I have a Flora Bucket List of plants and fungi that I want to meet and not so much to gather while I am studying in the PNW, I recently checked off my list Monotropa uniflora commonly known as Ghost Pipe a strikingly beautiful ghostly, otherworldly looking plant that has been gaining a lot of popularity on social media and getting a lot of "INSTAlove".
GHOST PIPE, A NO PICK
Many folks wildcrafting this plant will speak of this plant as being "sacred" and attribute its medicinal uses as being a nervine and an analgesic. Folks wildcrafting Ghost Pipe will defend their gathering of the plant by saying they gather only the aerial parts, adding to it catch phrases, "ethical" or "sustainable" to make their audience think that they are respectful of the plant. I have seen an herbalist share on Instagram and Facebook their experiences and coined it as a "spirit teacher plant" and listing its uses followed by "i made a small batch". Following their post was many comments to the likes of "i need this, do you accept venmo, how can i get this" and tagging of friends so they too could jump on the Ghost Pipe wagon. In my opinion these wildcrafters are contributing to the Plant Lust and if the plant was so "sacred" then why not LEAVE IT ALONE and respect the plant and its medicine by leaving it be. Just because you prayed and asked permission of a plant that can not withstand mass wild harvesting does not give anyone the right to take from it. Those who defend their wildcrafting practices by saying they "take the aerial parts" keep in mind that by removing the flowering parts will be removing the future fruit bearing seeds which are the future of baby Ghost Pipes.
Renee Davis wrote an article about Ghost Pipe which she gives a list of a few alternative plants to use in place of Ghost Pipe. Below is an excerpt from her GHOST PIPE RESPECT blog post.
"I too am enamoured and moved by Ghost pipe. So I leave it in its habitat to continue its life. I sit with it, photograph it, and take in everything it has to offer. There’s more magic there than having it ground up in alcohol on my apothecary shelf.
What is Monotropa uniflora Ghost Pipe?
Some folks mistaken Ghost Pipe for a fungi but in fact it is a flowering plant within the Heath Family, Ericaceae. Folks will also say that this plant is parasitic because it does not contain chlorophyll and cannot photosynthesize. Ghost Pipe is in a group of plants known as a mycoheterotrophs, mycoheterotrophic plants are partially or entirely non-photosynthesizing plants, that have a relationship with the mycorrhizal fungus and the mycorrhiza fungus have a symbiotic relationship with the trees where its roots attach to the roots of a photosynthesizing tree, which acts like a bridge between the mycoheterotroph (Monotropa) and the tree. The energy starts with the photosynthesizing tree which feeds the mycorrhizal fungi and in turn the mycorrhizal fungi supports the mychoheterotroph. Because the mychorrhiza and the trees have a symbiotic relationship there is benefit to both the tree and mychorrhiza.
Mycorrhiza accumulate nutrients and water and are like a nutrient bank, they have the ability to store excess nutrients and releasing nutrients and water to the tree as needed.
Mycorrhiza can inhibit invasion of damaging fungi.
Mychorrhiza can help extend the life of the tree root tips.
Mycorrhiza fix nitrogen and provide nitrogen to its host.
Mycorrhiza helps the flora by breaking down substances that the plant cannot use.
Mycorrhiza increase plant tolerance to different environmental stresses.
In return, the flora/tree supplies the mycorrhizal fungus with carbohydrates for use as energy which supports the mycoheterotrophic plant. It's beautiful to think about the vast network of life that takes place in undisturbed areas. Paul Stamets refers to this as "Earths Natural Internet".
Parasitic plants like Doder, Mistletoe and Dwarf Mistletoe find a host and deplete the nutrients and water from its host which will eventually kill the host overtime.
I explained lightly the relationship of a mycoheterotroph plant like Ghost Pipe and mychorrhiza and the symbiotic relationship of mychorrhiza and with trees or other flora producing chlorophyll. Being that Ghost Pipe has a relationship with the mycelium in the soil of where it grows, it can not survive disturbance. Folks who attempt at wildcrafting it in hopes of cultivation will actually be causing harm to the plant as it can not live without that soil association. Folks who say they cut just the aerial parts are removing the chance for it to flower, pollination and go to seed which means future Ghost Pipes. In fact this plant is so delicate that even the mere touching of the plant will cause it to bruise, wilt and die. Those who use the roots, well, it does not take a degree in science to understand that the plant has met its demise when its roots are dug up. On one of our field days at Columbines School of Botanical Studies, Howie Brounstein (herbalist, botanist and founder of Columbines) wanted to show us the impact of harvesting of the plant, he led us to an area where once Monotropa had thrived for years but has since been was dug up. Seeing this is incredibly aggravating to me, I see that as Plant People we should care more about the plants and not let some plant meditation or a "spirit guide you on a summer solstice" (i actually read that on a instagram post recently) to take a plant that cannot withstand harvesting and then sensationalizing it on social media. We should be stewards and care for the land and protect the plants. Not feel the entitlement to take it because it is the ONLY plant that can help you, or because it's becoming trendy to post photos of Ghost Pipe tincture or the aerial parts of the plant on social media. Question your use and research other plants that can be used in place of Ghost Pipe.
