foraging with the wildman

We gathered a small feast of wild edibles this past Saturday in Prospect Park on our latest foraging tour — this time with “Wildman” Steve Brill. Both the content of his tour and his conduct explain the alias.

Before he even collected our $15 “suggested donation,” he was hocking his wares (field guides, a cookbook, magnifying lenses). From the wadded up piece of paper he pulled from his cargo pants’ pocket, he took attendance. He phoned the stragglers.

He put his daughter, the aptly named Violet, in the care of over 20 patient tour participants as he brought his merchandise back to the car. “Has anyone seen my daughter?” he uttered more than once as we waited in Grand Army Plaza.

After about 25 minutes, he announced the start of the tour. He played us the “Brill-a-phone” — a pseudo wind instrument created by clapping his hands in front of his open, hollowed-out mouth (somewhat akin to blowing on the top of an empty bottle).


Wildman Steve Brill

Despite The Wildman’s idiosyncrasies, it was an enjoyable day. The sun shone warmly, but the shade provided relief. I learned more about the edible plants around me. Sampled some new wild food and took home enough to be able to enhance some meals.

The root vegetable of the burdock plant, known as “gobo” in Japanese cuisine, will be a good addition to some vegetable soup I’m making. As will the goutweed or bishop’s elder, with it’s mostly celery, partly parsley flavor.

Root of burdock (Arctium) on the plant


Root of burdock (Arctium) on my table


Goutweed or bishop’s elder (Aegopodium podagraria)

I’ll make a “lemonade” with the staghorn sumac I picked (with the help of a tall tour mate).

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina)

I pulled a sassafras sapling from the ground — its root makes a nice tea.

Pulling sassafras


Sassafras root

The wood sorrel (Oxalis), bright and lemony, will be a tasty addition to a salad or a sandwich. I didn’t pick enough of it, but the lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) would be a nice salad green or spinach alternative (it’s high in vitamins A and C, calcium, folate, fiber, and protein).

I can make a dressing with grated garlic mustard root.

Root of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

We sampled some hackberries — the dried, brown ones taste a bit like the candy coating of an M&M. We also ate some foxtail grass seeds. Just gently twist the head of the grass over your palm for a mild little treat. A word of warning for pet owners: I’ve read that the seeds are toxic for dogs.

Hackberries (Celtis)


Foxtail grass (Alopecurus L.)

I tried a bit of black walnut, and my boyfriend and I came back the next day to collect some. We only found a couple, but the tree is full of them. Maybe in a week they’ll have fallen. When you do collect them, be sure to remove the husk before bringing them home — they tend to become infested with bugs.

Lots of nuts up in that black walnut tree (Juglans nigra)


Black walnut husks


A Monarch butterfly we spied at the end of the tour

While we did collect quite a few wild edibles, I was happy to see many farmer’s market stands still open so late in the afternoon. My dogs were barking at this point, so my boyfriend gathered a few things while I sat on the curb. When we got home, we used the field garlic in an heirloom tomato salad.

Field garlic (Allium oleraceum)


Grand Army Plaza greenmarket

Related reading


The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook by “Wildman” Steve Brill


Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places by Steve Brill

Take a tour with the Wildman

Related posts

exploring, gathering
yesterday’s brooklyn foraging tour [with Leda Meredith]
stalking the wild asparagus

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