Biography


Russ picking Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra)
Photo by Mary Williamson

Russ Cohen, naturalist and wild foods enthusiast, grew up in Weston, Mass. (where his mother still resides), where he spent much of his free time in the woods, thereby cultivating a strong spiritual connection to nature. Russ' first formal exposure to edible wild plants occurred while a sophomore at Weston High School, where he enrolled in an "Edible Botany" mini-course offered by the high school biology department. He learned about two dozen edible species that grew around the high school grounds, and the class had a big "feed" at the end of the course. Russ got turned on to the subject, went to the local library and took out every book he could find on the topic, taught himself over fifty more species, and, in his senior year of high school (1974), he taught the Edible Botany class he had taken as a sophomore. Russ added edible wild mushrooms to his teaching repertoire in 1989 after returning home from a trip to the Soviet Union, where he caught the mushroom hunting bug from the Russians.

Russ currently resides in Arlington, Mass. He received his bachelor's degree in land use planning from Vassar College in 1978, and received a masters in Natural Resources and a law degree from The Ohio State University in 1982. Until retiring from state service, Russ was employed by the Riverways Program (now part of the Division of Ecological Restoration) of the Mass. Department of Fish and Game since 1988, and served as its Rivers Advocate from 1992 until June of 2015. Other past employers have included the Nature Conservancy, the Land Trust Alliance, The Hillside Trust, a land trust in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

Awards Russ has received for his rivers work include: the Environmental Achievement Award from Save the Bay (RI) in 1993; the Environmental Service Award from the Mass. Association of Conservation Commissions in 1997; the Public Servant of the Year Award from the Environmental League of Massachusetts (also in 1997); an Environmental Merit Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2003; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Massachusetts Wetland Scientists in 2011; and the River Steward Lifetime Achievement Award from the League of Women Voters and Sudbury-Assabet-Concord River Stewardship Council in 2012. Russ received a "Heritage Hero" award from the Essex National Heritage Commission in 2006 for his foraging writing and programs, and received the 2013 Education Award from the New England Wild Flower Society, in recognition of both his rivers work and foraging programs. More recently, Russ received a "Pioneer in Partnership" award from the Essex National Heritage Commission, and the "River Hero" award from the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, in the fall of 2015, and the Essex County Greenbelt Association's most presigious award, the Al Creighton Award, in May of 2018.

Russ has recently completed his 45nd year of leading walks and talks about wild edibles. Each year, he typically leads over three dozen walks, mostly from May to October, for over two dozen different organizations, including the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the New England Wild Flower Society, The Trustees of Reservations and the Ecological Landscape Alliance. These wild edibles programs are held at various indoor (for slide shows) and outdoor locations throughout New England and eastern NY, ranging from two-hour evening walks in the city and suburbs to lengthier explorations in the mountains and along the seacoast. During the "off-season", Russ writes articles on wild edibles and gives slide presentations featuring many of his favorite edible wild plants and mushrooms found in the Northeast. Russ' foraging book, Wild Plants I Have Known...and Eaten (see link below), published by (and all proceeds benefitting) the Essex County Greenbelt Assocation, came out in June of 2004, and is now in its seventh printing.

Over the years, Russ and his wife Ellen have hosted eight "Harvest Parties" for their friends, for which they prepared several dozen dishes (appetizers, soups, salads, main courses, desserts, condiments, and hot and cold beverages), all utilizing wild ingredients they foraged for themselves.

2019 update: Since his retirement in June 2015, while continuing to offer walks and talks on foraging for wild edibles, Russ is now playing the role of Johnny Appleseed for native edible species. He has set up a nursery (near his childhood home in Weston, MA) where he is growing over 1,000 plants, representing more than a third of the more than 170 species native to New England ecoregions that are edible by people. Many of these plants were propagated from seed Russ gathered himself. Russ is then forming partnerships with land trusts, municipalities, state and federal agencies, schools and colleges, tribal groups and others, to plant plants from his nursery on appropriate places on their properties. You can read more about this endeavor in the article Russ Cohen's Wild Edible Adventures, by Cathy Walthers, which ran in the Summer 2018 issue of Edible Boston Magazine, or this article, Meet the 'Johnny Appleseed' of Edible Native Plants, by Barbare A. Schmitz, which ran in the Spring 2019 issue of the Wild Ones Journal.

Russ can be contacted at eatwild@rcn.com or (781) 646-7489 (h). See also more info at the links below.

Latest Update: 3/29/19


Information on Russ's foraging book: "Wild Plants I Have Known...and Eaten"
Foraging articles from Mass. Wildlife Magazine
Schedule of Russ's Edible Wild Plant Walks/Courses
Comprehensive (as of 1999) Edible Wild Plant etc. Bibliography, plus updated excerpt
Recipes, including "Faux Gumbo" and "100% Wild Salad" as prepared on the Victory Garden PBS TV program
List of Organizational Sponsors of Russ' foraging programs