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Natural Awakenings SW PA, Greater Pittsburgh

Fall Foraging Fun

by Jen Dalke

The heat may lead us to believe that summer still has us in a firm grip, but regardless of the heat index, fall is upon us now, offering some wonderful food foraging in this region. Keep in mind the importance of proper identification with all plants intended for use as food or medicine! Learn the Latin names of plants to avoid unnecessary and possibly fatal mistakes. It is helpful to attend local plant walks to see each plant up close and learn about it with all the senses.

The autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellate) is invasive in this region, so there's usually no concern about overharvesting or sustainability. The berries are packed with lycopene and other nutrients, so it is the berries we’ll want.


They look like silver-speckled jellybeans, and some people feel they have a magical air about them. The main lookalike in our region is the bush variety of honeysuckles. However, the honeysuckle has opposite leaves, and the autumn olive will always have alternate leaves. Honeysuckle berries will not have any silver in them, either. 

The paw paw tree (Asimina trilobal) grows somewhat sporadically in this region, but they're not impossible to find. The fruit resembles a small, green, mango, with a flavor like a delicious banana and mango hybrid. There are a number of large seeds in the middle of each fruit, but they are easy to work around. Tree leaves tend to resemble those of the hickory trees, but they are actually quite different. People make paw paw ice cream, paw paw smoothies, and paw paw desserts.

Late fall is one of the best times for harvesting the roots of different plants. Particularly after the first frost occurs, they send many of the nutrients used during growth back into the roots. Useful roots to dig this time of year include dandelion, burdock, violet, poke root and teasel. They can be dried or made into tinctures.

Don’t stay indoors this fall—find some local teachers and discover all the season has to offer.

Jen Dalke is the owner of Blue Heron Nature Skills and the president of USC Citizens for Land Stewardship. For more information about classes, call 412-760-0801 or visit, and 

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