MISSOULA - Foraging can be a great and inexpensive hobby for an outdoor enthusiast who wants to eat more organically, but the myriad of information on wild plants can be overwhelming.
Wild Wanders is an organization based in Missoula that informs and empowers people who want to learn more about edible and medicinal wild plants.
The founders hope to help people reconnect with nature.
Wild Wanders was started last year by Cathryn Raan and Sydney Morical.
She found her love for foraging through harvesting mushrooms and the Western MT Mycological Association.
She now makes products for Meadowsweet Herbs.
“And as I started foraging more for food, I started learning more about the medicinal components of the plants that I was foraging. There is a whole world out there,” Raan says.
Wild Wanders hosts “plant walks” around Missoula, where they talk to participants about different plants and their properties.
“I think going out there and walking and actually sensationally experiencing the plants is the best way to retain the information,” Raan says.
The walks begin with introductions and a short meditation.
Classification is a large part of the walk, but Morical says talking about responsible relationships with nature and plants is also an emphasis.
“All of our wanders are just about how incredibly sentient and conscious and intelligent plants are on so many different levels,” she says. “Most of what we do as a business is geared towards re-cultivating relationships and strengthening relationships between people and plants. And we try to do it in ways that we think are fun.”
The women also do "plant church," where participants are encouraged to connect with plants on a deeper level, and even try to communicate with them.
Raan says some people speak to the plants with words, but using the senses to experience nature is another way to communicate.
“So if you get to know each particular plant, you will know how that plant likes to be treated,” Raan says. “Yes, every plant has a different personality just like you and I each have a different personality.”
Wild Wanders often holds a booth at public events, like The Hip Strip Hip Hop Block Party on Saturday, Aug. 12, where they let people try food and drink made from wild plants and talk to them about plant medicine.
Eating wild plants is something Wild Wanders wants to encourage, not only for a person’s health, but for the health of the planet.
“For me, foraging is better for the planet, if done correctly, and foraging is better for my body,” Raan says. “And there's so many other benefits besides just nutritionally and medicinally out there.”
Morical says they also share information by visiting people’s homes to point out edible plants on their property.
“Tell them about what kind of plants they have on their land that they didn't realize were even there,” she says. “They just thought they had a field and now they're like, Oh, I'm so excited to experiment with– fill in the blank.”
Plant medicine for Morical and Raan is a preventative practice that, while won’t completely replace western medicine, is often a better option.
“I think that herbal medicine just offers more,” Raan says. “Western medicine can often just treat a symptom, whereas herbal medicine, even though it's not as well understood anymore, it generally treats the whole body and has a more balancing effect. It's a cause rather than a symptom.”
Morical says plant medicine can heal more than just physical ailments, but mental and spiritual ones as well.
“Yeah, to really empower people with the understanding that the plants, they are the medicine. The plants are the medicine and not just for the physical body but also for the emotional body, for the spiritual body.”
While plant medicine is not as widely practiced today, Morical and Raan say it is a forgotten tradition with roots far before pharmaceuticals.
They hope Wild Wanders will help bring that knowledge back into common practice.
“This used to be a lot more common knowledge and it's not anymore,” Raan says. “So we’re doing a little small thing to bring it back.”
Another benefit of connecting deeper with wild plants and nature is to feel a sense of belonging.
Understanding that there is a living world around us makes people feel less alone, according to Raan.
“I think a lot of people struggle with isolation with you know, lacking a sense of belonging with you know, just feeling really alone,” she says. “And so if we can help people connect to the natural world in a new way and offer different perspectives on relationships if you can change the way that you think about this tree as a being rather than a thing… it changes your whole relationship with the world around you and it just offers a sense of belonging where one didn't exist before.”
Foraging should be done with enough information — whether through a guide or personal research — to be able to identify poisonous plants.
“I mean, I think that there is a lot more fear around wild plants and mushrooms than there needs to be,” Raan says. “But absolutely there are a handful of plants out there that can kill you, and you need to know what they are if you plan to forage.”
Wild Wanders will have a river mint walk on Aug. 24, and a “weedy wanders” walk on September 13.
More information on Wild Wanders and their upcoming events can be found on their Instagram.