I went on a foraging tour with Wildman Steve Brill in Prospect Park today. What an adventure! (if you don’t want to read the entire adventure, and just want to know about what I saw and learned , or only what I foraged in the huge Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, in New York City, just skip to the 9th paragraph, or the 14th paragraph, respectively. On the other hand, if you want to see my first adventure into “exciting food writing” read on!).
As I was walking from the train to the park, there was so much to see, so much to take in! Many of the buildings were very old and ornate. I guess lots of people take me for a tourist, because I am always looking up at the buildings in New York City, and these were quite special. I wonder if people live in them or if they are office buildings. Even the library across from the park entrance was very fancy.
Another wonder which caught my eye was the arch, just across from the park entrance, which is a tribute to the Union Army! I had never before seen a tribute to the Northern soldiers in the War Between the States. I mean, we have all sorts of monuments to Confederate soldiers throughout the South – Richmond, the capital of my home state of Virginia, is full of them—so, when you think of it, it makes sense that, in the North, there would be tributes to the Union Army. I had just never thought about it, and I had never seen one (Huh! 25 years in Yankee territory, and I had never come across such a thing!)
Now, when I visited Savannah, Georgia, I took a sort of horse and buggy tour of the old town, and when we went past the park where Forrest Gump sat waiting for the bus with that box of chocolates, the guide explained to us that the statues of Southern soldiers there face toward the south, because, in the early days, that was where the threat lay: in the early days of Georgia, just beyond the southern border lay Florida, land controlled by the Spaniards, who wanted to fight. Interesting, isn’t it? Armed with that knowledge, I figure I was looking toward the north from where I was standing looking at this arch in Brooklyn, because the soldiers sculpted on the façade of monument, as well as the statues of soldiers which stood nearby, were all brandishing weapons and looking fiercely in one certain direction, and I would lay bets that they were looking toward the South. That experience was very interesting. (I figured out for myself why the place by the subway station is called Grand Army Plaza.)
On from that very enlightening experience, I went toward the entrance of Prospect Park. Right there at the entrance to the park, they had a farmers’ market, much like the one I frequent at Union Square, but this one had a lot more herbs and mushrooms, which are very near and dear to my heart. I gazed longingly at the offerings there, but I did not want to buy anything and have to carry it along with me on the foraging tour.
Since the tour was set to start at 11:45, I drifted over to the place I believed to be what might be the meeting place. There was a lovely place under a tree a few feet away, where I could sit in the shade and listen to a marvelous bluegrass band. So taken was I with the good foot-stomping music, that I did not notice, at first, the circle of people who had congregated in front of me. Seeing a woman with a small bag from which protruded trowel handles, I went over and sat on a bench nearby and watched the people talking to one another until someone wondered aloud whether we were standing in the right place. There was some discussion as to where *behind the farmers’ market*, where we were supposed to meet, really was. We finally decided to move across the way, also possibly “behind the farmers’ market”, where were there more stone benches, some of which were in the shade.
At last, the star of our show, our leader and guru, Wildman Steve Brill arrived.
My first impression of Wildman Steve was that his attire reminded me of the early 70s Banana Republic catalogs (which showed nifty rugged clothes to wear when going on a safari, or traversing the Amazon), right down to the pith helmet.
After a brief television interview, he led our group into the park.
The first thing we saw was lambs’ quarters. As Wildman Steve and I had been chatting, since I can walk as fast as he can, he announced to me that I can no longer call myself a vegetarian, as I have eaten lambs’ quarters (a green herb!) That was my introduction to his special humor.
We saw Bitter Dock, Pokeweed (which we could not sample because it is poisonous unless you cook it a lot – hence I did not collect any), Wood Sorrel, Sassafrass, Field Garlic (cute little plants with a baby bulb and pretty little flowers, and all of it edible), Burdock, Common Spice Bush, Chickweed, Mugwort, and Linden (I got maybe a cup-worth of linden flowers to dehydrate and use later to make tea). We searched high and low for June Berries (finally we found some not quite ripe ones which were still delicious), and, then, when we were almost out of the park, we found a mulberry tree which seemed to be a hybrid between an Asian white mulberry and American red mulberry. We laid down a plastic tarp and shook the lower branches for all they were worth, and got a lot of mulberries, which were either white or pinkish, and we all dove in and ate them by the handful.
I loved the tour! If you are in New York, Pennsylvania, or Connecticut, Wildman Steve Brill may likely have a tour near you (check his tour listings), and, if you want to spend a very interesting, informative, and entertaining afternoon, you should definitely consider going on one of his foraging tours (after today, I know I would go on any and all of his tours if I could). You get solid knowledge of foraging (he even carries his Ipad to show you his own expert drawings, paintings, and photographs of the plants he is discussing), as well as historical tidbits, anecdotes, and recipes for the different plants. Wildman Steve knows a lot. I learned that he was a chef before he started his foraging tours, and that he is interested in a high raw lifestyle (he actually shared a few of his prepared recipes with us – that’s what he was carrying in that huge backpack!). All is not serious botany – Wildman Steve has a serious comedic streak – just when you’re seriously regarding a plant, he will crack a joke or break off into a little comedy skit, or, perhaps, even demonstrate a very curious musical talent that he possesses.
WARNING: You do need to at least wear serious walking shoes (not sandals, not open-toes – I wore my Converse high-tops). If walking is a problem for you, this is not the activity for you (we walked for at least 3 hours (the tour was scheduled for 4 hours, we had a half-hour lunch break, and then a 20 minute potty break—that long only because of the amazingly long line to the ladies’ room. All the rest of the time, we were walking, stopping and standing to admire the plants, and walking some more).
I carried more stuff than I needed. I could have gotten by with some baggies or ziploc bags, my phone, wallet, Kindle, water, lunch, and a knife (I didn’t need the jacket, insect spray or work gloves, and the plastic grocery bags were inconvenient)
In the end, I came home with one plastic bag filled with Lambs’ Quarters, Wood Sorrel, Field Garlic, Mugwort, Poor Man’s Pepper, and Linden flowers. What am I going to do with this bounty?
Actually, I figure I am going to dehydrate most of it, powder it, and add it to my super-green powder jar (I didn’t get terribly much of anything, so nothing would make more than one small dish).
I figure I will dehydrate the field garlic, and add it to food.
I want to dehydrate the few sassafrass leaves I got and make perhaps a tablespoon or two of file powder, a Southern seasoning you may know from gumbo recipes. (I now know that any of the leaves of the sassafras tree can be used for file so, if I ever go to a New York City park again, all of the sassafras trees may well run and hide.)
So, yippee! I have finally completed my Healthy Homesteading foraging lesson!