Foraging Pittsburgh

Wild Food Walks, Workshops, & Guided Nature Hikes

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The Health Benefits Of Stinging Nettles


Three jars of stinging nettles, dried and ready to infuse.  Each cup of “tea” is as nourishing as a bowl of soup.  Don’t believe me?  Try it!

This plant isn’t your ordinary green — it has been extensively researched and shown to treat, among other conditions, benign prostatic hyperplasia (using the root; you can harvest that now, too), type 2 diabetes, and allergies.

In other words — got BPH?  Look into nettles.  Type 2 diabetes?  Look into nettles.  Allergies?  Look into nettles.  Yeah, I said it.  No, I’m no herbalist or doctor, though sometimes we need permission to do our own research and use our best judgement.  Looking for real health?  You probably already know what to do.  Go for it… you’re worth it!

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Current Resources For Wild Plants, Mushrooms, & Foraging


There are several great resources online to help individuals improve their skills in botany, mycology, herbalism, and natural plant medicine.

Here are a few that I’ve been using recently:
To properly identify and key-out mushroom species, I highly recommend this website.  Michael Kuo, mushroom enthusiast and English professor, provides exceptional information and numerous references on hundreds of mushroom species throughout North America (and beyond!).

EthnoHerbalist covers the cultural history and health benefits of various medicinal plants.  The site’s creator, Kevin Curran, is a biology professor at the University of San Diego who teaches courses in cell biology and ethnobotany.  Many herbal websites lack scientific citations, though EthnoHerbalist is different:  it serves as a review of the latest clinical results that either support or refute the health claims associated with specific plants.

Go Botany
For online plant identification, I typically use Go Botany.  Even though its scope covers the New England states, I still find it very applicable for most of the plants inhabiting Western Pennsylvania.

Western PA Foragers Facebook group
If you’re interested in wild food foraging… and you live in Pennsylvania… and you have a Facebook account… definitely check out this wonderful foraging community.  Members actively participate in discussions related to plant identification, mushroom identification, foraging, recipes, resources, and more.  Don’t forget to hit the “Join” button to join!

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Honey Mushroom & Deadly Galerina — Identification and Differences


Unless you’re hiking around a botanical garden, it’s very unlikely that you will encounter identification labels attached to wild organisms.

No “Acer saccharum” next to the sugar maple.  No “Dicentra cucullaria” next to the Dutchman’s breeches.  No “Armillaria mellea” next to the honey mushroom.

What’s an amateur naturalist to do?  It can all seem so overwhelming…

Before you toss your mushroom basket in the trash, however, keep reading.  I have a solution.

You see, one of my goals at Learn Your Land is to deepen your connection to nature by helping you identify the wild species within your ecosystem.  Specifically in this post, I’d like to help you distinguish between two common mushrooms found throughout North America.

One is the honey mushroom, a choice edible fungus that fruits in large quantities.

The second is the deadly galerina (Galerina marginata), a toxic mushroom that resembles the honey mushroom in appearance.

As you might be able to tell, this information is extremely important for individuals interested in harvesting honey mushrooms for the table.  Both species grow in similar habitats and their seasons overlap.  What’s more, neither species is labeled in nature…

Read the rest of the article (and watch a video!) at Learn Your Land.

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New Event Scheduled! Acorn Harvesting/Processing Class & Autumn Foraging Walk


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 pop music 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 snazzy 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’re all the latest buzz words:  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/Processing Class at North Park in Allegheny County (followed by an autumn foraging hike)!

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 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.

Here are some more details:

When:  Saturday, October 24th, 2015
Time:  1-4 PM
Where:  North Park in Allegheny County, Western Pennsylvania (exact location emailed to participants)
Investment:  $45

Registration with payment in advance is required to secure your spot.
To register, please email Adam:
adamharitan [at] gmail [dot] com

Note:  Space for this program is limited in order to maximize the learning environment.

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

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5 Edible Fall Mushrooms


Autumn is a great time of year to go mushroom hunting… especially in Pennsylvania!  The image above depicts 5 choice edible mushrooms that can be found during the autumn months.  Some of these require more rain than others to fruit, though with a bit of persistence (and luck!), you’ll have no trouble finding all five.

For more information on each species, check out these articles I’ve written:

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Chicken Of The Woods Mushroom Identification & Health Benefits – New Video!


Look no further than nature’s color scheme to really appreciate its beauty — for example, the glistening whites and grays of winter, the varying green shades of spring, the intense reds and purples of summer, and the bright oranges and fluorescent-like yellows of autumn…

Wait a second… the bright oranges and fluorescent-like yellows of autumn?  On which planet?

