Foraging Pittsburgh

Wild Food Walks, Workshops, & Guided Nature Hikes


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New Event! Fall Flora & Fungi Hike at McConnells Mill State Park

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On Sunday, November 13th I will be leading a great event — “Fall Flora & Fungi Hike at McConnells Mill State Park” — and, I’d love for you to join us!

Autumn is the perfect time to explore the backcountry in Western Pennsylvania in search of interesting and useful plants, trees, and mushrooms.  McConnells Mill State Park, with its deeply-cut gorges, hemlock-lined ravines, whitewater currents, and historical landmarks is a prime area for autumn exploration.

During this event, we will hike a 2-mile loop around the park while discussing various subjects related to Pennsylvania’s flora and fungi, including:

  • edible and medicinal plants
  • edible and medicinal mushrooms
  • tree identification, along with edible and medicinal uses
  • medicine-making using wild plants and mushrooms
  • natural history of the area

… and more!

The program will entail moderate hiking (the terrain includes some rocks and hills), and the event will take place rain or shine.  Please note that in order to maximize your learning experience, space is limited and registration with payment in advance is required to secure your spot.  The exact event location will be provided upon registration.

Interested?  Here are more details:

What: Fall Flora & Fungi Hike At McConnells Mill State Park
When: Sunday, November 13th 2016
Where: McConnells Mill State Park, Western Pennsylvania
Time: 1-3:30 PM
Investment: $20

To register, please contact me (Adam) at
adam@learnyourland.com

Come celebrate autumn with a great group of hikers on November 13th!  We look forward to seeing you there!

Be wild,
Adam Haritan

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New Event! Acorn Harvesting And Processing Class & Autumn Foraging Walk

acornworkshopflyer2016

Before there were cupcakes, white bread sandwiches, and Little Debbie snack cakes… there were acorns.

And life was good…

Sure, there were no iPhones, shopping malls, or Sunday afternoon football games… and Bieber had yet to hit the scene.  A boring life some may say!

But there were acorns!

Lots and lots of acorns, waiting to be harvested by people (on 4 different continents!) who knew exactly how to dry, store, process, and turn them into life-sustaining food.

Sure, these familiar tree nuts still blanket our yards, parks, and wooded areas today, though unless we’re taking them home to make Thanksgiving crafts, we leave the acorns alone.

That’s fine, of course, for the squirrels, jays, and oak tree populations.  They enjoy seeing so many acorns out and about.

But for our health?  Maybe not so much!

Here’s why…

The acorn is America’s original superfood.  At around 14% fat, 42% carbohydrate, 9% fiber, 32% water, and 3.5% protein, the acorn is also replete with vitamins, minerals, and numerous phytonutrients.

Plus, they embody all the latest buzz words in the health food scene:  local, organic, sustainable, gluten-free, non-GMO… you get the point.

Here’s the catch:  You can’t just eat acorns off the ground.  They contain certain compounds that must be gently removed.  After a few simple processing steps, however, you can soon have your very own acorn flour… which can be made into bread, porridge, pancakes, meatballs, cookies, and more!

If you’re interested in learning how to properly process acorns, I invite you to join me for the upcoming Acorn Harvesting And Processing Class at North Park in Allegheny County (followed by an autumn foraging walk)!

In this program, you will learn:

  • Acorn gathering tips (how to separate the good from the bad)
  • Differences between red and white oak groups (important for processing)
  • Several leaching methods
  • Drying and storing methods, and more!

Additionally, during the second part of the program you will learn autumn plant and mushroom identification, edible and medicinal uses of wild plants, medicine-making tips, and a whole lot more!

Each participant will have the opportunity to taste a treat made with acorns, and will receive an e-book (on acorns, of course!) following the class.

Interested?  Here are more details…

When:  Saturday, October 22nd, 2016
Time:  1-4:30 PM
Where:  North Park in Allegheny County, Western Pennsylvania (exact location emailed to participants)
Investment:  $45

Note:  Space for this program is limited in order to maximize the learning environment.  Registration with payment in advance is required to secure your spot.

To register, please email Adam:
adam@learnyourland.com

Come enjoy an eventful autumn day in a beautiful park with a great group of foragers!  We look forward to seeing you there!

-Adam Haritan


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Honey Mushrooms And Liver Cancer

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Would you believe it?  An extremely parasitic wild mushroom found all over the temperature regions of the world may hold value in treating one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

A brand new study looked at the honey mushroom’s role in killing liver cancer cells.  Specifically, an extract known as armillarikin was shown to induce apoptosis (essentially “cell suicide”) in hepatocellular carcinoma cells.  The results from this study were just published in the journal OncoTargets and Therapy (1).

Hepatocellular carcinoma is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, associated with a relatively low 1-year survival rate and less than 10% 5-year survival rate.  Current aggressive therapies include surgical treatment, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy with multiple drugs.

Honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) are frequently found with ease during the autumn months in Pennsylvania.  You can often bring home several pounds at a time, returning week after week to familiar spots and continuing your harvest.  Of course, “more research” will need to be done on armillarikin’s role in treating liver cancer, though it’s nice to read that this compound may be considered “a potential candidate for further development as a therapy or adjuvant treatment for HCC.”

Also, it’s worth noting that armillarikin has been studied for its anti-cancerous effects against leukemia, lung, and colon cancers.  Additionally, the scientific literature abounds with studies on hundreds of other wild mushroom species and their roles in treating various cancers.

If you haven’t made peace with our wild fungal friends, now is as good of a time as ever!  To learn more about honey mushrooms, check out this video I created:


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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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Skunk Cabbage — Calcium Oxalates Or Something Else?

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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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Ceramic Parchment Fungus (Xylobolus frustulatus)

xylobulusfrustulatuslearnyourland

Okay, so it doesn’t look like the most exciting thing we could ever hope to find in the forest, but without it, those fallen oak trees would have a pretty difficult time recycling back into the earth.

This is Xylobolus frustulatus, or ceramic parchment — a crust fungus that degrades lignin, hemicellulose, and cellulose in oak trees. While it performs most of its work on the microscopic level, its presence can be detected by these tile-like “frustules” that cover logs, sticks, and stumps.

It’s fairly common and available for appreciation year-round, so if you find yourself walking through the woods, take a look around and say hello to your friendly crust fungus, Xylobolus frustulatus.

Photograph taken December 2015 at Hartwood Acres, Western Pennsylvania