Class Reflection – Winter Survival Foraging @ Manasquan Reservior – 02-23-2014

Winter Survival Foraging @ Manasquan Reservior – 02-23-2014

The weather was amazing, and it was a beautiful sunny day; a rare temperature from such a snowy winter. It felt like spring, and I was excited at the prospects of the spring vegetation coming up, despite the intended agenda of the class. As I stood in the parking lot, taking in the sunlight upon my face and observing the subtle sounds, many people began to come from all directions.

marquand 1

I invited everyone to step off of the asphalt world and step upon the grass. We circled up to feel the synergy between each other. I started out by asking students to look at the ground we were standing upon; a seemingly barren area at first glance. I asked them to see what is present before them, and what to do they recognize. This was to get a sense of seeing how they saw; probably the most important survival skill possible. At first most saw nothing, but then with some subtle clues suddenly a whole world was revealed; tracks, nuts, seeds, and 5 or 6 plants where initially it seemed there was nothing. It is amazing how this happens, how we have been trained to see nothing in a world so full of mystery and story, this is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching; to break those preconceived ruts, and hopefully, rewrite another story, one where Nature is alive and great mystery can be discovered.

With turning on our new vision we began to look up and explore the world.

oriental bittersweet bark

From where we were standing, next to a tangle of vines, I began to decode them one by one. Soon poison ivy, smilax and multiflora rose were discernible, coaxed from the “wall of green” to share their stories with us. I shared about oriental bittersweet; a utilitarian cordage, rope, or lashing for building material, and a potent medicinal plant which is harshly judged as an “evil” invasive. But in Asia, where the plant originated from there are thousands of years of traditional medicine work with this plant.

“Oriental bittersweet is an Asian folk medicine used for treating rheumatoid arthritis and bacterial infections. Medical and pharmacological studies show that Oriental bittersweet derivatives have antitumor, antiinflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, and insecticidal properties [66,67,108]. One Oriental bittersweet derivative shows ability to reverse multidrug resistance of cancer cells to cancer-treatment drugs [75,76].” (1)

Not bad for a free weed on the side of the road, eh?

 Next we moved only a few feet toward where many sassafras saplings caught my eye. I was delighted to show everyone the real origin of “root beer” (more like roots beer). Root beer soda once had just as much medicinal healing as pleasure, something lost in our modern soft drink world. But just as well, because you can consciously choose which ingredients you put in your brew and make your own at home! Heres a recipe by local forager and friend Jared Rosenbaum.

And don’t forget that your own home-produced medicinal meads are a great and medicinal way to enjoy a healthy and somewhat stiff beverage!

After carefully showing how these trees will produce long runners from the mother trees and how this will often result in a clump of saplings that won’t all survive, I harvested one root with love and care, tracing my bare fingers along its body, careful not to break the root off as I harvested. The most important consideration that we will especially have to learn as foraging increases in popularity are the ethics involved with foraging. This means trying our best to caretake the areas that we do have left and attempting to make it healthier than we found it; not just ripping up more of the already fragile ecosystem.

And, lo and behold,  if done right by “pruning” in a conscious way there is some for us to enjoy.

sassafras root

 I passed the sassafras root around the group encouraging a big round of smelling, and reminded people that the medicinal effect is in the experience, not just in the book about the plant. Once everyone inhaled deeply to get the plants essence and to re-build their neuronal pathways, I also cut pieces of the sapling for people to chew. I then showed them how its also a wonderful toothbrush and chew stick with its own antiseptic toothpaste. Trees like this that are antiseptic all make great chew sticks, and are very important for hygiene as well as transfer their medicinal compounds through the blood as we chew on them. I then shared the story of how the tea became so common in the 1800s for the treatment of syphilis that it became taboo to be caught sipping because people would suspect each other of having syphilis. However, this medicine goes way further back. A brief history from Wikipedias sassafras page:

