Foraging Pittsburgh

Wild Food Walks, Workshops, & Guided Nature Hikes


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Foraging Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)

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Drive any road in Pennsylvania this time of year and you’re likely to see these colors off in the distance.  Purple, lavender, lilac, white… many shades characterizing one plant — Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis).

I like to think of this plant as wild broccoli.  It’s in the mustard family (like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.), and before these particular 4-petaled flowers open, the buds can picked and eaten like broccoli.  (Broccoli consists of, after all, unopened flower buds).  Dame’s rocket is slightly bitter though slightly sweet.  It’s non-native to the United States, so even though it’s one of the most beautiful wildflowers this time of year (in my opinion), many people won’t mind you picking it.

Remember — the potent bitter flavor detected in wild cruciferous plants, like dame’s rocket, is attributed to certain sulfur-containing chemicals within the plants themselves, known as glucosinolates.

These compounds, along with their metabolites, help to facilitate detoxification within our bodies, especially in the processing and removal of xenobiotics (chemicals that are foreign to our bodies).  Glucosinolates and their metabolites also act as anti-tumor agents.

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Allegheny National Forest — Past, Present, & Future

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The Allegheny National Forest is Pennsylvania’s only national forest, and it’s a place I enjoy visiting.  Over the last few centuries the land has been dramatically transformed, and it will most likely experience the effects of human-induced alterations as time moves forward.

By the 1880’s, most of what is now known as the Allegheny National Forest had been logged.  The old growth hemlocks, pines, beeches, and oaks were removed.  With the land essentially abandoned, people referred to it as the “Allegheny Brush Patch.”

In 1923 the area was designated the Allegheny National Forest, and efforts were made to remediate and restore the land.  Pioneer species like black cherry, red maple, and black birch became established, animal populations increased, and timber harvesting resumed under stricter regulations.

I took these pictures while recently exploring the Allegheny National Forest, and a quick drive through the area will give the current impression that the land is rather pristine.  Unfortunately, that isn’t quite the case.  You see, when Congress purchased the land almost a century ago, it only bought the surface rights.  The mineral rights underground remained the property of oil and gas companies — companies whose presence is heavily felt today.  Over 12,000 oil and gas wells are currently scattered throughout the 517,000-acre forest… each one accessed by a clear-cut road.  Some estimates predict that by the year 2022, approximately one-fifth of the total forest will be stripped of vegetation and converted to an oil field.

So much for rehabilitated land…

It’s easy to get disillusioned by all this, especially when probing deeper into the history of natural areas like the Allegheny National Forest (look into the Kinzua Dam construction when you have a minute).  However, the Allegheny National Forest just so happens to be home to countless benevolent creatures that actually work with, rather than against, the natural world… despite not owning any rights to the land.  These creatures (including the gray catbird and wood sorrel, the latter which certainly is edible and tasty) make places like this all worth while, and they’re the perfect reason to keep coming back.

Anyway, check out the Allegheny National Forest on your next jaunt through Northwest Pennsylvania.  You may be glad you did.


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New Event: Spring Foraging Hike Around The Lake

springforaginghikearoundlake3I am happy to announce that I will be leading the “Spring Foraging Hike Around The Lake” event on Sunday, May 22nd at Moraine State Park in Butler County, Pennsylvania.

As the spring season continues, more and more edible plants continue to make appearances.   True — many spring ephemerals have come and gone, though the next round of annual and perennial greens are sure to be found.  This transitional time is the perfect opportunity to learn the skills involved in foraging for wild food.  Shoots, greens, buds, and flowers are among the various plant structures that are available for harvesting.  Learn how to properly identify and harvest various wild species in Pennsylvania so that you can achieve greater levels of health, self-reliance, and nature connection.

This event will feature a 2.5 hour hike (approximately 2 miles) around the beautiful Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park.  We will explore and discuss several mid-late spring edible and medicinal wild plants in their habitats.  Though mushrooms will not be the focus of the event, we will briefly introduce the subject.

By attending the Spring Foraging Hike Around The Lake event on Sunday May 22nd, you will learn:

  • The importance of foraging for wild edible plants and mushrooms
  • Sustainable harvesting practices
  • Wild plant identification
  • Wildflower identification
  • Tree identification
  • Edible and medicinal uses of trees
  • Wild plant nutrition
  • Culinary applications
  • Medicinal benefits

…and much more!

What do you think?  Are you interested in hiking around a beautiful lake with a great group of foragers?  Here are the details:

Where: Moraine State Park in Butler County, Western Pennsylvania (40 miles north of Pittsburgh)
When: Sunday, May 22nd 2016
Times: 10am — 12:30pm, or 1:30pm — 4:00pm (please specify which time slot you prefer)
Investment: $25 per individual

Note: There are 2 time slots listed above to keep the group sizes smaller. Please let me know which time slot you prefer.

