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Foraged finds in Northeastern PA

Susan Vinskofski displays a sprig of watercress harvested in South Abington Park.
Alexander Monelli
WVIA Photo
Susan Vinskofski displays a sprig of watercress harvested in South Abington Park.

It’s a cold, late autumn morning, and Susan Vinskofski is looking for a patch of watercress.

She finds it in a stream just off one of the walking trails at South Abington Park. The cluster of leafy greens pokes out from the surface of the water, rooted to the earthen bed below.

“It’s a very peppery green. I like making soup with it,” she said. “You do have to use caution when you harvest from water.”

Vinskofski has foraged like this for years, and is now seeing her passion grow in popularity. She runs a Facebook group called Foraging and Organic Gardening in NEPA, which has more than 400 members. It’s a place for people interested in foraging or organic gardening to learn and share their finds, tips and tricks.

Vinskofski believes the pandemic had a hand in foraging’s popularity increase.

“People went into grocery stores and saw empty shelves,” she said. “And they started to think ‘I better learn a little bit about providing for myself and for my family.’”

She teaches classes, blogs about foraging, and spends plenty of time harvesting whatever she can wherever she is - whether it’s in the woods or walking along her neighborhood sidewalk and picking dandelions. Walking through the park next door to South Abington Elementary School, she spotted garlic mustard greens, dandelion leaves and plantain leaves poking up from rocks at the edge of a stream.

“This is one of my favorite herbs,” she said, handling a leaf of plantain. “It’s edible, but I don’t find it tasty… it makes an extremely healing salve or balm for your skin. It also helps to relieve poison ivy.”

Vinskofski looks for plants that are edible or otherwise useful for things like salves, but she advised that not all foraged plants are edible straight from the ground. Many need to be cooked or prepared to be palatable.

“I go for things that can make good, tasty meals,” she said. “Here in this park we have everything from elderberries and hawthorn to pine and crab apple.”

Vinskofski said anyone can forage, regardless of the type of environment where they live.

“In Northeast Pennsylvania there’s a lot of nut trees, you can find wild grapes and wild apple trees,” she said. “A lot of weeds are edible or medicinal.”

But, she advised, be sure to do some research before harvesting and eating foraged finds.

“Do all the reading (you) can and try to be with people who know plants,” she said. “And use caution.”

Sarah Scinto is the local host of Morning Edition on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.