January 2, 2020
Thanks to its varied habitats and combination of native and introduced species, Central Park is a great place for edible and medicinal wild plants, even in the winter, as you'll see if you attend this special City Kids Home School Coop tour, where all adults must be accompanied with kids.
Herbs, greens, fruits, and nuts will all be in season simultaneously: While most nut trees are already out of season, Central Park's ginkgo trees will be at their peak. Inside a malodorous orange fruit you'll find a white, almond-shaped kernel with a soft green nut inside. This Chinese delicacy tastes like a combination of green peas and Limburger cheese. Sold in health food stores and advertised on TV, Ginkgo biloba improves circulation and immune function.
American persimmon is smaller that the commercial Asian variety, it has way more flavor. But you have to wait until it's ugly and ripe before you bite into it, or it will taste terribly astringent. This is the last wild fruit of the season to ripen, but it's so good, it's well worth the wait, and there should even be some left under the trees in Jan.
Another "fruit" is the pod of the Kentucky coffee tree, growing a few minutes walk north of the Boathouse, just East of the persimmon trees. The seeds inside the inedible pods and on the ground make the world's best-tasting caffeine-free coffee substitute, even though this leguminous tree isn't related to coffee. It's also an unknown but outstanding seasoning to use in chocolate desserts.
Sassafras is another tree that grows in thickets throughout the park, and it's in season in the winter. You can boil the taproots of the invasive saplings (which park workers weed out) to make a tea, and chill the tea and add sparkling water and sweetener to make root beer. You can also use the outer layer of the taproot as a spicy seasoning. It tastes like a combination of root beer, anise, and cinnamon.
The common spicebush is an outstanding bush that's in season all year. You use the twigs to make a tea, which tastes a little like allspice
We could also find cold-resistant leafy green vegetables on this tour. They include chickweed, which tastes like corn on the cob, garlicky garlic mustard, and field garlic, which you use like chives.
Given enough rain beforehand and a generous helping of luck, gourmet oyster mushrooms and Japanese enoki mushrooms may be emerging from trees and stumps.
Still have questions? Ask the community.
Foraging expert Steve Brill has shared his foraging wisdom at schools, museums, parks departments, environmental organizations, and with scout troops since 1982. He’s written three books and an app, stars in a DVD and maintains a website.
His History with Foraging
As part of his exercise regime,...
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