Just a typical Saturday, foraging for food in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. With a man who calls himself “Wildman.”

Yellow Wood Sorrel

“Wildman” Steve Brill (he answered the phone like that, by the way) offers tours all around the NYC area, including Prospect Park and Central Park. Judging by the size of our tour, he has gained quite the following.

Matt signed us up for the Prospect Park tour last weekend. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I was looking forward to finding some cool things to eat! “Wildman”‘s hilarious demeanor and quirky sense of humor was a bonus.

Lamb's Quarters

We started right at the entrance of Prospect Park and immediately came across lamb’s quarters, a plant with leaves similar in taste to spinach. We grabbed a bunch and moved on.

Mugwort

Right next to the lamb’s quarters was mugwort, a plant that is edible but supposedly not particularly tasty. Steve explained that it’s most often used for medicinal purposes, and is a major herb in traditional Chinese medicine.

Quickweed

We came across the quickweed next. Steve described it’s unpleasant “hairy” texture but great, artichoke-like flavor. He suggested cooking and pureeing the laves into a sauce or soup to fix the texture issue. We all tried a leaf, and I was surprised at how much it really did taste like an artichoke.

Goutweed

Goutweed was another fun one. I sampled a bit and it tasted exactly how Steve described it: like a combination of celery, carrots, and parsley. He suggested using it as an herb, like parsley.

Black Walnut

I had heard that we might come across some fresh, exotic varieties of nuts on this trip, so I was excited when he pointed out a black walnut tree. He had us going through the woods, looking for fallen black walnuts on the ground. He said they looked like tennis balls – I thought they looked like limes! The ones that haven’t been already eaten by bugs should have a bright green outer shell.

Sassafras

I had definitely heard of sassafras before, but couldn’t remember why until Steve mentioned that is the flavor of root beer. You can make fresh root beer with sassafras syrup, and it can also be ground into a spice. The spice is used in traditional gumbo recipes.

Yellow Wood Sorrel

When we came across the yellow wod sorrel, Steve said “if you eat this plant you will die…of happiness.” The leaves literally tasted like lemonade. It was fascinating.

Jewelweed

Jewelweed was a pretty looking plant that has teeny tiny seeds that taste like walnuts. Rubbing the stem on your skin is said to cure rashes and bug bites.

Szechuan Pepper

We probably got most excited over the szechuan pepper bush. Szechuan peppers are known to be mouth-numbingly spicy. I (bravely) nibbled on a peppercorn and it literally turned my whole mouth numb…like I had just come back from the dentist. Yet it was strangely addicting. We grabbed a lot of them…

Elderberry

Next we found and picked some elderberries, which were just a little sweet with very little acidity.

Black Nightshade

The black nightshade berries were surprisingly not sweet at all. They tasted like tomatoes!

Burdock

Another familiar plant was the burdock root, something I learned how to cook at Bondir. We had sort of run out of energy at this point, so we didn’t dig up any.

Burdock

They took a lot of strength to get out of the ground!

Asiatic Dayflower

One of the last plants we found was the asiatic dayflower. Steve described the leaves as tasting like string beans, something we all confirmed when we tasted them.

The tour ran well over the scheduled four hours, but it was extremely educational, and most importantly, really fun. Plus, now we have lots of new vegetables to cook with!

Foraging with "Wildman" Steve Brill

  1. Elderberry: We had these in pancakes the next morning. I only wish we had more!
  2. Lamb’s Quarters: We haven’t eaten these yet, but the plan is to substitute them for spinach in smoky chickpeas and spinach.
  3. Szechuan Pepper: We will probably pan-roast and grind these to keep as a seasoning.
  4. Black Walnuts: Sadly, we realized all of the black walnuts we found had been partially eaten by bugs. Had to throw away 🙁
  5. Yellow Wood Sorrel: Matt made a potato-vegetable soup this week and threw the sorrel leaves in at the end – it was delicious!
  6. Quickweed: We haven’t used these leaves yet, but need to soon because the little bit we tasted during the tour was delicious.
  7. Goutweed: We also haven’t used this yet, but plan to use it like an herb like Steve suggested.
  8. Asiatic Dayflower: We incorporated this into a delicious fried rice! By the time we stripped the leaves, there wasn’t much left, but the flavor still stood out.
  9. Bitter Dock: Steve emphasized that this plant is extremely bitter, and he was right. We put just a few leaves into chili; it was bitter, but the flavor actually really grew on me.
  10. Black Birch: The bark tastes like spearmint when you chew on it (yes, we actually did this on the trail). It can also be turned into a tea, which is probably what we will do.
  11. Sassafras: Matt is set on making root beer. I want to grind it into a spice!
  12. Black Nightshade: We’re still not sure what to do with this because the berries are so surprisingly savory. Maybe put them in a salad?

While I wouldn’t necessarily suggest foraging for wild plants on you own without a professional, “Wildman” Steve Brill does have pretty amazing iphone/ipad/android app that I would definitely recommend if you’re into this sort of thing. If nothing else, it’s really fun to browse and has tons of interesting recipes.

I’m hoping to go to his next Central Park tour and learn even more so that I can eventually go out on my own!

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