Foraging Pittsburgh

Wild Food Walks, Workshops, & Guided Nature Hikes

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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)

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New Event! “Wild Plants As Medicine” Workshop & Summer Foraging Hike


When:  Saturday, August 22nd
Where:  North Park, Allegheny County Pennsylvania
Time:  1:00 – 4:00 PM
Investment: $45

I’m happy to announce that on Saturday, August 22nd, I will be leading the “Wild Plants As Medicine” Workshop & Summer Foraging Hike at North Park in Western Pennsylvania… and I would love for you to join me!

This time, we’ll be discussing how to develop a personalized medicinal strategy using the various wild plants of Pennsylvania… including the species growing in your backyard!

I’m so excited to be leading this event, as this is a topic that is more important today than ever before.

Why, you may be asking?

Well, this may come as no surprise to anyone, though what I’m about to say is worth acknowledging:

We don’t exactly live in “ideal” times anymore.  Meaning…

Our air isn’t as clean as it used to be.  (Air quality recently measured at Beaver Falls was among the worst 10 percent of the nation’s monitors; in Lawrenceville, it’s among the worst 25 percent in the nation.)

Our water isn’t as clean as it used to be.  (A stream that feeds a water treatment plant in Greene County was recently found to contain 60 times the maximum amount of radiation allowed in drinking water. Yes, that’s 6-0.)

And our food certainly isn’t as clean as it used to be.  (Glyphosate, anyone?)

Throw in a diet that typically lacks bitter (read: medicinal) flavors, and the outcomes don’t look so hot.

Diabetes, headaches, insomnia, arthritis, cancer, dementia, heart disease, influenza and other viral infections… is it any wonder that these illnesses plague the human species (and not squirrels, snapping turtles, or snakes)?

Perhaps you currently experience one or more of the above conditions, and you’re looking for alternatives to the medications typically prescribed to you.

(There are local wild plants that address all of those illnesses by the way… for free!)

Or, perhaps you currently feel pretty good, though you’d like to take immediate action right now to reduce your chances of experiencing any of the aforementioned illnesses somewhere down the line.

The solution?

“Everything you need is growing in your backyard.”

Ever hear that before?


Organic food is great… though it’s not enough.

Non-GMO? Fantastic!… though it’s still not enough.

Local, sustainable, meditated on and blessed by the Dalai Lama himself … sorry to say, this still may not be enough.

You see, for optimal health… ya know, the kind of health that beams outward from the depths of one’s 5-carbon sugared backbone we typically refer to as DNA… Homo sapiens require the wild medicines from the landscape.

And, I’d love to show you how to make it all happen in this 2-part event on August 22nd!

The first part will feature a presentation on personalizing a medicinal strategy using the wild plants of Pennsylvania. We will also begin the process of making a medicinal tincture, which can be taken home for you to finish (sorry, no alcohol allowed in this park!). Part 2 will include a hike in the park as we identify and discuss late summer edible and medicinal plants and mushrooms.

By attending this program, you will learn:

  • The importance of developing a medicinal strategy based on wild plants
  • Medicinal benefits of specific wild plants, supported by research
  • How to make wild plant infusions
  • How to make tinctures
  • Wild plant field identification
  • Wild plant nutrition
  • Plant harvesting methods
  • Latin nomenclature

… and much more!

Each participant will receive the starting materials for a wild plant extraction (which we will start in the workshop), as well as an e-book with notes from the workshop, summer medicinal plant descriptions, medicine-making instructions, and more!

This program will entail light to moderate hiking, and 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 class meeting location will be provided upon registration.

To register:  Please email Adam at

Come enjoy an eventful mid-summer’s day in a beautiful park with a great group of foragers!  We look forward to seeing you there!

-Adam Haritan

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Hunting Wild Reishi Mushrooms (Ganoderma tsugae) In Pennsylvania


I imagine that choosing a favorite mushroom is a bit like choosing a favorite child.

(“Who would it be, Mom?”)

Impossible to do!  Why even ask such a silly question?

However, if I had to narrow down my selection of fungi to only a handful of desirable species, surely I could do that…

… and this one, the reishi mushroom (Ganoderma tsugae), would make the cut.


Okay… another difficult question, but I’ll try to answer.

Perhaps it’s the beauty to which I’m drawn, with its lacquered hues of yellows, oranges, and reds.  Or maybe it’s the way this mushroom makes me feel internally, knowing that ample research exists to support its medicinal benefits.

Whatever the true reason, Ganoderma tsugae remains one of my favorite mushrooms to seek out and harvest, and I continue to be humbled — year after year — by its splendor.

