Go Foraging with the "Wildman" in Prospect Park
Hunt for Giant Puffballs in Prospect Park
with America's Go-to Guy for Foraging, "Wildman" Steve Brill
At 11:45 AM Saturday, October 19, America's go-to guy for foraging, "Wildman" Steve Brill, will lead one of his world-famous foraging tours of Prospect Park. A great abundance of edible and medicinal wild plants and mushrooms makes this park a great place for foraging in the fall.
Roots abound in autumn: Burdock, an expensive detoxifying herb sold in health food stores, takes over disturbed habitats throughout the park. You can also use it as a superb vegetable.
Wild parsnips, much better than their commercial ancestors, grow alongside the skating rink. They can't be beat in soups and stews.
Wild carrots are more chewy than their commercial counterparts, they're superior in carrot cakes, soups, and cookies.
Another delicious root vegetable growing near The Boathouse is common evening primrose. This peppery and sweet flavored native root thickens soups and stews, like okra.
The root of sassafras makes a great herb tea. You can also use it to make root beer, or as a sweet 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 leafy green vegetables, such as hedge mustard, parsley-flavored goutweed, lamb's-quarters (a wild spinach), chickweed (which tastes like corn), Asiatic dayflower (which tastes like string beans), field garlic (garlicky, of course), and mild-flavored lady's thumb.
Nuts are at their peak in the fall. Black walnuts, richer-tasting than their commercial relatives, litter the sidewalks.The nuts of the ginkgo tree are also delicious, although the surrounding fruit smells awful. Health food stores sell extracts of this relic from the days of the dinosaurs to improve circulation and memory. Just discard the smelly fruit, toast the thin-shelled nuts, crack them open, and eat as is, or add to Asian recipes.
Ginkgo nuts taste like a combination of green peas and limburger cheese after you roast the nuts, quite exotic and very addictive!
Gourmet fruits are represented by sweet wild "raisins," as well as tart crab apples. There will even be pods of the Kentucky coffee-tree, with seeds you can brew into the world's best caffeine-free coffee substitutes.
Spectacular mushrooms may also abound at this time. Last year, we found giant puffballs the size of soccer balls across the East Drive from the zoo. Huge hen of the woods (sold in health food stores as maitake), gigantic chicken mushrooms (which taste like chicken), golden-brown honey mushrooms, multitudes of pear-shaped puffballs, and savory wine-cap stropharia mushrooms may also pop up anywhere, especially with all the rain we've been having.
One of the easiest mushrooms to identify, giant puffballs range from the size of a baseball to that of a beach ball. Sliced and sautéed, or added to any recipe that calls for mushrooms, they're superb. (Watercolor pencil painting by "Wildman")
If you have kids, please bring them. They'll love the tour as much as you, and they're certainly not getting entertaining, hands-on, expert botanical or mycological instruction in school.