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Prospect Park is a great place for foragers to explore at the end of the winter. Like Central Park, this Olmstead-designed landscape features a variety of habitats filled with delicious native and exotic plants.
Wild coffee grows along the sidewalk that runs along the park's east side. Unrelated to commercial coffee, you can collect the seeds of the little-known Kentucky coffee-tree, the world's best caffeine-free coffee substitute, all year. Use them to make a beverage, or as a seasoning that's terrific in chocolate recipes.
Cold weather greens abound throughout the park. We'll find garlic-flavored garlic mustard greens and sprouts, which taste like garlic, and their roots, which taste like horseradish. We'll look for chickweed, which tastes like corn, bitter dock, as delicious cooked as it's awful raw, and ground ivy, a mint-flavored herb tea.
Both sweet-sharp daylily shoots, plus the plant's potato-like tubers, will already be producing bumper crops in the cold weather.
East of the boathouse, we'll look for common evening primrose roots which have invaded a cultivated flower bed. This native vegetable tastes like a combination of radish and black pepper, but it's also sweet, and thickens soup the way okra does.
Throughout the park, we'll come across stands goutweed, an herb that tastes like parsley, carrots and celery. It does great in the cold weather. You can use it as a seasoning, or cook it like creamed spinach.
The first tiny leaves of wild parsnips, growing just west of the skating rink, will clue us in to the location of the large, sweet roots. And the abundant, green, fragrant twigs of sassafras saplings, which grow in woods throughout, will let us find roots for making wild root beer, or to season sweet dishes. We'll also find additional edible trees, including sassafras, a great culinary seasoning you can also use to make tea or root beer, and black birch, also good for making tea and birch beer, as well as "Wildman's" Stick Pudding.
May 15, 2020
Because Prospect Park includes so many varied habitats, it's loaded with shoots and greens in mid-spring, and many of these are edible and medicinal. We'll begin with spicy hedge mustard and poor man's pepper greens, growing near the Grand Army Plaza entrance, proceed southeast to a vast stand of celery-, parsley-, and carrot-flavored goutweed, then stop for violet leaves and flowers at the edge of a path.
Off the edge of the path, we'll come across sassafras, which you can use to make tea and root beer, or as a culinary seasoning You can now also use the young leaves as a thickener. They're well-known as an ingredient in gumbo, but they'll thicken any recipe.
In an overgrown field, we'll find an abundance of pokeweed, superb boiled in two changes of water, as in "Wildman's" Basic Pokeweed, but poisonous raw. It's especially good seasoned with tamari soy sauce, plus garlic lightly browned in olive oil.
Later, we'll find vast stands of burdock, a despised invasive "weed" with a delicious edible and medicinal root prized in East Asia. This time, we'll also find the immature flower stalks in season, along with the roots. Parboiled and peeled, these stems taste like artichoke hearts, as in "Wildman's" Cardunes in Wine, an Italian delicacy.
After lunch, we'll find spicy field pennycress, another member of the mustard family, growing near corn-flavored chickweed. Not far off, we'll find young, spinach-flavored lamb's-quarters. Subsequently, we'll have our last chance of the season to use sour curly (yellow) dock leaves and stems before they become too bitter to eat.
August 30, 2020
A great abundance of edible and medicinal wild plants and mushrooms makes this park a great place for foraging in late summer.
Burdock, an expensive detoxifying herb sold in health food stores, abounds in cultivated areas throughout the park. You can use this invasive East Asian staple as a superb root vegetable, or even turn it into "Wildman's" Vegan Beef Jerky.
The root of sassafras, which tastes like root beer, makes a great tea, as well as root beer, of course, plus an exotic-tasting culinary seasoning. Common spicebush (which also has allspice-like berries), and ground ivy (a gentle herbal diuretic), provide still more beverages.
Everyone will also find plenty of spectacular-tasting leafy green wild vegetables, such as spicy hedge mustard, lemony wood sorrel, parsley-like goutweed, spinach-flavored lamb’s-quarters, corn-flavored chickweed, pungent poor man's pepper, string bean-flavored Asiatic dayflower, and lettuce-flavored lady’s thumb. These renewable "weeds" readily regenerate, whether they've been harvested, mowed, or combined into an amazing salad.
Nuts are coming into season now. Hickory nuts, delicious but never commercialized (mainly because the trees don't produce good crops every year), may litter the sidewalk 1/4 mile south of the Picnic House. Hazelnut bushes drop their nuts along the edges of The Mall, just north of the skating rink, but we'll have to race the squirrels get them.
Beech trees grow throughout the park, but whether this year's crop will be a boom or bust is anyone's guess. White oak acorns, scrumptious after leached of their bitter tannin, are also widespread.
We'll also find the seeds of the Kentucky coffee-tree, for making the world's best caffeine-free coffee substitute, and for flavoring chocolate recipes.
Gourmet fruits are represented by native hawthorn berries, relatives of apples, used in herbal medicine as a heart tonic. We’ll also find trees loaded crab apples, but you won’t be able to approach these if you happen to be a physician, since even 1 apple a day keeps the doctor away!
Spectacular mushrooms could abound if there's been enough rain beforehand. Huge hen-of-the woods (sold in health food stores as maitake), gigantic chicken mushrooms (which really taste like chicken), golden-brown honey mushrooms, and savory wine-cap stropharia mushrooms could pop up anywhere.
Meeting Place:We meet at the Grand Army Plaza entrance to the park, across from the library.
Still have questions? Ask the community.
"Wildman" Steve Brill
Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
20 Grand Army Plaza
Btwn Plaza St W & Flatbush Ave
New York, New York 11238 Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
20 Grand Army Plaza
Btwn Plaza St W & Flatbush Ave
New York, New York 11238
We meet at the Grand Army Plaza entrance to the park, across from the library.
This class isn't on the schedule at the moment, but save it to your Wish List to find out when it comes back!
Foraging expert Steve Brill has shared his foraging wisdom at schools, museums, parks departments, environmental organizations, and with scout troops since 1982. He’s written three books and an app, stars in a DVD and maintains a website.
His History with Foraging
As part of his exercise regime,...
This school has been carefully vetted by CourseHorse and is a verified NYC educator.
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