“Numerous Native American tribes used sassafras for medicinal purposes and to ward off evil spirits. Since then, scientists have found that the oil, roots and bark have analgesic and antiseptic properties. It has been used to treat

scurvy, skin sores, kidney problems, toothaches, rheumatism, swelling, menstrual disorders and sexually transmitted diseasesbronchitis,hypertension, and dysentery. It is also used as a fungicide, dentifrice, rubefacient, diaphoretic, perfume, carminative and sudorific.”[13]

During the establishment of the Virginia Colony, including Jamestown in the 17th century, sassafras was a major export commodity to England. A medicinal root thought to be effective in treating ague (fevers) and STD, with wood was prized for its beauty and durability, sassafras was popular in England from its first import by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1602 until the 18th century.[14]

Exploration for sassafras was the catalyst for the 1603 commercial expedition from Bristol of Captain Martin Pring to the coasts of present-day Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and his two ships returned with some.[14] During a brief period in the early 17th century, sassafras was the second-largest export from America behind tobacco. Additionally, throughout history, sassafras wood has been found to be an excellent fire-starter because of the flammability of its natural oils found within the wood and the leaves.

Sassafras was prized in Europe as a cure for gonorrhea[15] and syphilis.[13]

The next plant in the vine tangle that was easy to share lots about was smilax; aka cat brier (smilax rotundifolia). This plant, usually seen as nothing more than a thorny nuisance is one of my favorite spring wild edibles, but in the winter months it has come to my attention as one of the best and most abundant sources of carbohydrate available.

Smilax Tuber by Walter Reeves

(Pic seen here by Walter Reeves 2) The roots on these plants are huge, medicinal, and yield an edible and nutritious starch that can be used to make anything you would with commercial flour, with the added benefit that it is gluten free. The younger plants can be eaten as is, and the older plants can be leeched for their starch.

Some species of smilax (smilax regelii) is the original sarsaparilla, and I’ve yet to discover if our native species can be worked with in a similar vein.

Next on the menu of the edge of the parking lot was to look for medicinal Black Birch in comparison with cherry trees. In narrowing down our search I taught them to first see that both of these trees have lenticels, an important botanical distinction. Lenticels, in simple terms means that it has large and distinct horizontal breathing holes on the bark. They can be seen all the way up the birch tree from top to bottom, but on the cherry you might have to look beyond the main trunk to get this vision, seen in the pic:

lenticels on a cherry tree

Notice that the bark on the trunk of this cherry tree (Prunus; seen above) have no lenticels, but it can be seen on the new branches. Birch (Betula; seen below) you can see the lenticels on the trunk.

birch lenticels

Another very important way to tell the difference between these 2 trees is by the smell that they exude, once damaged. This can be done by breaking off a tip of a twig and smelling. Since all cherry trees contain cyanide, it smells like synthetic almond flavoring which will eventually give you a bit of a headache. Black birch has the intoxicating and beautiful smell of wintergreen, and contains salicylic acid which is the precursor of aspirin; a powerful anti inflammatory, and is also antiseptic, and anti viral… Good for colds and flus. I harvest the black birch twigs and love to chew them, make a tea from them, or make into a medicated oil. They don’t dry with a lot of flavor, so harvest only what you will truly work with.


Within the several hours of plant walking we also found and compared black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis), and blackberry (R. fruticosus), which have medicinal roots, cordage value, and of course, in other seasons, leaves for delicious and medicinal tea and antioxidant rich berries in the summer. I also shared with them how to discern these from wild rose (Rosa multiflora) which yields vitamin c in their rose hips and are a tasty treat.

[Pointing out black raspberry] These can be similar looking upon first glance but once someone shows you distinguishing characteristics you can find these anywhere and discern their differences. 

ilex leafComing upon an american holly (Ilex opaca)bush I shared with them that these holly plants make a great tea, and are in fact the same genus as yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis). American holly is basically the local substitute for maté , minus the caffiene. But some species such as Ilex glabra (gallberry, inkberry) do have caffiene. Oddly enough people plant this species as a shrub in their front yard while they sample exotic teas from all across the world. But be careful, the berries of these are all poisonous to humans, but birds require them for winter survival. The bark and twigs are also potentially poisonous to humans.

