Posted by: adventuressetravels | August 9, 2011

Foraging: the New Trend in Cuisine takes things Oldschool

Apple Mint

The hunter gatherer days are over.  They’re long since past.  After all, they ended when humans first planted crops and domesticated animals.  Human society changed.  We’re past all that, aren’t we?

Wait a minute….  Hunting is still a booming industry, sport, and lifestyle for some.  People spend thousands of dollars a year to get the right guns, ammunition, clothes, and equipment to kill deer, moose, elk, or other “game.”   Hunting remains so popular that some bars in New York even feature hunting video games!  Okay, so people are still hunting.  But gathering?

The green stalk in the center of the photo is a Cattail

Though out of fashion for countless years it seems that gathering and foraging for food is making a comeback.  With obesity, wheat intolerance, type two diabetes, and a plethora of other diet-related health problems on the rise we certainly need to change something.  The health food movement is rapidly gaining ground.   More and more people are paying attention to what they eat and buying organic food and staying away from genetically engineered vegetables.  And increasing numbers of people living in large cities are looking into foraging as a way of supplementing their diet.

Chickweed has a slightly sweet flavor reminiscent of corn on the cob

The first time I heard about people going into the woods to forage for food was this year.  Try as I might I couldn’t help but smile.  After all, it sounded like something that homeless people, hippies, or wild pigs would do, not New Yorkers.  But when I thought about it, I realized that I had actually been raised by foragers and even helped them to gather wild food on many occasions.

common dandelion greens make great salads. The flowers are tastiest when they are young or still buds though.

I had always taken my parents’ mycology, or mushroom hunting, hobby in stride.  They spent most weekends looking for mushrooms and often came back with delicious edibles.  I had never thought of it as foraging, it was just something my parents did.  After all, you couldn’t even buy most of the mushrooms they found in grocery stores.  Only recently have stores started carrying some of the more well-known edibles like chanterelles and occasionally dried morels, and they are exorbitantly expensive.  It just made more sense to find them in the wild.

Garlic Mustard can add a little kick to any meal

But going to parks in the middle of the city and foraging for groceries?  It seemed more than a little strange.  But I am willing to try almost anything once, and love learning so when my friend invited me to a foraging trip with “Wildman” Steve Brill, a leading expert on foraging, I gladly agreed.  I was astounded by the number of edible plants we found growing in Van Cortland Park in Riverdale, Bronx.

Ramps have the intense flavor of a hybrid between garlic and an onion. Both their leaves and bulbs are edible.

We barely made it ten feet before Brill pointed out a new edible species, medicinal properties, and interesting uses.  Such as wintergreen-flavored black birch bark being used for teething, or sassafras roots being boiled down to make the original root beer.

We gathered Shepherd’s Purse, a delightful plant that tastes extremely similar to broccoli.

Lambs Quarters, the wild equivalent of spinach

Shepard's Purse tastes remarkably similar to broccoli

Apple mint, which tastes like the name sounds

Pineapple leaf – from which a stress relieving tea can be brewed

Chick Weed, which tastes strikingly similar to corn on the cob

Even Redbud blossoms were good to eat.  After all, redbuds were legumes – they taste like peas!


Redbud Blossoms have the delicious flavor of their legume cousin - peas

We sat down by a pond and pulled up cattails.  When we had a few good sized ones Brill showed us how to strip them, and we munched on their roots.  Incredibly these common marsh grasses’ meaty root is delicious.  Though it tastes a bit like cucumber I think they actually taste better.

Ramps, a type of wild leek, were the plant Brill was most excited about finding.  Apparently they are an uncultivated plant that is highly prized by gourmet restaurants.  In fact, many upscale restaurants are beginning to more uncultivated plants, both in the US and abroad.  Eco-friendly, healthy, delicious, and cost-effective; I can well understand why foraging seems to be the culinary wave of the future.

Pineapple weed can be brewed to make a stress-relieving tea similar to chamomile

After a day of foraging and the meal my friend prepared out of our finds, I was a willing convert.   My appetite for knowledge as well as other wild plants has been thoroughly whetted.


  1. Thanksfor the plug for mycology! When your mother was a grad student, she supplemented her diet with all sorts of edibles growing more or less wild in Lawrence. Around 1980 I urged her to write up her experiences in a book called “The Urban Forager.” Never happened, but I still think it is a great title.

  2. That’s a great title! I hope she enjoys the foraging article 🙂

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