Foraging For Fruit In The Big Apple

Finding hidden NY treasures with Wildman Steve Brill.

Have you ever eaten a dandelion? Better yet, have you ever been arrested for eating a dandelion in Central Park? “Wildman” Steve Brill has. And he sure is proud of it. He even touts it as an accomplishment on his resume. I don’t know about you, but my special skills section is lacking that kind of excitement. And speaking of excitement, when was the last time you took a walk through the heart of New York City and picked yourself a medicinal herb?

Finding wild spinach or a coffee tree in NYC sounds about as easy as getting from the upper west side to the upper east side via mass transit. But it’s actually much more likely than you’d think. And Mr. Brill can show you how.

Steve Brill has 33 years of experience as a naturalist and environmental educator, and he’s taking that experience and using it to open up New Yorker’s eyes to the natural (edible) wonders that surround them. It’s always impressive to look up in New York, but it’s time to start looking down.

There’s an opportunity to discover these unexpected perks in all corners of the city- and even outside the boroughs. As summer winds down and fall approaches, the weather is perfect for foraging through parks in search of some herbs and spices you won’t find in the overpriced aisles of Gristedes. We’ve compiled a short list of a few the parks and farms you should take advantage of before they’re covered in six inches of snow.

Manhattan // Central Park

Smack dab in the middle of the city, the Foraging Tour of Central Park will take you through this world famous park, which is overflowing with wild food, both native and introduced. You can cover several of your food groups over the course of this 4-hour exploration. Berries and plum-like fruits can be found north of the Delacourt Theater, and heritage apples are plentiful behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Greens such as wild spinach and purslane can also be found. Skip your Starbucks run, because the seeds from the Kentucky coffee-tree provide an opportunity for you to make your own caffeine-free coffee. And pick some herbs of both the medicinal and culinary variety from the meadows and along the paths.

Queens // Idlewild Park

The sandy fields and trails of this park in Queens will be ripe for the picking at this time of the year. The Foraging Tour Of Idlewild Park clocks in at around two hours, and you’ll find American hackberries, which are orange-brown fruits that taste like the candy coating on M&Ms, hanging from the trees, as well as American black cherries, which are winding down their season. You may come across dried cherries, which are best described as cherry-flavored raisins. You’ll also find an abundance of herbs and greens, wood sorrel, sheep sorrel, and Asiatic dayflower. Depending on the amount of rain the previous season, gourmet mushrooms may also be around the park.

Brooklyn // Prospect Park

Now’s the perfect time to take a trek to this park in Brooklyn, as late summer offers a variety of medicinal wild plants as well as mushrooms. Fan of root beer? The sassafras root tastes just like it, can be used to make the drink as well as a tea, and can also be a culinary seasoning. Burdock, an herb known for it’s detoxifying qualities, can be found in abundance in this park- and at a far lesser price than in the health food stores. Rainfall depending, a massive variety of mushrooms may be available, including chicken mushrooms, which literally taste like chicken, golden-brown honey mushrooms, and savory wine-cap stropharia mushrooms. Leefy greens, berries, and gourmet fruits will also be found during this four hour Saturday morning Foraging Tour Of Prospect Park.

Long Island // Sunken Meadow

Probably one of the best parks for foraging in the area, this Long Island park offers cultivated areas, the shore, and the woods, all in one trip. Any time spent on the LIE en route to this Foraging Tour of Sunken Meadow will be well worth it once you arrive. It promises to provide foragers with a wide variety of treasures. The thicket shelters endless delicious beach plums, while the shore offers edible seaweeds, rockweed, and green sea lettuce, which is perfect when sautéed with garlic. Ever tried sea rocket? The sandy shores provide this spicy mustard green, which tastes similar to wasabe. Venture away from the sand to find wild fox grapes and sassafras, as well as wild blackberries and black cherries, which are at the tail-end of their season by this time.

Upstate NY // Blooming Hill Farm

Escape the city to this upstate farm in Blooming Grove, NY, where you’ll find edible “weeds” with every step you take during this three hour Foraging Tour of Blooming Hill Farm. The vast farmlands and forested area provide ample opportunities to forage for anything from berries to mushrooms to leefy greens. Keep your eye out for resinous epazote, a mainstay of Mexican and Meso-American cuisine. It’s the perfect time of year for some fruits like mayapples, which taste like lemon custard, and black cherries, with their bittersweet flavor and grapefruit aftertaste and a perfect snack for your 90 minutes trek back down to the city.

For even more “Wildman” events and other NY based activities, check out!

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