Monday, July 11, 2011

Foraging in Central Park!

Yesterday I went on such a fun foraging tour in Central Park with Wildman Steve Brill.  I've been wanting to learn about edibles ever since finding wild mushrooms growing all over my yard.  In my quest to learn about what edibles are safe to eat in my yard, awhile ago, Marie over at 66 Square Feet recommended Steve Brill's tours as an introduction to identifying wild edibles. 
I loved how he was dressed, in a safari hat, a backpack, water bottle, a shovel around his belt and a whistle dangling from his neck.  He looked ready to enter into the wild, the wilds of Central park that is!  :)
I had bought 2 discounted tickets of his tour from Daily Candy deals, and had an extra ticket, so I invited a fellow blogger, Aimee over at Red Garden Clogs, to go on the tour with me.  I was pretty amazed by the amount of people that showed up for the tour.  There were about 50 people!  How amazing is that?
We went off trails, climbed over fences, we definitely got some curious looks from onlookers watching us pick things and eating them!  LOL.
Every time Steve came across a plant that was edible, he would go over what it was used for, what are some best ways to eat it, and would encourage us to try it.
This is Poor Man's Pepper.  It has a very spicy flavor and does taste a lot like pepper.  I could totally see using this in a salad, or vinaigrette, or maybe even a pesto!  Steve instructed us to clip the plant's stems but to not pull the roots, so that it would grow back.  He wants us to be sustainable foragers, so that what we take grows back.
Check out Aimee's backpack.  I love how she was carrying the clump of the cuttings of Poor Man's Pepper.
This was one of the coolest plants.  It's Sassafras.  Steve said that these plants need lots of sun to survive, and since these were growing in the shade, he said we could pull these because they won't survive.  The root is the edible part, it tastes very much like root beer.  You can boil the root in water and make a tea out of it.  Add some sparkling water and sugar and you'll have a drink similar to root beer.  Pretty awesome!
The Sassafras tree is easy to identify because it has 3 different kinds of leaves on the Sassafras tree.  Here is Steve pointing out the different leaves.  One of the leaves is oval, one looks like a mitten, and the other a mitten with 3 fingers.
Another edible tree was the Black Birch Tree.  I thought this was going to taste like the Sassafras Tree, but it actually tasted like wintergreen / mint.  You can chew on the twigs like a natural chewing gum. 
We were all pretty fascinated with all the different types of edibles growing in the park and Steve was such an awesome tour guide.  He was incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable.  He also told a lot of jokes and was very entertaining.
The kids were especially entertained!  I was so surprised with how many kids were on the tour.  And they were all as fascinated with Steve Brill as we were.  He really worked hard to make the tour fun and interesting for the kids, and surprisingly, all the kids were eager to taste the wild edibles!  Kids I know don't even like vegetables, so it was so cool to see them want to eat the wild green stuff.
We saw a lot of wild berries on the walk, but unfortunately none were ripe yet.  These sure look great.  I definitely should go back to pick these in a few weeks!  They were growing everywhere!
Overall, the foraging tour was pretty amazing.  Not only did I learn a lot about edibles growing all around us, we also walked to some cool spots that I never seen in Central Park before.  Like this beautiful waterfall.  I love tours like this to remind us of all the beauty that nature has to offer, even in the middle of New York City.


  1. cool - i want to go foraging for stuff too! Sounds like a great time. And how fun that you got to go with a fellow blogger too.

  2. A cool tour. We have tons of sassafras trees growing on our property.

    The dried leaves is where File' comes from that you use in Gumbo.

  3. I've been dying to go on a foraging tour. Is foraging legal in central park or would get be cited if you got caught?

  4. Great post, Mimi! It was such a fun, adventurous, and educational day. I learned a lot and discovered several wild edibles that grow in my backyard!

    That Poor Man's Pepper looks hysterical on the back of my pack - I got a few looks myself on the subway and walking home. (Love that it looks like I'm texting or something in that photo - I'm taking pictures of Sassafrass, I swear!)

    Thanks again for bringing me a long - it was so fun and interesting...and now that we know where the berries are that are about to get ripe, we'll have to make a trip back! :)

  5. Thanks for the post, Mimi. Thomas, I was given official permission to lead foraging tours in 1986, when I did this for the NYC Parks Dept. Since this was never rescinded, and as everyone knows about these tours and no one comes after me, despite some very disingenuous Central Park Conservancy propaganda, my tours are still legal.

    Anyone who wants to learn more can visit my site, get signed copies of my books there, or download my iOS and Android app, Wild Edibles.

  6. Foraging Damages the Park:

  7. To Anonymous:

    The article you point to is a propaganda piece unsupported by any evidence.

    Harvesting renewable resources sustainably before the mowers cut them all down has no environmental impact whatsoever, as anyone who attends my tours, where large groups repeatedly harvest the same species in the same spots, can see. Can anyone point out a spot where we've harvested dandelions or other equally prolific, if less well-known edibles regularly over the last 30 years, where they're not coming back with a vengeance?

    The argument "if everyone does something, it would be bad, therefore it's always bad" is specious, and could equally be applied to bike riding in Manhattan or attending a Mets game. By such junk reasoning, baseball and bike riding should be banned. Wildlife has a tough time in the winter, not during the abundance of other seasons, and if cutting down "weeds" was impacting wild animals, lawn mowing should be halted.

    Of course, people who vandalize the parks should be stopped by the authorities, but equating illegal hunters with people gathering mulberries that will fall to the ground and perish is rotten reasoning yet again. People who forage tend to protect the habitats where wild plants grow, locally and worldwide, so it's especially important to teach kids to forage. They're the environmentalists of the future. And some kids who began with me on school trips are now environmental teachers who set up foraging tours with me for their schools.

    I taught foraging for the NYC Parks Dept. for 4 years, and found out that official pushback against foraging originates in a fear of frivolous lawsuits. Some high officials think that if they allowed foraging, someone would pretend to get poisoned by this activity, blame the city for allowing it, and sue them. Of all the real threats to our planet, foraging doesn't even make the list.

    Also, if you want information about foraging, you should seek the advice of an expert forager, not from a bunch of gardeners with an axe to grind, any more than you should go to a proctologist when you need brain surgery.


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