This event entails moderate hiking, and is geared towards adults.  It will take place rain or shine.  Space for this event is limited in order to maximize the learning environment, and registration with payment in advance is required.  The exact meeting location will be provided upon registration.

To register, please contact me (Adam) at:
adamharitan@gmail.com

(…and don’t forget to mention which time slot works for you!)

I hope to see you there!
—Adam Haritan


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New Event: Spring Foraging Workshop & Hike

springforaging2

I am happy to announce that I will be hosting the 2016 Spring Foraging Workshop & Hike on Saturday, April 16th at North Park in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

Spring is the perfect time to learn the skills involved in foraging for wild food. Roots, tubers, shoots, greens, buds, and flowers are among the various plant structures that are available for harvesting.   Learn how to properly identify and harvest various wild species in Pennsylvania so that you can achieve greater levels of health, self-reliance, and nature connection.

The first part of the event will feature a presentation and discussion on springtime edible wild plants and mushrooms. During the second part of the event, we will explore the trails of North Park and discover, discuss, and learn about the edible plants in their habitats.

By attending the Spring Foraging Workshop & Hike on April 16th, you will learn:

  • The importance of foraging for wild edible plants and mushrooms
  • Sustainable harvesting practices
  • Wild plant identification
  • Tree identification
  • Edible and medicinal uses of trees
  • Wild plant nutrition
  • Harvesting methods
  • Culinary applications
  • Medicinal benefits

…and much more!

Interested in spending an afternoon with a great group of foragers?  Here are the details:

When: Saturday, April 16th
Time: 1pm – 4:30pm
Where: North Park — Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
Investment: $45

While this event will mainly focus on edible plants and trees, we will also briefly discuss wild springtime mushrooms and other fungi.

This event will take place rain or shine, and it will entail light hiking. Space for this event is limited in order to maximize the learning environment, and registration with payment in advance is required. The exact meeting location will be provided upon registration.

To register, please contact me (Adam) at:
adamharitan@gmail.com

I hope to see you there!


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Skunk Cabbage — Calcium Oxalates Or Something Else?

skunkcabbagenorthpark

Eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is one of our first native wildflowers to appear in Pennsylvania.  Look around wet, swampy areas… and you might see a patch.  Or, you might smell a patch.  (They emit a strange, somewhat malodorous fragrance.)

Skunk cabbage is edible when properly processed.  This typically involves boiling the folded green leaves (which appear after the flowering stage) in a few changes of water.  If you skip this step, you will experience a strong burning sensation in your mouth.

Most sources claim that this burning sensation is caused by insoluble calcium oxalate crystals.  Interestingly, however, additional research suggests that calcium oxalate crystals may NOT be to blame.  Or at least they may not be the only compounds to blame…

Other members of the Araceae family (of which skunk cabbage is a part) demonstrate similar burning sensations… sometimes far worse and toxic.  However, researchers studying these other species have suggested that compounds other than calcium oxalates — for example, a proteolytic enzyme — are the primary causal agents for this irritation.

Well, the leaves of skunk cabbage still require processing — whether or not calcium oxalate crystals are the primary irritants.  And if you have never considered eating skunk cabbage, perhaps this will be your year!


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Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) For Atherosclerosis

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This is a common winter sight near wetter areas in Pennsylvania — the fertile fronds of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis).

The green fronds (which are sterile) are gone this time of year, having succumbed to the first signs of frost months ago (hence the name “sensitive”).

Even if nature isn’t our thing, we can still appreciate this species… because… sensitive fern may hold value in modern medicine.  Research suggests that an ethanol extract from this species has the potential to prevent atherosclerosis — a pretty serious condition which can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Of course, many lifestyle habits can help to prevent atherosclerosis, though remember — nature is certainly no stranger when it comes to offering (the best) solutions.

Anyway, check out sensitive fern on your next walk around the pond!


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Vitamin C Content of Conifers

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Eat pines, not pills!

While this list focuses on the leaves of conifers, vitamin C is also concentrated in the inner bark of many species (for example, eastern white pine inner bark at 100g contains approximately 200mg of vitamin C).

Vitamin C is prevalent year-round, though there is a trend of increasing content during the growing season for many conifers, with levels typically reaching their highest in the autumn months.

How do you prefer to get your vitamin C?

*Sources for this list include Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine (2009), Canadian Medical Association Journal (1943), and Farmacia (2013).