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Wild Edibles – Tour Highlights

I missed a Steve Brill/wild edibles tour in Prospect Park today but will try to catch one again in August.  Like most things gardening related, I imagine it requires more than once to get the hang of it and put what you’ve learned to good use.  Just one tour, like many things the first time around, can be fun and kind of thrilling, and leave you with plenty to mull over, but it gets better the more often you do it.  The Wildman, himself, warns that you shouldn’t be putting things in your mouth you aren’t certain of and that if there’s any question, better to leave it alone.  Sound advice, imho.  (I just realized that what precedes this could be misinterpreted by a certain contingent of my readership — if that’s you, get your head out of the gutter and put your hands in the dirt).

Since I missed the tour today, I thought I might finally get around to ticking off my to-do list a post that I’ve been meaning to bring you for awhile.  It’s highlights from the last tour I went on in June.  To anyone who might be considering it, I would highly recommend the tour.  Set aside about four hours and $20.00 for it — the $20.00 is just a suggested donation anyway (although I certainly suggest donating the full amount — it’s money well spent).  In addition to spending several hours wandering through gorgeous nature, meeting several very cool people, eating some yummy wild food, and beginning to learn how to identify that yummy wild food, Steve Brill is pretty entertaining and keeps the tour interesting.   He’s a funnily curmudgeonly type, eager to make kids laugh and adults chuckle with some well-practiced lines.  (One of his jokes did go amusingly awry when, drawing the listener in with an increasingly hushed voice, he delivered the punchline in a booming voice without realizing that just behind him was a baby who quickly stole his thunder by breaking into a wail that only a seriously stressed baby can deliver).  Who wouldn’t love a man who saves the corniest of jokes to ply you with as you’re eating your way through a forest.  (Yes, pun intended — and a nod to the Wildman, since this is exactly the type of groaner you might hear on one of his tours.)

If you’re not up for the stream of one-liners that are tucked into some very useful information the Wildman dispenses on the journey, you can keep your own pace (which is another thing I appreciated about the tour, and which sets it apart from most other tours).  It’s recommended you bring a whistle in the event you get separated from the others; lacking a whistle (and being laughably bad at whistling without one), I brought a harmonica but didn’t end up needing it.  There are some helpful pointers on the website and in his book Identifying and Harvesting Edible & Medicinal Plants, that helpyou prepare for a foraging tour, including, for example, spraying your clothes with insect repellent and wearing white, which repels bees – this is why beekeepers wear white – and makes ticks more visible.  The book, and I’m sure pointers from those who have gone on a tour (see QUESTION below), also help you know what to bring and how to get the most from the tour.  I brought several plastic baggies, a few hard plastic containers, and post-it notes, a pen, a notebook, and my phone for snapping pics of the plants.  I found the hard plastic containers to be pretty useless and wish I would have saved the space.  I did end up using the plastic baggies (I should have brought many more, since I ended up having to store several different plants together and if the post it at the base of them came loose, I didn’t know chickory weed from jewel weed).

The tour is popular.  I shared it with about thirty other people, ranging in age from 6 months up, representing what appeared to be a broad cross-section of Brooklyn’s population.  There were couples, a few single individuals, and a family or two.  The group gathered for a sign-in that took about twenty minutes (a long time, I know, but it involved Wildman doing a roll call, having people sign waivers, and offering for sale and/or autograph his own impressive collection of books that he’s authored and which he, equally impressively, has illustrated).  He is a self-taught both as a botanist and artist, which is especially encouraging since it can seem impossible at the outset to ever be able to master the task of distinguishing an edible plant from a deadly one.  Although he is quick to caution the eager tourists, he nonetheless makes it seem a reachable goal to sustain yourself, if need be, on a diet of wild edibles.  He also offers quick advice on how to prepare each plant he covers, some of which I’m sure are in his cookbook (which I don’t have but someday may, once I’m able to tell the difference between a chickory weed and jewel weed without to the book, and the app (“Wild Edibles”), with its “important disclaimer” that I’m pretty sure I can guess what it says, or the pack of Wild Edible cards that I picked up in the shameless promotion start of the tour (disclaimer – Wildman did say that someone else made the cards).

In addition to the specific plants we reviewed, I picked up a few tidbits that are generally good to know.  In this category:

1.  Birds are flying dinosaurs – berries are brightly colored so birds can find them and help themselves.

2.  Just about all plants have some level of toxin in them.  That toxicity is to ward off predators.  To humans, it’s only dangerous if we eat it in massive quantities that no one ever would.

