Archive for the ‘foraging’ Category

will barter for skills

January 28, 2010

This post is also featured on Greenopolis.

Skillsharing is hot right now. Maybe it’s because most everyone is on a budget or perhaps there’s been a great awakening where people feel compelled to share resources, time, and abilities.

If you’ve never been to a skillshare, here’s the gist: A group of people with various skills come together in the spirit of sharing. The skilled people teach a group of eager learners who either pay a small fee (like $10) to learn new skills or barter with their own skills or services.

Back in October, I attended the Brooklyn Skillshare and learned some great skills which I’ve since applied at home: upcycling glass bottles into vases, drinking glasses (and more) and making butter and ricotta. (You can check out the results here.)

Learning how to cast silver jewelry at the Brooklyn Skillshare.

If you’re interested in trying out one of these skillshares and you live in NYC, you’re in for a treat. From now until February 28 at Grand Opening (139 Norfolk St), you can learn a new skill every night at Trade School – as long as you’re able to give (barter) in return. There are some really cool skills being offered up, including foraging and preserving foods, fabric-making, community engagement, and composting.

Once you’re bitten by the skillsharing bug, it’s hard to quit. In fact, last year, after learning how to make soap, I felt compelled to teach others at a soap-making party. You can read more about my case of soap fever on the Handmade Soap Coach blog.

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foraging with the wildman

September 22, 2008

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

exploring, gathering

September 8, 2008

With no immediate intentions other than eating our lunch, my bf and I went to Prospect Park yesterday afternoon. The weather was amazing — sunny but not too hot, perfectly comfortable in the shade — it was like the storm of Saturday hadn’t happened.

After polishing off some rigatoni (with heirloom tomatoes, goat gouda, basil, chives, and fresh chili pepper, yum!) we sat for a bit. We noticed an unusual amount of little children in the park, as if the rain had sprouted them like mushrooms out of the ground. We watched as dogs pranced by, commenting on their coats and gaits, and guessing their breeds, one of our favorite past times.

Then we got up and went over to dog beach for some more canine commentary. Despite recent reports of contamination by rat excrement (more here and here), the little section of the pond that’s cordoned off for doggy frolicking was jam packed with puppies.

[Image: Lane Johnson, AM New York]

Aside from the pups, some rose hips poking out from behind a fence caught our attention. Knowing exactly what they were by their leaves, thorns, and telltale fuzzy tops, we picked a bunch.

[The rosehips we picked]

This little discovery-in-plain-sight sparked my newfound fire for finding wild edibles. So we headed into “the woods.” Right on cue, as we passed to the right of the pond, we saw a cute little rat feasting on some hawthorne or some other apple-like fruit. Another passerby labeled him “local fauna.”

We took a trail we usually don’t go down, towards the Center Drive and Nethermead. We walked along the drive, to the southwest, eyes peeled to the ground. Burdock, pokeweed (poisonous at this time of year), jewelweed, and goldenrod — we identified them and walked on by. Along the drive is a bridle path, and we ended up walking in it (paying heed to horsey landmines). Then we spotted a seemingly less traveled mulch- and leaf-covered path. As close as we were to the road (which generally isn’t open to car traffic), I felt strangely transported. It was so serene, apart from the rustling of leaves by robins, squirrels, and a couple of speedy chipmunks.

To the right of this path ran a chainlink fence which I didn’t think much of until we came across this sign (on the other side of the fence):

[Image: Noelle D’Arrigo, Brooklyn Paper]

I thought I remembered hearing about a cemetery in the park where Montgomery Clift was buried. For some odd reason, I forgot about this fascinating info. The Quaker Friends Cemetery isn’t open to the public, except on rare special occasions or on volunteer clean-up days. But I just love knowing it’s there, the little bit of it we could see from the trail. (Learn more about the cemetery.)


[Image: Rikomatic]

We continued up the trail, now heading north-northwest. Caught another view of the cemetery (though not as revealing as the one above) and continued on.

At the bottom of the trail we collected spicebush berries, more to add to last week’s collection which have been drying on the countertop (I just put the dried ones in the fridge).


[Fresh vs week-old picked spicebush berries]

Under the spicebush we saw what at first we thought were potatoes, then pears. After further inspection we realized they were some kind of nut. We looked up and realized that high up in the trees there were many more (Please don’t fall on my head!). After an inquiry to my go-to foraging expert, Leda Meredith, I learned these were probably horse chestnuts, and therefore not edible.

[Most likely poisonous horse chestnuts]

At this point we were by the baseball fields, behind a big pile of mulch. We walked back to more familiar territory and found some more tree nuts, this time (potentially) edible ones, black walnut.


[Hopefully black walnut… gotta crack it open to find out]

I’ve lived here for over 5 years and have been to this park countless times, yet there are still new things to discover. (I’m sure the woman who writes A Year in the Park would whole-heartedly agree.) I just have to remember to take a step off the usual path to find them.

foraging find: spicebush berries

September 3, 2008

My friend Anne and I went for a nice walk in the park yesterday and I couldn’t help but point out all of the plants I learned about during my recent foraging class. Sassafras, lady’s thumb, pokeweed, bishop’s elder, hawthorne, rosehips, jewelweed, and mugwort — we stopped to observe them all. We sampled some clover-leafed wood sorrel (see below), so bright and lemony delicious.

And we happened upon a spicebush. I was so excited to be able to identify the plant by its appearance and the scent of the berry (a sweet, spicy aroma). So we collected a few berries. I’m going to dry them out and grind them up for seasoning. You can also use the leaves, twigs, and bark for tea.