I understand that many herbalist back in the day have respectfully used this plant sparingly and when needed. When I have done my research on its use I found dated articles and papers of its use at a time before social media which has contributed to it's popularity. Times are changing and we cannot use the excuses that it has been used for years, herbalist who once taught about it have had a change of heart seeing how popularity has impacted stands. (read the article from Renee Davis link is above)
As herbalism and wildcrafting is increasingly becoming popular, it is understandable that we all want to connect with the earth and its medicine, however the plants and ecosystems deserve our respect and attention of their current status and concern. It is only responsible to educate ourselves on the plants that are rare, threatened, endangered, plants that are impacted by commercialism. Yes, Ghost Pipe is not rare, threatened or endangered per the USDA list of Threatened and Endangered Species, it is a plant that is in review of consideration on the United Plant Savers, Species At-Risk list.
It's expected for those who are gathering Ghost Pipe to be defensive and have explanations of why it is not impacted and defending their wildcrafting techniques. For those who use consider this plant "sacred" and gather it if for self use, there is truly no need to boast about it on social media and add to the growing list of #GHOSTPIPE #MONOTROPAuniflora hashtags and increasing the popularity of the plant. It does not seem so "sacred" when folks share it with the world to see. We have seen the increasingly insane popularity of White Sage Salvia apiana and the impact that demand has brought to the plant. I can go on about White Sage there is a lot of post I have written on it if you search under "ECO-WARRIOR" on my blog categories. Please check out this article by the United Plant Savers, Susan Leopold about What's Happening with White Sage for more insight.
When sharing about this plant it is important to also share the concern of the over harvesting of it and the other factors that can affect the plant i.e. loss of habitat like clearcuts, because of the disturbance of the soil Ghost Pipe cannot grow again not to mention the plant thrives under the forest canopy. Climate change, as this plant likes its feet to be wet, the dryer the ecosystem becomes the plant can not survive.
Let's prevent the continued incline of popularity and demand of Ghost Pipe and be a voice for the plants that need protection for its continued growth and success.
GHOST PIPE and FLOWER ESSENCE
I mentioned earlier how delicate Ghost Pipe is. Touching the plant even using a stick will cause it to bruise, wilt and die before it can produce seeds which prevents the future of more Ghost Pipes. I have had folks tell me they made their essence by dipping the flower in the vessel of water rather than cutting the flowers. Others are apparently cutting the flowers for their flower essence. I will not explain in detail of how to make vibrational medicine but in short, with my training of making flower essence, the top of the water filled vessel is covered with flowers, some vessels are larger than others so that means more flowers, remember the flowers will turn into fruit which bear seeds of future babies. How is this sustainable? Another key needed for making of flower essence is full sunlight. After collection of flowers the vessel is placed in direct sunlight sitting nest to the plant where no shadows will cross over it for three to four hours. Ghost Pipe thrives in the old growth conifer forest under the canopy of trees. If you have ever visited the old growth forest then you will know that there is no full sun for three to four hours. Even if there was sun peeking through the canopy it is short lived. I have in the past had to move my flower essence around to avoid the shade of a nearby tree as the sun would move. So I question the authenticity of a flower essence of Ghost Pipe. I just think it's a bunch of hype and folks jumping on the Ghost Pipe wagon.
To close this long post, Please for the love of preserving the plants, if you are currently working with Ghost Pipe consider other flora that can be used in place of it and if you don't have the information reach out to an herbalist who is informed of the plants status. For those new to herbalism and making of botanical medicines, it is only ethical and responsible to do thorough research and not just take from a plant without the understanding of what your impact can potentially have on both land and ecosystem. Just because a plant may appear abundant in that one spot does not mean that it is in fact. Have you expanded your search to expanding outside of the area where you usually see it? I cannot stress more the importance of understanding the flora and the land. If you have a desire to study botanical medicine in depth there are schools that work directly with the plants and ecosystems. The second herb school I went to was Green Wisdom Herbal Studies in Long Beach, founder, herbalist Julie James focuses in cultivating your own herbs along with Traditional Western Herbalism with days in the Apothecary Garden working with medicinal plants. Columbines School of Botanical Studies based in Eugene, Or. is an immersion program studying botany and herbalism with field days in the Cascade Mountains along with lectures in a classroom. Sage Country Herbs is based in Southern California and is also an immersion program studying herbalism and botany in the field.