Zack Rouda, left, eats a few wild blueberries while leading a group on an edible plants walk in on the Eastern Prom on Aug. 9, one of the wilderness classes taught by Rewild Maine in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

On a breezy August evening along Portland’s Eastern Promenade, Dani Unterreiner and Angel McCorkle walked arm in arm behind their foraging guide in rapt attention. Zack Rouda of Rewild Maine was leading an urban foraging walk that inspired four in the group of 14 to take diligent notes. Unterreiner was one who followed along, filling a nature journal with plant facts and sketches. Right beside her, McCorkle listened intently, just as intrigued.

The Portland couple called the urban foraging class a “game changer” because the life skills that were taught could help them spend more time in nature, eat healthier, and maybe just save on groceries. 

“I wanted to learn how to supplement my groceries, and to make buying food more affordable,” Unterreiner said. “With inflation, everything has gotten so expensive. We also like to hike, and we’re always wondering what we can eat.”

“Now I want to try making Japanese knotweed into fruit leather. That tasted great,” McCorkle added enthusiastically about the knotweed samples Rouda shared. 

Offered by the nonprofit Rewild Maine, the class teaches people how to connect with nature while becoming more resilient and less dependent on commercial products. Foraging, particularly for mushrooms, has increased in popularity in recent years, especially during the pandemic. But those who lead urban foraging walks around the country say such classes still are uncommon in downtown areas.

“Definitely people have been doing this since the ’70s,” Rouda said. “But when I started Rewild Maine I thought there should be wild edible walking tours in every town in America. They’re not. We need to keep those skills alive and to find the most sustainable ways of living.”


Christopher Nyerges was one of the first to teach wilderness survival skills in an urban setting when he started teaching his wild food outings in 1974 in Los Angeles. 

A teacher at Los Angeles City College and the author of 22 nature books, Nyerges first studied botany in elementary school. At an early age he became fascinated with Native American traditions and learning how to lessen the weight in his backpack when camping. His curiosity led to the School of Self-Reliance that he co-founded with his wife to teach self-reliance, sustainability and survival. Five decades later, many of his students have gone on to teach similar courses around the country, but Nyerges said most are not taught in urban settings.

“I know of one in Portland, Oregon, and another guy in Arizona who goes into urban areas. But most do not, as far as I know,” Nyerges said. “The skills are ancient. It is bushcraft – how to make things in the wilderness. I think technology has made us more stupid in the sense that we rely too much on technology. But during COVID there was tremendous interest in my classes.”

Zack Rouda’s tour on edible plants in Portland parks is unusual in that it takes place in an urban setting. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

New York City park rangers teach similar classes in wildlife tracking and outdoor survival skills at parks in the city’s five boroughs. But a class devoted to urban foraging is not on the city’s parks-and-rec calendar.

In Portland, Oregon, Peter Michael Bauer has taught urban foraging classes since 2002 and founded the nonprofit Rewild Portland in 2010 before partnering with the city parks department. He now offers urban foraging lessons that have drawn as many as 80 participants.

With an urban landscape around him, Bauer teaches how to forage for and make quiche and pesto out of nettle; how to use invasive Japanese knotweed to heal sores or as a medicinal tea to help with symptoms of Lyme disease. 


“It’s taken us 10 years to build up the momentum to serve as a model. We were just in (the city) at first, until the pandemic. Then we went online and were teaching in the Czech Republic and Australia. I now act as a consultant to try to start programs in local communities,” Bauer said.

Since Rouda modeled Rewild Maine after the Oregon nonprofit five years ago, it now draws a dozen or more foraging students every month to its free walks. Other Rewild Maine classes provide lessons in survival skills like animal tracking and primitive shelter building. Some classes are free. Most cost between $15 to $35. A tool-building class can cost as much as $65, although Rouda offers scholarships.

Unlike Rewild Portland on the West Coast, Rouda’s nonprofit does not partner with the city’s parks department. But he acknowledges during his classes the good the city does for foragers – such as planting wild blueberry bushes that the public can enjoy. Also the city’s restrictive pesticide-use ordinance makes it safer to forage for – and eat – wild plants in Portland.

Zack Rouda of Rewild Maine shows a chicory green he found during an edible plants walk in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The most popular class by far is the free wild edible walking tour that’s offered every two weeks from May to October on the Eastern Promenade. 

“Not everything on the calendar is super-well attended. Sometimes only two or three show up,” Rouda said. “But often 10 to 20 will come. And we do private programs, as well as work with the Portland public schools.”

The free urban foraging walk two weeks ago was billed as a two-hour seminar on how to find edible plants, but after an hour Rouda offered to cut the class short on a perfect summer evening. None of the 14 who showed up stepped away. So Rouda pressed on and filled the entire two hours with information on how to use weeds, leaves, flowers and plant stalks for teas, dehydrated treats, salad greens and wine.


Rouda taught how the cones from sumac trees can be used to make tea; how rose petals can be used to make wine – one high in vitamin C; goldenrod and dandelions can be used in salads; burdock root – which is sometimes sold in the Portland Co-Op – can serve as a parsnip that blends well with garlic and onions.

Some plants are poisonous and so should be researched and identified correctly, Rouda reminded the group. For example, one should use staghorn sumac – which grows like a shrub or tree – rather than poison sumac to make a wine or tea.

The biggest draw during the class was the lesson about the invasive and often despised Japanese knotweed plant. While frequently considered ugly, the shrub’s stalk can be used to make a primitive flute, grilled like asparagus, or turned into a sauce or chewy dehydrated treat. Rouda shared small samples of the beef-jerky-like appetizer that was tangy and sweet. 

Maine native Lincoln Leach, who recently moved to Lyman from California, said the foraging walk opened a world of possibilities, and after two hours he wanted to learn more. 

“I saw this on Facebook and I’ve wanted to learn more about bushcraft,” Leach said. “It’s also an excuse to be out in nature. I was kind of hoping to find these classes in my home state. I’ve seen these lessons online and I’ve wanted to learn this.”

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