We closed the walk next to a stand of paper bark birch (Betula papyrifera) as I showed how to harvest the outer bark without harming the tree for an incredible and practically waterproof tinder for making fire. And we moved a whole 30 feet, maybe a record for my classes, but there is just SO MANY plants to explore.

The greatest struggle I find at classes is making the right balance between fulfilling the preconceived notions that people come to classes expecting some kind of deep hike into the woods vs breaking that preconception completely and sharing that its all right here! I think this expectation comes from the conditioning of our culture that food and medicine is far away and somewhere else other than here. Which is something I can hopefully reinspire and awaken.

I feel that it is incredibly important to realize that within the many aspects of survival there also the medicine and plant resources around us which is why “winter survival foraging” was geared towards the plants that are surrounding us. A very important and overlooked “survival topic” is how will you get your medicinal needs met in a survival situation?

Sassafras and oriental bittersweet, for example, are very antiviral plants, a very important consideration in a survival situation, when something like a cold or flu will slow you down to laying for days. And blackberry root is one of the most wonderful plants for stomach issues such as diarrhea, very likely health issues in a survival situation when rummaging for food, which again would be a travesty in a situation of trying to evade someone or something (oh just imagine?).

final shot

As the sun set during our class, we closed up with a recharging conversation about our dollar being our greatest vote and power in capitalism, and community organizing as a way to wean ourselves off of giant and far-removed systems that no longer feel right and ideas to return ourselves to the local thriving villages of the butcher, the baker, and the candle stick maker. Perhaps building a system of thriving and cooperation before the prospects of apocalypto-survival fantasy world becomes real.

And what does it mean to truly survive anyway? Well perhaps we should go straight to the source. In a tribal setting some people are medics with first aid knowledge, some are hunters with the capacity to skin animals, others can take those hides and make clothing, and some are foragers and plant people; and healers such as shamans. This is how individuals become community, and this is how community has always, and will continue to thrive into the future – I believe that if we build these alliances now, then survival becomes “thrival” as we transition into a new culture.

Through our explorations and discussions I felt a deep synergy among the group while we explored all of the wonderful plants and re-connected our senses to the natural world as that threaded in with a plethora of topics including survival skills, re-culturing, and coming together to be the change we seek.

 ”The time of the lone wolf is over” – Hopi Prophecy

Thanks to all who came out to the class. I have lots of great classes on schedule for the rest of the year! Check out thecomplete schedule of classes here! Hope to see you around!


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Return to Nature Herbalist and Foraging Training, 2014

Herbalism and Foraging Training 2014

Monthly Group Mentorship Program in Somerset NJ

Ananda plant walk

This year I’ll be taking 6-8 personal students for a year-long intensive training program. I’ll systematically teach each student to work in depth with the diverse plant teachers of the land.

Each student will be get to know the plants inside and out, and develop care and attention to the subtleties of the plant world throughout the learning process; learning the seasonal harvesting times, and growing deeper awareness of what is continually surrounding us.

This course is designed to lead you into a deep intimate and instinctual knowing with plants and their medicine offerings. From observing and understanding the ecosystem intimately comes building your herbal apothecary and knowledge base of the plants and how to work with them.

This Course Includes:

  • 8 – In depth 3 hour classes with lessons including plant identification throughout the seasons, proper harvesting for food and medicinal preparations for building your home apothecary.
  • Access to our own Facebook group for asking questions, discussing material, and working with the collective insight of the group.
  • In-field training of deep and real-life experience connecting with local plants in Nature, and gaining allies with the plant world.
  • Working with sit spots, and intuitive perception to take our connection with the Earth to a deeper, and more tangible level.
  • Simple and engaging assignments to complete at home and take you deeper into the lessons.
  • Lots of medicine making throughout the seasons, and journaling of your experience.
  • Suggested reading list including field guides to enhance the course.


