Preserving Communities – Goldthread and Friends
I have been researching the meaning of 'wild simulated'. My idea of what that means was based on the permaculture principle that there are plant communities, or guilds, made up of plants that like to grow together, and they have complimentary properties that all fit together to make a well-rounded healthy ecosystem. I surmised that wild simulating would mean growing them in a setting as close to a natural one as possible. Like below! This is a picture of a Goldthread guild!
Earlier this summer I was in Goldthread country and decided to try an experiment. Instead of digging up individual plants, I decided to dig up everything growing in the whole circle of foliage surrounding a few Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) plants. Three months later and both the little tree and the Goldthread are doing quite well, better than earlier transplants that arrived alone without their neighbors. 🙂
So what does wild simulated mean? Does wild mean the seed or the location? Can you till the soil? Can you weed? Or fertilize? What I learned is that the term appears to be mostly in reference to Ginseng production..although the concept should apply to any crop that varies when planted in tilled soil as opposed to a la natural. Here's what a Virginia Tech article said:
"Since there is no tillage of the soil with wild simulated ginseng crops, all fertilizers are applied on the soil surface. Applications of gypsum and/or rock phosphate may have to be made every two or three years. Soil testing should be done every year to monitor available soil nutrients." For the weed question, they simply recommend avoiding planting near any large stands of obnoxious weeds.
From what I have gathered, wild simulation is mainly about replicating what is happening in the wild by not intervening beyond planting the seeds - and only using shovels and hoes to do it, either in the wild or somewhere with similar soil pH and shade, moisture, etc., and commonly associated plant species growing there.
Tilling seems to be the defining no-no with wild simulation. In the case of Ginseng, the root is different and less sought after when it is grown in tilled soil. I don't think this would apply with Goldthread, since it is just little runner roots going everywhere.
Both Ginseng and Goldthread like deep shade and plentiful moisture. The climate in Montana is a lot more arid than Northcentral Idaho, where the nearest Goldthread is. I have learned that even a little too much direct sun will burn Goldthread and cause it to just stall out in failure to thrive mode. If shaded under a Rhubarb leaf, for example, it will be green and happy with only the sun that shines through the sheltering leaf. The problem with Rhubarb, however, is that it dies back and leaves the Goldthread exposed and the gardener has to get inventive. Last year it was an umbrella, lol.
So, for this year's experiment, I surrounded the little guild with other plants so that it would get a lot of shade, and I kept it well watered. To my delight, all of the plants in all of the containers loved their circle! And - the true test - no sunburned Goldthread!
Goldthread is a very slow growing plant, however. It is a worthy herb to propagate though, and is full of berberine, as evidenced by its bright yellow roots! The new little guild that came over the hill with me is clearly thriving although we are only starting to learn about growing it in a habitat that may fall far short of commercial quantities. Again, it is a case of everyone growing a small amount, for the best Essiac around, using herbs that are easy enough to grow enough of for a family or a group. I do have more respect than ever for those that do get us herbs on a larger scale so we don't have to grow them all. Make that something short of Big Ag though!
Well, there is more than one variety of Goldthread, and some of it grows faster, and is just as full of Berberine. I did get a Coptis chinensis seedling from Horizon Herbs and it has already made new leaves in the few months since it arrived. Coptis chinensis is most likely the mystery herb Rene Caisse was trying to order from India during the summer of 1977 when they were testing Essiac and she was short on herbs.
Wishing you all a great harvest season and may you enjoy these beautiful September days!
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