Spicebush, the berries not all quite ripe yet

I later rubbed some plantain (plantago) on the mosquito bites I acquired at our friends’ barbecue. It just so happens we ate purslane salad at that shindig — they bought theirs at the market, but we could have found some in the park, to make a Brooklyn salad as they called it.

I’ve been bitten by the foraging bug (I’m not talking mosquitos anymore). In a couple of weeks my boyfriend, some friends, and I are heading out with Wildman Steve Brill to get our hands dirty in Prospect Park.

It’s so great to be able to identify plants, and whether they’re edible, medicinal, or neither. It just gives you a different perspective on the world around you. About a month ago I couldn’t tell you what any of these things were, save clover. And I can’t wait to learn more.

stalking the wild asparagus

August 26, 2008

This one’s for you, Dad!

If you don’t know who Euell Gibbons was (I didn’t), let’s just say he was an expert on wild edibles (he died a year before I was born). Growing up during the Dust Bowl era, his mother taught him how to forage. In the 1960s he was well known for his views on natural, wild eating — he wrote the book Stalking the Wild Asparagus about the subject.

This seems to be my new favorite subject. Though I remember back in high school, on a sort of outward-bound-lite camping trip, eating clover leaves on my solo night when my tummy was grumbling for lack of food. They didn’t fill my belly, but they did plant a seed in my mind for a future passion.

Related post
yesterday’s brooklyn foraging tour

yesterday’s brooklyn foraging tour

August 25, 2008

To round out our weekend of enjoying the great outdoors of this fair borough, my boyfriend and I joined a class called “Feasting for Free in Brooklyn” through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (but led mainly through Prospect Park).

Our teacher/guide was Leda Meredith, a forager before she had even heard the term. Having Greek roots — in Greece, foraging is not some fringe activity — going after wild edibles is in her blood.

When Leda asked us, before starting the tour, why we decided to attend the class, my brain froze. Maybe because I was the first person to share, but most likely because I had so many reasons.

  1. What a great tool to have in case our society collapses
  2. If I’m in the park and hungry, I can just start snacking on some foliage
  3. Dining on wild edibles is in line with a sustainable lifestyle
  4. How cool to be aware of the plants around you, and to be able to identify a poisonous nightshade from a delicious allspice berry?
  5. No need to make a trip to the supermarket, there’s feasting to be had all around us
  6. What better way to spend a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon but outdoors searching for food
  7. The food is really free

Though I only managed to mutter something like, “I like food, I don’t want to depend on the food system, bla-dee-bla.”

So here are some of the things I learned on the walk. DISCLAIMER: Please consult a reputable field guide before harvesting and eating wild plants (there’s a list of books below).

Some generalities about wild edibles (there aren’t many):

  • Any clover-shaped plant is edible (like wood sorrel, see image below)
  • All pine trees are edible; in case of emergency you can chew pine needles for vitamin C
  • Any plant that smells like onions or garlic is edible
  • All fruit with a 5-point crown (like blueberries) are edible
  • When identifying plants, always use more than one trait to identify! Sometimes two very different plants can have the same trait (like Elderberries and a look-alike plant, see below)

Specific plants that are edible (and tasty!):

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis)
Tender lemony leaf; pretty easy to identify by clover-shaped leaf and tiny yellow flowers.

Elderberries (Sambucus)
The images below highlight the importance of identifying plants by more than one trait. The berries shown in the third photo are not elderberries. How can one tell? Look at the leaves and stem. An elderberry plant has oblong divided leaves and a bumpy, knobby stem. The second plant below has leaves of a different shape and with a toothed edge.
Elderberries are better when you cook ’em — for pies, jams, and syrup.

Elderberries (Image: Honey Gardens)


NOT Elderberries!
UPDATE: According to Leda, the berries above are a type of Viburnum, and while edible, these are not particularly tasty (even the birds won’t eat ’em!).

Peppergrass (Lepidium)
The small green, tender seeds have a great peppery finish (after a bit of chewing). You can use them as you would pepper, just grind ’em first.

Chufa (Cyperus esculentus)
One of the cool characteristics of this plant is its triangular stem. It’s also pretty fun looking with it’s flowery tufts of yellow/green. At the roots of chufa are tubers that can be eaten cooked or raw and are said to be similar to water chestnuts.

Some plants that are useful for their medicinal purposes:

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
Mugwort can be used as a seasoning in foods and as a remedy to relieve tension or unblock flow (such as stress or delayed menstruation). One of the distinguishing features of the plant is the white/silver underside of the leaf. Though depending on the age of the plant, the leaves can vary from wider and divided (almost like a divided parsley) and narrow (almost like rosemary). The leaves also have a strong herbal scent.


Rose Hips

These babies are high in vitamin C — you’ve probably seen them as an ingredient in vitamin supplements. The orange/red flower has a little tuft of stamen on top. The leaves look like those of a rose and the stem has a characteristic thorn. Rose hips can be brewed in a tea, but be sure to filter out the fuzzy bits.

Plaintain (Plantago)
Not to be confused with the banana, plantago major is also known as “white man’s footprint” because Native Americans claimed that everywhere a white man went he would leave one of these plants behind. (The plant was thought to have been brought here by early settlers from Europe.) Plantain is a natural anti-microbial and is useful in relieving insect bites and other skin ailments. The seeds in the conical part of the flower are the main ingredient of bulk laxatives like Metamucil.

Goldenrod (Solidago)
Often a mistaken cause of seasonal allergies, goldenrod does not even pollinate via the wind but through insects. The flowers and leaves can be made into a tea which can help alleviate sore throat.

Check out more photos here.

Interested in foraging? Here are some resources (as recommended by Leda):