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Eating on the wild side



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Nancy Joyce, of Brooklyn, Conn., sniffs the only mushroom featured on the Oct. 7 Wild Edibles tour, a kind called “Hen of the Woods.” It’s one of the safe varieties, but naturalist Russ Cohen warned inexperienced foragers to stay away from mushrooms because many poisonous types are nearly identical to edible fungi. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
October 13, 2010
In an era of computers and space flight, Russ Cohen has spent decades giving people tours of the past, but he doesn't work at Old Sturbridge Village or another museum. On Oct. 7, his Walktober tour happened at Westville Park in Southbridge, but it could have occurred in your backyard.

That's because Cohen's interest is in teaching modern folks the most ancient of human subsistence practices: foraging.

Over the course of three hours, Cohen pointed out wild edible plants that most participants probably knew well — such as grapes, raspberries and walnuts — and several they probably had never considered — such as autumn olive, sumac and even Japanese knotweed. But he could have gone on for days before exhausting the potential local food supply.

"There are edible wild plants all over the place," he said, noting he takes a "spiritual approach" to foraging. "My form of communion is nibbling on nuts and roots and berries."

Cohen, an employee of the state Department of Fish and Game, is a resident of Arlington. He has been teaching foraging-related issues for 37 years and written a couple of books on the subject, both from a naturalist's perspective and a cook's.

To Cohen, they're equally important, but he starts by emphasizing the former, saying, "It's very important to be good conservationists when you're foraging."

For more on this story, please see tomorrow's Southbridge Evening News.

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