We will meet once a month at 6 Mile Run, in Somerset, NJ on the 3rd Wednesday of each month from 2-5 pm. The course ranges from March to November, with a break in August for tentative summer travel. If the weather is unbearable we will discuss alternate dates through the facebook group.

Scheduled meeting dates are 3/19, 4/16, 5/21, 6/18, 7/16, 9/17, 10/15 & 11/19

Please note – Once registered you must commit to the entire class schedule – Missed classes will not be refunded.


Payment Plans – 2 Options

1.      Pay in Full – Tuition for the full course (8 classes) is $550, or $500 if paid in full in advance for a savings of $50.

2.      Pay in Increments – A down payment of $150 is required upon registering to reserve your spot in the class. The remaining $400.00 [550$ in total] may be paid in increments where each month we meet you pay 100$ [Email me to Discuss other Options]

Payment Options: you can mail cash or check, I can collect cash at the classes, or you can send a “gift” through paypal to my email address:


To register for the class or if you have any questions please email by Wednesday, March 12th 2014. Spots are limited to only six to eight for this course and will be filled quickly. Register now to reserve your spot!

I look forward to working closely with this group and I’m looking forward to watching your discovery with the plant wonders unfold!







foraged foods

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Full Interview with Wall Township Life

Heres the unedited and behind the scenes full interview I did with Marilyn from Wall Township Life magazine article – Seen here

showing plants

Navigating the Back Woods of Wall Township 

By Marilyn Zein El-Abidin 

These articles are written in advance, and this past weekend thousands of people died in Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, a storm even stronger and more devastating than Sandy.  For some of us, it is easier to identify and empathize with others when we ourselves have experienced something similar.  The aftermath of Sandy was horrific.  As I read about stories of looting and regular every day commodities being inaccessible, I saw myself and my son walking in the Sea Girt Foodtown, holding a flashlight, looking at how most perishable items were either gone or covered up and many shelves empty.  It was eerie and also made me think about how reliant we are upon “the system” for all of our food and survival.

How many of us can say that if something worse than Hurricane Sandy ever struck our area again, we would be able to go out into the woods, find food, and sustain our families? Remember, the Indians did it every day. Do you see the back woods as a dirty place for raccoons and feral cats – or can you place yourself into another year, place and time, and picture what it may have been like when humans were more connected to the land?

Ever feel great after a walk down the Allaire winding road? I sure have. Aside from the exercise, that’s because the place is literally teeming with life force and energy. But there‘s another thing there that most of us fail to see – Food!!!! There are nut trees, berries, and even wild mustard greens all around. It’s not packed away in plastic or cans, or with a Keebler or Kraft signs. It is the original “organic” food. Remember, organic food is just labeled so because it competes with GMO and modified food, and food with toxic substances on it. We’ve been conditioned to think of Non-organic food as “normal” and “organic” as something special, when really, organic food is just the real stuff.  The other belongs somewhere in a Frankenstein movie. Ever see those grapes that are the size of an elephant’s eyeball?

Did you know that those springtime clovers that sweep through the grass at the North Wall Baseball field actually make a great tea?  I’m sure everyone has bought clover honey.  If you do your own research, some believe it is good for those suffering menopausal symptoms.  The drug companies say no, and the herbalists say yes.  But one thing that cannot be denied is that all of our original drugs came from wild herbs. For instance, the well-known heart medicine, digitalis, is derived from the Fox Glove plant that you often find growing in our own cultured landscapes. Do your own research.  The information is there for everyone. Subjects such as these have volumes of information for anyone with an interest. Herbalists often say that the plant you need is often growing right outside your house. So maybe dandelions, wild mustard and wild plantain aren’t just unsightly weeds after all?

