Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"Wildman" Steve Brill

Last night, Beth and I attended a program on edible wild plants by "Wildman" Steve Brill at the gorgeous Franklin Township Library. The Wildman is a dynamic fellow who has been foraging for wild edible plants in the NY-NJ-CT area for more than 25 years. He's an educator who visits schools, garden clubs, and other organizations. He also hosts many field trips throughout the area. The "Wildman" is (in)famous for being arrested in 1986 in Central Park for eating a dandelion leaf - a very funny story.

Steve's program is an overview of the benefits of foraging, information on ecology, and the historic and current human uses of the plants and fungi in the northeast. My best way to describe him is, as I said to Beth is, "He's quite the character." His presentation is full of puns and witicisms, which was great for me since we have a similar sense of humor. He's also great with kids and an engaging storyteller. I was happy to see kids there and Steve involved them by having them help hand out samples.

The program included a lot of examples of plants and mushrooms that Steve had picked that day. We were able to taste many of the samples too. These included Lamb's-quarters, Black Birch, Ramps (delicious!), Pineapple Weed, and our favorite - Poor Man's Pepper. The mushrooms were very interesting including a bolete that turns blue when you break it open. As is apparently important when it comes to foraging, the Wildman stressed the importance of knowing what you're eating and the toxic effects of eating the wrong thing. As he said when referring to one toxic plant, and I'm paraphrasing here, "You get the most horrible diarrhea, vomiting, and pains. This continues until you die. Then the symptoms go away."

We had a great time at the presentation and also purchased two of Steve's books. Unfortunately, he was sold out of his vegetarian cook book, but we'll definitely be getting that one soon. If you live in the tri-state area, try to get out to one of the Wildman's lectures or better yet, one of his field trips.

9 comments:

John said...

I wouldn't want to eat a dandelion from a place where I didn't know what walked (or peed) on it.

I think it's great to find ways to use the natural world for food, especially since it can serve as an entrance point for learning more about the natural world. A lot of wild food goes uneaten; mushroom fruits in particular have a short lifespans. I have occasionally picked and eaten a few wild blueberries while walking trails.

I hope foraging doesn't become too popular, though. In an area as populated as this one, I could see foraging having an effect on the wildlife that depends on natural food sources to survive.

Patrick Belardo said...

You raise a good point. I doubt it will become really popular, but you never know. When I told my boss about the lecture, she looked at me like I was nuts. It's as if people have this conception that all of the plant life that is safe to eat is sold in supermarkets.

dAwN said...

I have been wanting to go to one of the Wildmans foraging walks..Have him on my blogroll.
Hope to do it sometime.
I know a few mushrooms and pick them for eating..

dAwN said...

Latest on our Bird Bloggers outing in Milford, Ct. should be a great day!

http://dawnandjeffsblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/birders-who-blog-tweet-and-chirp-outing_30.html

Kim said...

It sounds so interesting. I always wondered what his seminars were like. I am not that brave when foraging because I don't know what anything is. I do like taking he dandelion greens from my yard and sauteing they with olive oil and garlic though. You can save a lot of $$ by foraging and it's always fresh. You can't beat that!

Jochen said...

Now someone has to draw the Wildman's attention to invasive edible plants and a lot of problems will be solved...

Patrick Belardo said...

@Jochen - He definitely is aware. He's got recipes for Japanese Knotweed and Garlic Mustard, among others.

@Kim - You'd probably learn a ton on one of his walks. His book, so far, seems very informative - and funny too!

David said...

Hey John (#1), when you forage you have a vastly better idea of the circumstances of that plant or mushroom's existence than when you buy from a supermarket. From a supermarket, all you can say for sure is that it is from a vast, ecocidal monocrop, even if labeled organic. If not labeled organic, you can also guess that it was sprayed with horrific poisons. Either way, you have no idea about how it was handled. I'd much rather eat super-fresh, wild greens (or permaculture-raised greens, occasionally available at farmers' markets), all the more so since they're free!

As for invasives, many of the plants Wildman points out are invasive, including those Patrick pointed out, and some that are as ubiquitous as dandelion, pokeweed, and burdock. There really is no danger of clearing the parks, as the overwhelming majority of plants and mushrooms are no edible, and most of those that are are very aggressive and widespread. There are, of course, exceptions. Ramps must be collected carefully, and you should never take more than, at most, one third of the ramps in a given area (and only that many if you are fairly certain no one else is harvesting from the same spot). Ramps are indigenous, and their numbers have declined considerably.

Marie said...

As someone who likes to eat and garden and forage, it is giving me rather a lot of pleasure to incorporate edible - and all native -plants into a park I'm designing in the city, I can't wait to test them!

Going on one of Steve's tours on Sunday. Curious...