This Saturday, Bwog embarked on an adventure through New York’s most exciting jungle, Central Park. And we didn’t just look at the foliage—we ate it! Bwog participated in an urban foraging tour led by famed naturalist “Wildman” Steve Brill. Bottom line is, if you enter “wildman” into Google, his name comes up first.

Update: Watch Steve Brill in action below! He’s playing a jazz piece on the “Brillophone.” Yeah, we don’t know either.

Once arrested for eating a dandelion, Steve Brill is an urban Bear Grylls. He leads tours around NYC’s famous parks and identifies edible plants. He has published foragers’ recipe books, and you will be surprised at how much of your grocery shopping can be accomplished by digging up weed-looking things in a park. We scrounged up everything from a minty twig that can replace chewing gum to a small plant with lemonade-flavored leaves. But not everything encountered was tasty: Steve identified one mushroom that will kill its unwitting victim after a month from kidney failure, and also an innocent looking flower that is actually full of a deadly poison (better keep a close eye on your Ferris pasta). Four hours with Steve Brill passed in a dream-state, the takeaway being that next time you find yourself drunk in Central Park, you can eat guilt-free vegan, for free, as long as you have his iPad app, loaded down with his pictures, notes, and drawings. He’s hoping enough people buy it that so that he can expand to desktop and Android. More bits of “wildness” can be found after the pictures.

  • He had an insanely dry, DGAF sense of humor. Ex: “These mushrooms are as tasteless as my humor.”
  • By cupping and blowing into his clapping hands, Steve played the family “brillophone” for us. This included birthday ditties, jazz, and “playing people off” as they departed from the group.
  • At lunch break he demonstrated his talent for chess.
  • Never one to pass up an opportunity to make a jab at a politician, when referring to a poison mushroom that stopped the brain from communicating with lungs and heart, he said only G.W. Bush could survive it, since he has no brain. When referring to poison-ivy smoke, he concluded that only Bill Clinton could survive it, since he doesn’t inhale.
  • He shared a baby pic of his daughter Violet chewing on a birch branch. He makes tea out of the black birch branches to provide pain relief for her teething.
  • After splitting open a fruit to reveal an edible nut, he explained “Two things can’t survive here [in the pulp of the fruit]. Lawyers and politicians. Because they are parasites.”

A couple of Bwog’s choice plants:

  • Poor Man’s Pepper
         Leaves with teeth pointing toward the top, with many divisions in the leaf
         Tastes like horseradish, and is a member of the mustard family
  • Hairy Bittercress
         A few small hairs along the stem, with leaves divided into “loaves” or groups
         Tastes bitter, and is also a member of the mustard family
  • Chick Weed
         Paired leaves with a small row of hairs on each
         Tastes like corn on the cob!
  • Common Plantain
        Broad, round leaves with parallel veins
        Mash up and rub on mosquito bites or other skin irritation for herbal remedy
  • Fawn Mushroom
        Light brown on top with a hump in the center, unattached pink gills
        Cook with mild flavors like sunflower oil and paprika
  • Stinkhorn
        Red, pungent (as the name suggest), more than vaguely phallic mushroom
        Uses bugs to spread its spores, definitely not edible
  • Purslane
        Thick stem, small oval leaves, opposite pairs with no sap
        High in omega-3 fatty acids, tastes slightly sour
  • Yellow Wood Saurel
        Small heart shaped leaves with yellow flowers
        Tastes like lemonade, sweet and sour
  • Black Birch Tree
        Smooth, horizontally striated bark with spear shaped leaves
        Chew on the twigs for a refreshing wintergreen tastes, or make tea
        Contains a mild pain killer that helps teething babies
  • Sassafras Tree
       Three types of leaves, single oval, mitten shaped, and three lobed
       Pull up roots of saplings and boil in water to make tea
       Chill the tea and add seltzer water and sweetener to make root beer!