I love horticulture, gardens, and plants and often do reading on the subject. Years ago a book called “The Secret Life of Plants”, by Peter Tomkins and Christopher Bird caught my eye. It is actually documentation of a scientific study, from a very highly educated individual, of how plants are sentient.  The researcher hooked up his philodendron house plant to a lie detector, communicated with it both verbally and telepathically, and successfully recorded reactions from the plant. It was during this time that I met Dan Farella while taking a course on energy healing. Dan’s knowledge of the forest is astounding and far surpasses my own. He can literally be dropped and trapped in the woods and come out with a basket of food that would cost you a fortune at Delicious Orchards. Dan shares his knowledge on by doing nature walks all around New York, New Jersey, the Carolinas and even studied in India.  I’ve taken my son on one of his walks in Princeton and we came back feeling thinking that the person who made those talking trees on Wizard of Oz must have been onto something. The forest literally comes alive when you start looking at the beautiful details of leaves, horizontal and vertical tree bark, and who knew that wild grapes grew in New Jersey?!

I decided to contact Dan for an interview.  I hope you enjoy his knowledge as much as I do and joint him for a Nature Walk. It’s great for any group, and it’s not something we learn in school, and something we should. He will come just about anywhere as long as there is a group of interested people to learn; and does nutrition and herbalism consultations, mentorship programs, private and group classes, all for a sensible donation or fee.

Dan Farella:


Marilyn: When did your interest in the forest start?

Dan: My interest in the forest really goes back to as far as I can remember. We all have these vivid flashes of our childhood; most of mine go back to times playing outside. Whether in my mom’s garden, in the tree house my dad built me, or at parks I was brought to for a walk, Native American pow wows or zoos, I got to experience it was something I had taken for granted until I started teaching. A note that parents really CAN influence their kid’s nature connection.

M: What is your favorite find here in the NJ forest?

D: In my 15 years or so of exploring the resources of the earth as actually something I can
learn to work with, sustain myself off of, and actually be of benefit to the ecosystem rather than just a taker, I have consumed probably 2-300 different kinds of greens, tubers, herbs, nuts, and mushrooms from the NJ parks and back yards, or anywhere I can deem is cleaner than what you might get in the supermarket. Out of those, a few greats that come to mind are chicken of the woods (laetiporus sulphureus), a delicious edible wild mushroom. Hickory nuts are one of the best tasting nuts I’ve ever had, which unfortunately has become a virtual waste product in the American consumerism paradigm.

And the elusive foragers secret, the PAWPAW (Asimina


triloba).  A fruit that would have literally carpeted the north east, had we taken food security into our own hands. Pawpaw is full of fats and carbohydrates; this is incredibly rare for a fruit and it is something in our current paradigm we now import from great and costly distances.

M: I remember you teaching us how to use certain plants for cuts. Can you elaborate again?

D: One of the best and easiest to acquire plants for cuts is common plantain (Plantago spp.). Now, this is not the plantain found in grocery stores that is related to the banana. This plant, sharing that common name, would probably be more identified as one of the pieces of “grass” on your lawn. Plantain has been worked with traditionally for thousands, if not millions of years because it was known by our ancestors to staunch bleeding, disinfect, and help repair the damaged cells wherever it was applied.

Another great plant for this is Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). A plant which also shares the common name Caesar weed. It got that name from the wartimes of Caesar; when people were wounded their medics would harvest this plant fresh and make a poultice, or wash.

The interesting thing is that both of these plants are imports, literally brought here by our ancestor’s grandparents to sustain and nourish us. This is the actual basis and foundation of medicine, and not the commonly believed myth that allopathy is traditional, which is really a young alternative to the ancient path of working with what is around you. Allopathic medicine is only at the most 200 years old.

M: Can you tell us a little bit out different trees around us, like more about the Pawpaw?

