth, we only take copal (pine resin) if it has dropped from the tree, and we “flick before we pick” our mushrooms to disperse spores and bring about new growth. Always, it is important to pay attention and not “over-harvest” plants or animals. We take only what we may need for a small stock or forage to another area to try and collect.
A good practice is keeping track, marking maps or keeping a journal of where you find certain plants. That way you can return to those spots and also know where else they could be found (sometimes in higher abundance).
In our workshop series, we learn all of these practices and also focus on deadly lookalike identification, some ritualistic uses (in Native culture) and field identification. Safety is of utmost importance and concern and we live by the mantra: “If there is any doubt to identification, get an expert backup ID, or don’t use or consume it.” This idea is very important, for obvious reasons, but also the fact that this ancient art is something that really needs to be passed to the next person in an apprenticeship format. Even experienced herbalists and botanists make bad IDs at times.
We welcome you to join us on an adventure to the New Mexico wilderness + educational course. For upcoming events, please visit our facebook page and click on events. We host them until the harvest season is finished in late October. We also host medicine making workshops as well. Be on the lookout for our “plant of the month” blogs where we showcase different species found in the Rocky Mountain Region.
If you would like to follow our new field guide in progress, please find us on our instagram, @inmortalremedios.