Forest Provides Income from Crafts, Edibles, and More

William N. Grafton
Wildlife Specialist
WVU Extension Service

The November 1999 issue of the "WVU Update" in the West Virginia Farm Bureau NEWS contained several articles on managing forests for timber, pulpwood and other wood products. Selective cutting for typical wood products occurs every 20 to 30 years. Harvesting with clear cutting happens every 60 to 100 years.

Some other forest products can turn into extra money more quickly. These products include crafts, medicinals, ornamental landscaping and edibles.

Wood crafts --carvings, clocks, bowls, lawn furniture, and wreaths --make good income opportunities. Woodcrafters have an interesting way of obtaining wood. A typical logging operation removes only the best wood and leaves the rest behind. This "rest" includes the stumps, knots, burls, and tree forks that craftsmen prefer for bowls, carvings, tabletops, etc. These tree sections contain the fancy, wavy, swirling grain patterns valued by craftsmen.

But you don't have to be a craftsman to enjoy wood profits. You can collect wood to sell to skilled craftsmen.

The diagonal slices of red cedar stems are used for decoupage art and clocks made red cedar valuable. The same can be said for basswood, on which craftsmen create designs or pictures with electric burning tools.

Decorative craft materials to sell can come from driftwood, rotting stumps and roots, and pinecones. For wreaths, combine grapevines, holly leaves/berries, pine branches, and ground pine or princess pine. Woodcarvers prefer white pine, basswood, walnut, and holly for carving items for sale.

Bags of aromatic shavings or sawdust of sassafras, red cedar, and evergreen cones can be packaged and sold as potpourri. Walking sticks of sourwood, birch, ash, ironwood, and other saplings are also money-makers. Dyes for crafts and clothing can be made from black walnut hulls, bloodroot, goldenrods, and a host of other plants.

Medicinals from natural plants are extremely popular. Ginseng is the most popular medicinal plant and sells for $250 to $500 per pound. It $5 million-$7 million dollars for 10,000 West Virginia ginseng diggers. Goldenseal (yellowroot), St. John's wort, mayapple, black snakeroot, and blue cohosh are just a few of the dozens of forest plants herb collectors harvest to supplement their income.

For centuries, people have selected trees, shrubs, vines, wildflowers, and ferns to landscape homes and gardens. A February 8, 1999 Presidential Executive Order states that native plants must be used in all federal landscape, reclamation, and erosion control projects to keep invasive exotics and weeds from destroying natural ecosystems.

Numerous opportunities will be available to collect seed from or grow native West Virginia plants for use in federal projects. Natural birches, silverbell, trembling aspen, and several oaks (swamp, white, shingle, and bur) offer possibilities as new landscape trees. Among the many native wildflowers with high potential are stiff aster, goat's rue, downy yellow foxglove, galax, blue vervian, plumelily, and wake robin trillium. Root-pruned and top-shaped native seedlings offer landowners income from their old fields, fencerows, and forest margins.

Edible forest foods include maple syrup, walnuts, and hickory nuts. Morels, puffballs, and other edible mushrooms frequently bring higher prices than commercially grown shiitakes. Ramps have potential for early spring income. Summer and autumn provide wild fruit crops of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, serviceberries, elderberries, grapes, pawpaws, and persimmons. These can be sold fresh or as jam, jelly, and preserves.

A little imagination and good marketing can go a long way toward success. Management of the wild plants is critical to ensuring a sustainable population and a stable income.

For more information, contact Brent Bailey of the WVU Wild Harvested Products Project, POB 6125, Morgantown, WV 26506-6125; telephone 304/293-2944 ext. 2475.