D: Despite what we have learned culturally there are hundreds of wild nuts in the forest with several bountiful trees. This is important to know for many reasons. In a survival situation, which is a tribal situation, you would have needed a lot of stores of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to get you through the winter, hence the original way of fasting. Fats and carbs are something we take for granted in a saturated fat world where butter can be bought anywhere and has become the misplaced target for all kinds of dieting fads. But if you are learning to fend for yourself off of your own ingenuity then these sources of food become incredibly vital for existence. For me they are all one step into the right direction of my best political vote – localizing my food source!

Chestnuts, for example, would have been a major staple to our area but unfortunately, when we brought chestnut trees over from China for filling our arboretums they had a fungus [chestnut blight] that wiped out the wild populations of our native chestnuts.  A recent statistic I learned about chestnuts is that before the turn of the current century every 4th tree in our forest floor was a chestnut – that’s a lot of free food gone to waste, which is now a very expensive and a rare treat.

Black Walnut.jpegThere are also black walnuts, hickory as was mentioned, persimmon and acorns, all with their special niche as to how to harvest and render them as foods.  These were the secrets of our ancestors; secrets that when we re-discover, it ties a deeper thread to our ancient past and the cultures that thrived upon these lands in a sane and resourceful way.

M: Can I make a salad in my back yard?

Not only salad, you can make a salad, soup, main course, second course, dessert, tea, and after dinner mint, plus fermented fruits as wines and adding wild honey meads! Consider that coupled with ecological and biodiversity preservation a sense of respecting the earth as our source of sustenance is how our grandparents, who had no grocery store, lived. This way of existence is only 2 or 3 generations or 50-100 years ago. We must dare to perceive deeper than the thought that food and medicine come from some other country, or some other business or market, and that it’s in our best interest to eradicate the invasive weeds on our front lawns. As it is said “Eat em, don’t weed em” Take your power back as a tribal, raw, real, human.

foraged salad compressed

M: Can I use acorns?

D: Acorns were actually an incredible staple for the native peoples. In fact, a big reason why many of them starved is because Europeans brought over pigs which ate a huge amount of acorns. This was a devastating blow on native populations. The odd thing I find is that somehow the mighty Oak tree (Quercus spp.) has slipped through all of the disastrous practices our modern culture have performed on our ecosystem, and acorns can still be found in abundance. Now that doesn’t mean we are at an advantage to take, take, take and never give back to the ecosystem. This mentality is what has birthed the paradigm in which we live in. Perhaps you would take 50%, plant 15 % for next year, which means you have skill to plant trees with awareness of the next 40 years, and perhaps leave the last 30% or so for other life forms. This ensures that there will be more for the future and doesn’t create more poverty in the future.

Along this line, One of the most powerful and shocking quotes I heard Tom Brown Jr. [Author and teacher of the tracker school (] passionately, and intensely exclaim was “we are a culture who sacrifices our grandchildren to our children”. The thought really stuck with me. Is it true? Are we leaving enough for any future generations? What are they inheriting? To actually be willing to feel this is where the question of ethics and care-taking become important.  Trying our best to help the damaged ecosystem makes learning foraging, with a great deal of awareness, a potential solution based practice towards re-introducing ourselves into the ecosystem as an integral and necessary aspect to it, rather than a burden upon it. No longer perpetuating the illusion that reality is about me vs nature, which will ultimately win, but I as Nature. Is it possible to get my needs met and also fulfill the greater needs of the ecosystem?

M: Do you have any further thoughts to share?

To learn to get your own food from the wild is a huge empowerment; now with that said,Herbal Medicine Making class3.jpeg it is important to never consume any plant, mushroom, fruit or nut that you haven’t properly identified by first and last name (latin). Your life is truly in your hands, as it always was, even while eating ramen, or the rest of the processed junk food in the store. Despite the fear and paranoia and difficulty in getting started, it is possible to learn this lost art and skill. Consider, It’s how you got this far, it’s in your DNA, and the people even as close as the great depression in the 1940’s and 50’s sustained themselves at least partially off of wild food. As I say often in plant walks, you have more DNA in your body of dandelion, which co-evolved with us over several million years, vs. McDonalds, which is only 70-80 years old. All we need to do is dust off our sense, reclaim our awareness, get some field guides, go to classes, find teachers and elders, and most importantly be willing to take our healthcare and food skills into our own hands again in a gradual, intelligent, and systematic way – this is the one blessing the scientific method has given us.