… a planet flush with fungi, of course.

You see, while autumn in Pennsylvania is typically characterized by earthier tones of reds, oranges, and browns, one needn’t trot too far through a wooded area before discovering colors rarely seen elsewhere in nature… assuming you are fortunate enough to stumble upon the prized chicken of the woods…

Watch the video and read the rest of this article at Learn Your Land.

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Making Medicine From The Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma tsugae)


2015 was a great year in Pennsylvania for Ganoderma tsugae — the hemlock reishi mushroom.

To concentrate its medicine effectively, I created a dual extraction… utilizing both alcohol and water to obtain its medicinal compounds.

Ganoderma tsugae has played an essential role in my medicinal strategy for years.  Several studies demonstrate the immuno-modulatory, anti-microbial, and anti-allergenic effects of this mushroom.

Who would’ve thought that something so healing could be so abundant, so accessible, and free?  Interesting though… I’ve come to realize that the best things in life really are…

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Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) – A Fragrant Edible & Medicinal Plant


Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) isn’t your ordinary wild plant.  It’s a bit different than the other species on the trail.

How so, you may be asking?

Well, spicebush smells like heaven.

Okay, it doesn’t quite smell like lilacs or roses, though it does emit a pleasant perfume whenever rubbed or crushed… much better than any store-bought synthetic fragrance I’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of smelling…

Anyway, I encourage you to taste this plant.  You can make infusions (“teas”) from the twigs and leaves, and you can eat the fruits fresh.

Extracts from the bark have been shown to demonstrate anti-microbial and anti-fungal effects, especially against the fungus Candida albicans (Letters in Applied Microbiology 2008).  Spicebush also contains a compound known as laurotetanine — an alkaloid with potent anti-viral effects (Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 2006).

Spicebush… who woulda thought?  Check it out on your next walk!  The fruits will ripen for several weeks into autumn.

(This photo was taken in North Park, Allegheny County Pennsylvania.)

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Hunting Wild Mushrooms in Western Pennsylvania With L.L. Bean Pittsburgh


It doesn’t get much better than leading a wild mushroom discussion & hike at North Park in conjunction with L.L. Bean!  For those who missed the event, here’s a quick recap:

During the first part of the program, we discussed mushroom hunting basics, followed by medicinal mushroom identification and harvesting (with a focus on chaga, reishi, turkey tail, maitake, and birch polypore).

We then explored the south ridge of the park in search of fresh fungal fruiting bodies.  Even though it has been fairly dry, we found quite a few mushrooms worth discussing!

Here’s a partial list of what we found on Saturday, September 5th 2015 at North Park in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania:

  • Honey mushrooms (Armillaria sp.)
  • Yellow-cracked bolete (Xerocomus subtomentosus)
  • Common Psathyrella (Psathyrella candolleana)
  • Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)
  • Violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biforme)
  • False turkey tail (Stereum ostrea)
  • Artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum)
  • Reishi (Ganoderma sp.)
  • Luminescent Panellus (Panellus stipticus)
  • White fly agaric (Amanita muscaria var. alba)
  • Mustard yellow polypore (Phellinus gilvus)

A big thanks to everyone who attended, and to L.L. Bean Pittsburgh for hosting the event!

We still have several weeks of prime mushroom hunting season ahead of us here in Pennsylvania… let’s make the most of it!

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American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa) – Wild Fruits of Western Pennsylvania


Here’s a plant worth knowing:  American spikenard (Aralia racemosa).

The berries (botanically drupes) are pretty tasty… not too sweet, not too bitter.  Having said that, you probably don’t want to sit down to a whole bowl of them.  As a trail nibble though, they’re perfect.

American spikenard is in the same family as ginseng and wild sarsaparilla (Araliaceae), and is therefore reported to contain similar medicinal compounds (for example, saponins and ginsenosides, which demonstrate tonifying effects).

What else can we say about American spikenard?  A study from 2009 found that an extract from its aerial parts demonstrated anti-tumor activity against breast tumor cells (Planta Medica 2009).  A more recent study from 2011 found that extracts from the roots of American spikenard demonstrated analgesic (pain-reducing) activity… comparable to aspirin (Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology 2011).

Pretty great, huh?  Check out American spikenard on your next walk — the fruits will continue to ripen for several weeks.

(Photo taken in North Park, Allegheny County Pennsylvania)