Monday, March 22, 2010

Urban foraging

This weekend, I had the pleasure of taking an urban foraging tour with Wildman Steve Brill, which is something that I've been meaning to do for years now. We met in Forest Park, in Queens, which is a part of town I'd never been to before (it's nice), and walked around for a couple of hours as he pointed out stuff we could eat and we tasted things and took samples and talked about what to make with all of this stuff and what the plants we were tasting would look like in a few months' time and why the Parks Department's official position on foraging is firmly opposed (lawsuits. duh.). It was grand. Since the edible foodstuffs available in city parks changes so much throughout the growing season, I'm going to do a few more tours at different places in the city as the spring and summer go on, both with Steve and with Leda Meredith, who I met a week or so ago at a mutual friend's and liked tremendously.
The spoils, from the left:
1. Black birch. The pulpy layer under the bark contains oil of wintergreen and you can make a nice minty tea by steeping a handful of twigs for 20 minutes. Mine was pretty weak, but I think that I just have no sense of what a quart of water looks like. When Steve was passing around a piece for everyone to smell, he asked if anyone recognized the scent. I blurted out, "Necco wafers!" which is both true and kind of embarrassing when you're surrounded by natural-foods evangelists.
2. Field garlic. Looks like chives, tastes onion/garlic-y. This time of the year, the root (not pictures) is mild, like a scallion, but develops a stronger flavor as it grows.
3. Spice bush. It smells really lovely and can be steeped for tea. Once the berries ripen, they can be ground and used like allspice, presumably after being dried. I have a note here that the tea is good for fevers.
4. Garlic mustard. The leaves are spicy and bitter, the root tastes like horseradish.
5. Sassafras, the root of which is used to make root beer. I didn't get to Prospect Park yesterday because I was busy doing laundry and reading an entire book start to finish and taking a spectacular nap, but I want to grab some more and try infusing vodka with it. It's very strong; Steve said the size piece I have up there could be used over and over to make tea or a base for root beer. 'Sassafras' also happens to be tremendous fun to say and, after I told her all about my foraging adventures this weekend, possibly the name of my friend Karen's new cat.
6. Sweet cicely, the root of which is good raw or cooked and has a nice anise flavor. Steve swore up and down that it's delicious in oatmeal.
We also found plenty of young dandelion leaves, but I didn't bother taking a sample of those because I eat those all the time anyway, anywhere I'd use spinach.


Martha said...

I've been wanting to do another tour with Steve. I thought I should wait for more things to be growing, but obviously there was no shortage of interesting things to forage.

A few years ago the son of an acquaintance decided to re-name himself Sassafras. It was the only name he would answer to for about 2 years. It does have a good ring to it.

Gina said...

This sounds like an absolute blast!