Don’t forget…we can work 8 hours a day in an office in order to afford a trip to the store for foods shipped all the way from China or South Africa, or we can work 8 hours in the sun and fresh air, collecting, drying, canning, and storing ripened blueberries from a local patch, to have preserved all year.  By understanding how far removed we’ve become from our own self-reliance, and our responsibility to Nature, we can begin to re-establish that connection by choosing to be active care-takers and cultivators of our own local, delicious, nourishing, gourmet wild foods and medicines that grow in abundance all around us.  The choice is in our hands…

 ostrich and etc


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Violet Identification Video

Violets are a very nutrient dense food; they contain high amounts of minerals and vitamins and can easily be collected in abundance if you know how to identify them.

This video is intended to help clarify your vision so that you can know violet, and also learn about some of the medicinal aspects of this abundant and beautiful plant.


Always remember to harvest with care and concern for the Ecosystem. Above all, we need to rediscover the caretaker attitude to once again create a symbiotic relationship with the earth and its gifts. I don’t take more than 30% of any patch I harvest from, and always try to leave an offering.

*Caution, never consume any plant you haven’t properly identified*

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Return to Nature Article in “Wall Township Life” Magazine!

Wall Township Life did a write up on the work I have been sharing through Return to Nature, which was a really fun chance to share some of the philosophy and ideas behind what I am teaching.

Hope you enjoy it, and please feel free to share the article you feel inspired, comments are always appreciated as well. 

Wall Township Life - Return to Nature Article - Page 1

Wall Township Life - Return to Nature Article - Page 2

(Click each photo for a bigger version if needed. )

The full interview can be seen here.

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Upcoming Class – Jan 19th – Winter Survival Foraging @ 6 Mile Run

Upcoming Class Next Weekend in Somerset NJ – We will explore plants, trees, and mushrooms to harvest and work with as medicines, foods and shelter for survival in winter situations. You will be surprised how much abundance is present. Ill bring a nice hot tea – Dress warm and RSVP required. Email:

The Facebook Event can be seen Here:

Or, if you don’t have facebook you can see the details here -

showing plants

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Foraging for Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) – A Favorite Winter Forest Tea


Here’s a short video I took foraging in a park in New Jersey. This area I was walking is located at the tip of the Pine Barrens; there is sandy acidic soil and a heath forest including rhododendron and blueberries, oaks, sassafras, etc. That means you can find wintergreen growing wherever you find that habitat.

The berries make a great snack, and the leaves make a wonderful tea, but should be harvested with respect to sustaining the plants life. After harvesting 1-2 leaves of each plant, I usually break the leaves up, maybe 6 to a cup, and simmer with a lid on for 10 minutes. After that if you want to increase the delicate but healing flavor you can take the leaves out and make a decoction.

This plant makes an incredibly delicious, refreshing, and medicinal tea which is anti-inflammatory as well as cleansing for the blood. It can also be found in mid winter when not much else can be found.

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Planning Class Schedule for 2014!

dan showing plants2

2013 was a year of abundant classes and adventures for my work at Return to Nature. I’m currently planning the schedule for the 2014 class season. I am seeking to symbiotize with people and organizations who run and collaborate with. This includes yoga to community centers, health food stores, farmers markets and farms, gardening organizations, homesteads and back yards, and any others who are interested in learning these skills. All classes I teach are community organized, and a focal point for feeding back to community gatherings, resource sharing, and re-skilling. Anyone who is open to host or help organize workshops please be in touch.

Also, I am looking to expand the Return to Nature team by asking for people to help post flyers, help organize classes, and help with further promotional work, funding opportunities, and/or video editing. If you are able or willing to help with this, please be in touch.

