Forest Park is one of the best places for foragers in mid-spring. Get lost in this vast park, and you'll have plenty to eat (that is, if you can distinguish the gourmet plants from the deadly ones.) It boasts a large, mature, secondary growth forest, trail edges, thickets, and cultivated areas—all overflowing with wild plants.
Burdock, an expensive detoxifying herb sold in health food stores, for example, abounds near the playgrounds we'll be passing after we begin the tour. The cooked root tastes like a smoky combination of potatoes and artichokes, and you can use the immature stems like artichokes too. Another root vegetable, sweet cicely, grows deeper in the park. Its roots taste like black licorice, outstanding in desserts, or in grain or bean dishes. Sassafras also grows in the woods, on hillsides, and along edge habitats. It tastes like root beer, which you make from the taproots. You can also use it for brewing a delicious, detoxifying tea, and as a cinnamon-like seasoning. In addition, the puréed young leaves will provide the thickener for making gumbos.
The black birch tree, of birch beer fame, is a common forest tree that tastes like wintergreen. The twigs, which you can chew, make a delicious non-steroidal anti-inflammatory herb tea that contains natural salycilates, natural forerunners of aspirin. In cell cultures, salicylates inhibit the growth of breast cancer and prostate cancer cells, so drinking the tea might reduce your risk of breast cancer or prostate cancer, but, for some reason, not both! You can also thicken, season, and sweeten the tea to make black birch Jello, or use the twigs as the main flavoring for Stick Pudding!
Everyone will also find plenty of leafy green vegetables, such as chickweed, which tastes like corn, Asiatic dayflower, which tastes like string beans, pungent garlic mustard roots with their garlicky leaves, mild-flavored violets, piquant greenbrier leaves and shoots, plus spicy field garlic and hedge mustard.
Other spring shoots will be available too. We'll look for asparagus-flavored Devil'swalkingstick shoots, plus Japanese knotweed, with a sour flavor akin to it's relative, rhubarb. It's loaded with vitamin C, as well as resveratrol, which reduces the risk of heart disease. With lots of rain and a bit of luck, gourmet chicken mushrooms and dryad's saddle will also be emerging from dead trees, logs, and stumps. We'll be so busy foraging, the four hours will be gone before you know it!The 4-hour walking tour begins at 11:45 AM, on Independence Day, at the stone wall at Forest Park Drive and Park Lane, near the Parks Dept.'s Overlook building.
- Participants should be dressed for the weather, and be aware of very bad subway service.
- Trains are often cancelled due to track work. No sandals (there are mosquitoes, thorns and poison ivy).
- Everyone should have plastic bags for veggies and herbs, paper bags for mushrooms, which spoil in plastic, containers for berries from late spring through fall, water and lunch, and extra layers when it's cold.
- Digging implements and pocket knives are optional. Dogs are permitted.
- Children are encouraged to attend.
- There's no smoking whatsoever at any time.
Children are encouraged to attend my tours and learn more about the planet they inhabit. If people own well-behaved dogs, they’re welcome on the tours too. (Mosquitoes and ticks are not welcome!)