Because Prospect Park includes so many varied habitats, it's loaded with shoots and greens in late spring, and many of these are edible and medicinal. We'll begin with spicy hedge mustard and poor man's pepper greens, growing near the Grand Army Plaza entrance, proceed southeast to a vast stand of celery-, parsley-, and carrot-flavored goutweed, then stop for violet leaves and flowers at the edge of a path.
Off the edge of the path, we'll come across sassafras, of root beer fame. You can now use the young leaves as a thickener. They're well-known as an ingredient in gumbo, but they'll thicken any recipe. The roots are traditionally used for tea and for making root beer, but you can also use them as an exotic seasoning.
In an overgrown field, we'll find an abundance of pokeweed, superb boiled in two changes of water, as in Basic Pokeweed, but poisonous raw. It's especially good seasoned with tamari soy sauce, plus garlic lightly browned in olive oil. Later, we'll find vast stands of burdock, a despised "weed" with a delicious edible and medicinal root prized in east Asia. This time, we'll also find the immature flower stalks in season, along with the roots. Parboiled and peeled, they taste like artichoke hearts, as in Cardunes in Wine, an Italian delicacy.
After lunch, we'll find spicy field pennycress, another member of the mustard family, growing near corn-flavored chickweed. Not far off, we'll find young, spinach-flavored lamb's-quarters, plus plenty of bitter dock, good for making chips similar to kale chips, or stuffing with stuffed cabbage fillings, or fruit filling.
This is also a great time for berries. We'll be collecting large quantities of red, white, and pink mulberries, as well as juneberries and sweet cherries.
If there's been enough rain beforehand, Prospect Park is an excellent place for spring mushrooms. Chicken mushrooms, dryad's saddle, and wine-cap stropharias may be growing in abundance.Notes:
The walking tour will meet at the stone benches along the stone walls, at Prospect Park's Grand Army Plaza entrance.
- 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.