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. Most 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.

Russ has recently completed his 42nd year of teaching courses about wild edibles. Each year, he typically leads over three dozen classes/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 foraging programs are held at various indoor (for slide shows) and outdoor locations throughout New England and upstate 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 foraging 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 sixth 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.

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

Latest Update: 1/19/16

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