3.  It’s wise to cook all mushrooms – wild, raw, or not.

Some of the plant varieties we plucked, tasted, and took home include (disclaimer – the links that follow are not from Wildman, except for the one on chickweed, but are included to show some additional sources of info on the topic): quickweed, hedgemustard, mugwort, wild cherry tree, wood sorrel, honewort/wild chervil, chickweed, … more to come …

 

QUESTION: have you ever eaten anything in the “wild” and gotten sick?  What was it?  How old were you, and did you learn your lesson?  Or do you still pop random weeds when you think no one is looking?  Go ahead .. gimme the dirt!

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10 responses to “Wild Edibles – Tour Highlights

  1. Ralph ⋅

    I have to agree with you on the Wildman tour. Well worth the time, and at the suggested $20 a bargain. Finding plants in the wild that you want to eat is best learned from someone who knows what they’re doing. The Wildman is a wealth of knowledge on the subject.

    On the tour I attended, I picked a quick weed and it came up roots and all. It now occupies a place in my yard. When I look at it with it’s little flowers I know I’ve seen it around hundreds if not thousands of times never knowing it was actually good eating. With some luck it will be fruitful and multiply.

    This morning on my semi ritual checking and watering of the yard I discovered a handful of string beans growing in their container. Not the plants, but actual edible string beans. They need to grow larger before picking them. It’s odd how some things just seem to appear over night. I am sure from their size they must have been there for at least a couple days without my noticing them. There will probably be enough for only 1 serving or two at a time for as long as they produce, but I guess it’s not too bad for about a half dozen plants in a box. Another reminder to plant less variety and more of what I do plant next year. At the end of this year’s growing season I should probably reclaim some of my ‘wild’ space to plant in next year. That will double my planting space and still leave a little more than half the yard ‘wild’.

    • Congrats on the string beans! Yummy. I love when that happens — you go out to the garden and discover there’s some food that’s been growing while you weren’t watching. I had an experience like that with my cucumbers recently. I’ve been watching as one in a self-watering container takes off while another in a non-self-watering container has produced only the teeny-tiniest of cucumbers. If it were a fish, not only would I have to throw it back – it wouldn’t even be visible to the naked eye.

      Speaking of things appearing out of nowhere. I am certain I did not plant several of the pumpkins (jack-o-lanterns, unfortunately not good eats) that have cropped up and are taking over the better part of my yard.

      “Another reminder to plant less variety and more of what I do plant next year.” — I couldn’t agree with you more. I was thinking that just this morning as I was tying some of my tomato plants which are beginning to fruit. I have four large tomato plants in the ground out back. Three of them are taller and have lots of leaves but little fruit. The stoutest of them, though, has a bunch of tomatoes. All the fruit on all the plants are still green. I’m wondering if I cut back the leaves if the other four that are straggling behind might fruit more. I know that’s the way it works with some plants but you can also go overboard, and should never – as I’ve heard anyway – cut more than one-third of the plant back. I also don’t want to shock it, so I’ve committed to looking it up this week and trying to get some guidance on it. All that said, it occurred to me this morning that I probably should have focused more on the tomatoes since it’s something I don’t like to buy in stores and that I could can for winter. Right now I have three different locations of plants that I have to water and tend (front garden, back garden, and plants on the upstairs terrace). I’m finding it hard to do much more than water and even that I’ve been having a hard time getting to, which is not the worst thing since people tend to over-water their plants but I’d rather it were my own screw-up than the fact that I’ve spread myself too thin and don’t have time to tend to everything. Lesson learned. I’ll plant more of one species next season, less of the various little plants that require so much attention. (This also, btw, is the first year that I’ve tried to maintain flowers in containers and that, too, takes a bit of time … I’ll let some of them go next year).

      Thanks for posting, and letting us all know how things are going in the garden. Keep the comments coming…and the beans, and all your other plantfriends, growing!

  2. Ralph ⋅

    I identified another ‘weed’ I had growing with the help of Wildman. Chick weed was the mysterious guest. It was growing in the flower pot along with my mint. It isn’t growing too well, but I suspect it is having a hard time competing with the mint which is pretty invasive. I was afraid my yard would get invaded with mint this year, but luckily I haven’t spotted any in the ground.

    A couple times a week I put another weed into my salad. For whatever reason my yard has a fair amount of wild violets growing. Once I was able to identify them I knew the leaves were edible. Still another was the commonly called ‘shamrock’, which I now know is wood sorrel. It has a lemon flavor and they too find their way into my salads a couple times a week. The same goes for leaves off my strawberry plants, borage leaves, and a couple others. Even if you can’t make a Wildman tour near you, he has a couple books you can purchase as downloads. I know this may sound like I am pushing his goods, but the fact is I have nothing to do with him but think his tour and books are that good. Check out his website and take a look.