This 2014, let us gather, build community, and reclaim our herbal, foraging, survival, and healthcare skillsets as the new thriving paradigms we seek grow and become more commonplace. Hope to see you in 2014…

My website is



Dan Farella is a Forager, Herbalist, and Musician dedicated to working with Nature to further the healing of the connection between the planet and the people. Dan teaches classes through Return to Nature (, which provides workshops in foraging, herbalism, making medicinal preparations from herbs, Fermentation classes, thriving in nature, as well as gives nutrition and health consultations, mentorships, and group or private in-home custom herbalism classes.

Please do share this around, as you are willing. All classes are community created, and my work and service is enlivened and supported by community. And, if you feel inspired by what I am doing and are able to help financially support this work, please consider making a donation at the following link:

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Return to Nature on TV

Return To Nature – on – TV – It was fun to get an email from someone from Verizon that wanted to come film at a plant walk. I decided that surely he was welcome and that I would share what I could. Hopefully someone watching public access gets a bit of a wake up call…

You can see the video Here:

“Rock the nation, take over television and radio station – give the corporations some complications.” - Michael Franti

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Local Foraging with Dan Farella: Awakening Our Nature Sense – by Olga Sher

oldstonehouseI meet Dan Farella as I come to attend a plant walk with him in Eatontown, NJ.  In his comfortable-looking free-flowing cottons and long dreadlocks, he seems very much at ease and at home among all of the wonderful greenery surrounding us, almost being an extension to the tree we are sitting under.  Behind his back is a sizable forager basket with a curious specimen selection, dried mushrooms, paw paws, seeds, herbs, all in attendance.

A few minutes later, he is surrounded by a bunch of light-bulb youngsters, listening in danandkidsutter amusement to captivating stories on common dirt and the six inches of soil out of which all of our sustainment comes; about fruit pits and seeds being the essential currency of the future; about the irony of recycling and the amounts of fossil fuel it takes to recycle a glass bottle; about the function and importance of the ‘weeds’ root systems in irrigating the soil for nearby plants.  Dan is totally absorbed, in the blissful state of fun and calmness, satisfying natural curiosity of his listeners’ inquisitive minds, making jokes in the process.

AllaireEdit (3)Gradually, the focus shifts to medicinal mushrooms, herbs, and wild edibles.  As we examine the fragrant contents of Dan’s basket, the recurring thought keeps popping into my head “I didn’t know one can eat that.” Next, the magic paw paws come out, and I catch myself drooling over the delicious native fruit, musing at my ignorance of not suspecting of its existence before.

While I listen to this man unfolding the wonder-world of greenery in front of us and ostrich and etcobserve him bending the boughs of trees and bushes with natural gentleness and gratitude, I make my re-acquaintance with the plants I loved as a child, wondering how disconnected I am in my everyday life from these direct experiences and creative interaction with Nature.  It seems that almost everything that surrounds us has some culinary or medicinal application.  How many of us nowadays use plantain leaves, so common under our feet, as a first aid for scraped knees and insect bites; yarrow, with its powerful astringent properties, to stop bleeding; jewelweed to relieve a poison ivy rash. Back in the day when I was a kid, we did that all the time.

Over an hour passes, yet we barely travel a few hundred feet.  What I expected to be a trekking expedition into the forest, ended up being a very informative, eye-opening gathering in the middle of a developed park,  listening to a man with this magical capacity of experiencing the world around him from the perspective of the things growing around, seeing the universe’s workings in a single leaf or a flower.

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Dan’s path is far from traditional.  His knowledge and understanding of plants, their medicinal qualities and nutritional values and their role in nature is extraordinary.  His work and visions are inspiring and attract conscious people from all over.  Currently, Dan is teaching multiple classes and workshops on plants, edibles, medicine making, foraging, while also working on various permaculture and sustainability projects.  If you would like to learn more about Dan’s work or attend any of his classes or workshops, please visit his website:

Olga Sher,

A mom of two and resident of Holmdel

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