If you are interested in learning more about the reishi mushroom, I encourage you to check out a brand new video I created.

In the video, I discuss the habitat, key identification characteristics, and medicinal benefits of this remarkable medicinal mushroom.

Enjoy!  (And if you have a second, I’d love to know what you think!)

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Black Trumpet Mushrooms (Craterellus fallax) And Vitamin B12


Plenty of rain = plenty of mushrooms. All kinds of mushrooms, too… including these black trumpets (Craterellus fallax), appearing now in Western Pennsylvania.

They’re delightfully edible, and if they’re anything like their close European relatives, Craterellus cornucopioides, they may contain biologically active vitamin B12.

Why is this important? Well, if one were to abstain from eating an entire kingdom of life — let’s say, Animalia — a B12 deficiency could be the result somewhere down the line. Why’s this? Well, vitamin B12 is generally concentrated in foods derived from animals, like meat, milk, eggs, fish, and shellfish.

A quick look at some nutrition labels may reveal the presence of vitamin B12 – for example, in the cyanobacterium sprirulina – however, what some foods actually contain is a biologically inactive form of B12, known as pseudo-B12. Vitamin B12 and pseudo-B12 are not the same; only the former is biologically active in the human body and therefore able to correct deficiencies.

Enter black trumpets: According to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (2013), black trumpet (Craterellus cornucopioides) mushrooms contain considerable amounts of biologically active vitamin B12 (1.09−2.65 μg/100 g dry weight), and may improve vitamin levels in those experiencing deficiencies.

While this study analyzed the European species, perhaps its American relative (C. fallax, shown here) contains similar amounts of biologically active vitamin B12. Who knows? The research just isn’t there, but it’s fun to imagine…

Regardless, they still taste great with eggs (and those definitely contain active B12)!


Foraging Wild Basil (Clinopodium vulgare) In Pennsylvania


Local and native herbs:

Wild basil (Clinopodium vulgare), native to North America, can be found flowering now in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  A member of the mint family, wild basil isn’t closely related to the cultivated basil we find in grocery stores, though it can be used in much the same way.

The taste of the fresh plant, in my opinion, is a bit milder than cultivated basil.  Right now, I have some drying that I will use later as an herb or tea.

Besides adding flavor to your meals, it can increase the quality of your health.  Current research has found that wild basil possesses antibacterial, anti-tumor, and anti-inflammatory properties.

This particular specimen was photographed at Doak Field in Raccoon Creek State Park.

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Chicken Of The Woods, A Pleasure To Find In May


Well this was quite an exciting find!  Other experiences will surely vary, but personally, I’ve never seen the chicken mushroom so early in the season.  This baby chick was found May 25th in Southwestern Pennsylvania (Laurel Highlands area).

Chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus, sulphur shelf, chicken of the woods, etc.) isn’t just for the dinner table (if you’re not familiar with this edible fungus, it resembles chicken in taste and texture).  Chicken mushroom is quite medicinal, and it’s the perfect way to honor Hippocrates.  (“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food.”)

Research has shown that an extract from this mushroom possesses antimicrobial activity against the pathogen, Aspergillus flavus (Petrovic et al., 2013).

Chicken mushroom is also a great source of antioxidants, including quercetin, kaempferol, caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid (Olennikov et al., 2011), and it contains lanostanoids – molecules that have the ability to inhibit cancerous growths (Rios et al., 2012).

What more could you ask for from a humble saprophyte?

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Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) in flower


Take a good look at these flowers.  Find them during your next stroll, and return in late summer/early autumn.

This is autumn olive — a deciduous shrub that produces numerous edible fruits (usually red with silver specks).  Not only are they delicious, they’re highly nutritious as well (and go great in smoothies).


One study revealed that autumn olive fruits contain up to 17 times the lycopene content compared to tomatoes (Fordham et al., 2001).  Lycopene (which almost always gets attributed to tomatoes) is a carotenoid pigment and powerful antioxidant that may protect our bodies from free radical damage, premature skin aging, DNA damage, etc.

The same study found that autumn olive fruits contain up to 10 times the beta-cryptoxanthin content compared to oranges and tangerines.  Beta-cryptoxanthin is another powerful antioxidant that can be converted to vitamin A in the body.

Autumn olive tends to be quite invasive in Pennsylvania.  Look for them in open pastures, fields, and along the edge of woodlands.  These photographs were taken about 15 miles from Pittsburgh (the flowers in May, the fruits in September). 

Sad to say you won’t find these tasty drupes in the supermarket, though the chase is more fulfilling anyway.