  3. Ralph ⋅

    On the tomato production, I heard a podcast not long ago about tomatoes. Maybe it was 2 of them, I’ll try to find them and send a link. The idea was to actually prune the tomato plant removing stems that grow between the main stem and fruit. Let me find the show before cutting anything in case I remember wrong. Basically, the ‘suckers’ pull energy from the plant and produce little if anything.

    You mentioned self watering containers a few times, did you make them or buy them? A couple of my plants, strawberries in particular like to stay wet and don’t like drying out. It looks like one box of strawberries that dried up while I was away are dead. There’s no sign of life yet. There’s still 1 box growing.

    • Please send the link. The tomatoes seemed much happier today since staking them yesterday, and making them stand up straight (being careful of course not to use too much pressure — as a lifelong sufferer of scoliosis I have empathy). It’s funny, though, what a little attention can do.

      I definitely want to try strawberries next season. I’m thinking it’s the perfect self-watering container plant. I think I lost mine before, too, to a few short days where I couldn’t water them. I guess when you think about how much they are comprised of water, it makes sense. HAPPY FACT: a fresh apple floats because 25% of it is water.

  4. Ralph ⋅

    Check out the Growing Your Own Grub podcast episode 27- interview with ‘the tomato man’. He grows hundreds of types of tomatoes and gives some good info on varieties and growing them. I believe he also gave his tomato website on the show.

    On The Self Sufficient Gardener podcast check out the Q&A episode 98 which includes pinching off tomato flowers. Episode 64 is about watering which may help you out- it taught me quite a bit. Jason has some interesting ideas on watering. Episode 104, another Q&A episode contains the tomato pruning info.

    I know I’ve brought up these 2 podcasts a few times. It’s for no reason other than they have lots of great information. Everyone should check them out, I believe they’re both on iTunes for download. From the websites you can play the shows in real time, I am not sure if you can do that from iTunes. Links to the websites are:

    TheSelfSufficientGardener.com
    BornToFarm.com look for the Growing Your Own Grub show

  5. Ralph ⋅

    The Food Diva interview is on http://www.TheSurvivalPodcast.com
    episode 702. You will have to scroll down the page some to find it. This link http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/episode-702-chef-maribel-the-food-diva should bring you straight to that episode. After you listen to the interview, check out her website at http://fooddiva.com/

    http://www.TheSelfSufficientGardener.com is a good gardening website to check out

  6. meemsnyc

    I love his tour too! And it’s worth every penny. I wrote about it on my blog. http://nycgardening.blogspot.com/2011/07/foraging-in-central-park.html I want to find a foraging tour on mushrooms next!

  7. Below is a link to a review from Red Garden Clogs of the Wildman tour (it has pictures!! as well as a very good summary of particular plants identified on the four-hour tour): http://redgardenclogs.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/foraging-for-wild-edibles-in-central-park/#comment-497

    Here are my comments, with some additional helpful links, to Red Garden Clogs’ post: Great job reporting on the tour! It’s a lot of effort to record all the information from the tours. I went earlier in the summer and had great intentions of recording every detail but got distracted nibbling my way through Prospect Park. Did you happen to buy his book and/or use the app? I have the app on my phone and plan to id a couple plants in the back, which I suspect to be Milk Thistle, Plantain, Lady’s Thumb, and I have loads of Wood Sorrel too. I posted more of an overview of the tour, with a couple little tidbits I picked up (I do love his anecdotes). If you’re interested, check it out here: https://revelgardener.com/2011/07/16/wild-edibles-tour-highlights/

    I’m interested in checking out other tours, just for comparison sake and to report back on them as well. Let me know if you’re interested in going on any of these other tours. In doing a search for one I had read about before, I came across a couple of helpful websites. One is Leda’s Urban Homestead: http://ledameredith.net/wordpress/ — it appears she runs some tours/classes relating to wild edible foraging and cooking. Another is foraging.com, http://foraging.com/, which is a round-up of various wild edibles resources in New York and surrounding areas. It includes a reference here: http://foragingpictures.com/ to the wild edibles on Wildman’s tours (which I also want to go on again — this time taking better notes!).

    Hope you don’t mind this long comment. I’d like to link to your tour review on my site, so others can get additional imperssions: four hours on a Saturday is a commitment so it’s probably best to know what you’re committing to before taking the wild edibles plunge.

    Thanks again for a great post and pics!!

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