IMPORTANT GROUND RULES BEFORE FORAGING:

Foraging is a fascinating and rewarding pastime, but it can also be deadly if the right precautions aren’t observed. Many edible plants also have poisonous lookalikes, so it is of the utmost importance that anything you plan to eat be identified with 100% certainty first. For more information on how to forage safely, reference Steve Brill’s book, “Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not-So-Wild) Places” or download the Wild Edibles app to take along with you on your adventure.

It’s also important to note that foraging is an offense that can lead to tickets or even incarceration in some areas, so practice caution.

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MUGWORT

Mugwort is an invasive plant from Asia that is noted for its bitter bite it can lend salads, meats and other dishes. “Mugwort grows in all the parks, along streets, and in the cracks of the sidewalk,” Wildman tells us. “It’s one of the most common wild plants in our region.” The plant can also be used medicinally as a remedy for menstrual cramps, a benefit that Wildman himself testifies to in his video about the plant.

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GARLIC MUSTARD

Give your salads a garlicky kick with this fairly common plant that grows in nearly all NYC parks. Despite its nutritious leaves and savory aroma (which acts as a defense mechanism against insects), garlic mustard is actually an invasive plant that is the bane of many gardeners. According to Wildman, garlic mustard can be found in woodlands, disturbed habitats, parks, road and trail sides, edge habitats, and wetlands.

Garlic mustard’s horseradish-flavored roots can also be utilized the same way you use horseradish in the early spring, fall, and mild winters, and the seeds, which ripen in summer, make a superb hot spice that is excellent added to dips or spreads, or baked into breads. But Wildman does caution that people of certain religious faiths should be very careful when collecting them as they’re not supposed to spill their seeds!

Learn more about garlic mustard here.

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DANDELIONS

Most people are familiar with dandelions, but did you know that they are as delicious as they are pretty to look at? According to Wildman, dandelions are as common as mugwort, growing in all the parks and neighborhoods. Dandelion leaves taste delicious in both the late fall and the early spring, and if the weather is very mild, they can even be found in the winter. Yellow dandelion petal-like ray flowers can also be used as a natural and edible confetti to sprinkle over salads.

Learn more about foraging for dandelions here.

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CATTAILS

You’ve probably recognize cattails as the plants you always mistook for hotdogs on sticks in cartoons, but most people aren’t aware of their succulent centers (when their tops are still green instead of brown). Wildman recommends mixing the hearts, which taste like a mix between a tender zucchini and a cucumber, with pungent mustard greens to balance their mildness. After the green stage, also in late spring, the flower head gets covered with golden pollen. You can shake this into a paper bag after days when no wind has blown it away, and use it as a flour, along with whole-grain flour. It doesn’t make bread rise, but it’s very tasty and nutritious and great for making golden muffins, waffles, and pancakes.

Cattails can be found growing in wetlands in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (the Willow Lake section), Central Park and Van Cortlandt Park. “I haven’t been to all the parks in Staten Island, but the water table is so low there. I’ve seen it growing in ditches along roadsides, and it should be in sunny wetlands in many of the parks there too,” says Wildman.

Learn more about foraging for cattails here.

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WILD BLACKBERRIES

“Blackberries are in all the parks, although they do poorly some years (due to too much competition from the iPhone!),” says Wildman, jokingly. Like many other berries, they’re sweetest at their darkest, and can be eaten whole or used to make jams and compotes. Blackberries grow in thickets, on prickly, woody canes and in all NYC parks, but not on city streets, like mulberries.

Learn more about foraging for blackberries here.

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RAMPS

Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are pretty common now on New York restaurant menus. Both their leaves and bulbs can be eaten, but beware of their powerful, oniony punch. “Ramps grow in Cunningham Park and Alley Pond Park in Queens, Van Cortland Park in the Bronx, and High Rock Park in Staten Island. They may also be in other SI parks that I haven’t explored.” Look for ramps in partially shaded, moist, deciduous woodlands, slopes and swamps, and near rivers.

“There are some places at the edge of their range where ramps have been overharvested by commercial interests, for restaurants,” Wildman explained to us. “People should only pick a small fraction of ramp leaves where they’re very abundant. Fortunately, I’ve never seen them overpicked in the spots I know of in the Greater NY area.”

Learn more about ramps here.

If you’d like to try foraging with Steve Brill firsthand, don’t miss his very first tour of the year, which will take place this Saturday, March 1st at 11:45 AM at Central Park. Please call (914) 835-2153 at least 24 hours in advance to reserve a spot. The suggested donation is $20/adult, $10/child under 12. And don’t forget to look for Wildman’s fourth book, Foraging with Kids, which will be out sometime in March.

+ Get Wildman’s foraging app

+ Wildman Steve Brill