This past weekend, “Wild Man” Steve Brill foraged through the undergrowth at the Queens County Farm Museum and produced a bounty of edible plants.
Beginning as an interest in cooking and fresh ingredients, urban foraging has become a way of life for Brill. With events scheduled throughout the five boroughs, he’s more than equipped to teach residents about New York City's hottest digs.
Underneath and between rows of neatly cultivated crops are weedy plants. Farmers and gardeners alike are often thrilled to throw away what Brill refers to as the “best wild greens," which include Asiatic dayflower, goutweed and lady’s thumb. Goutweed, also known as Farmer’s Plague, has a long history of medicinal uses, including treatment for rheumatism, bladder disorders, arthritis and, of course, gout. All parts of the plant, which grows abundantly in gardens, boast diuretic properties.
Despite the pretty blue flowers, Asiatic dayflower was recently named one of the hardest to control by Purdue University. Originally from Asia, dayflower is known to haunt soy and corn fields, making it a particular nuisance for American farmers. The leaves are edible and can be eaten raw in salads or cooked down and served like spinach. It's difficulty to quell makes it readily available to local foragers.
The delicate bulb-like flowers of Lady’s Thumb should look familiar to New York City residents. It springs up through sidewalk cracks, along playgrounds, parks and gardens throughout the boroughs. Lady’s Thumb is edible, but the range of mild to sharp and bitter flavoring almost mocks its delicate name.
In addition to leafy garden weeds, roots are abundant beneath farmer disturbed tracts of land, including sassafras and burdock root, which is known for its detoxifying effects and sold at a price in health food stores. According to Brill, the root grows abundantly at the Queens County Farm and can be brewed into a tea or eaten like a potato. In the woods just behind the farm, sassafras grows year round beneath the surface. Sassafras, the original ingredient in root beer, can also be used for tea or cinnamon-like spice.
Wild fox grapes line the edges of the fields at the farm and are great for jams and jellies. Crab apples and American hackberries are also rumored to grow here and include fruit that supposedly tastes like the candy coating of M&Ms. If you’re searching for a cure for mosquito bites and a way to prevent poison ivy, you might find that on this tour as well.
If you missed this weekend’s foraging tour, the next scheduled event is Sept. 8 at the Queens County Farm. Tours leave at 11:45 a.m. and last two hours. Each tour has a suggested donation of $20 for adults and $10 for children. Reservations can be made by calling the "Wild Man" at (914) 835-2153 and must be made at least 24 hours in advance. For more information about other local foraging events, visit Brill's website.