Forage for Butternut and Chicken Mushrooms With 'Wildman' in Forest Park

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on August 29, 2014 7:47am | Updated on August 29, 2014 3:45pm

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 During the tour next Sunday participants will learn about edible plants in Forest Park.
Foraging Tour With Naturalist Steve “Wildman” Brill
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QUEENS — Forest Park may have a golf course and bandshell, but to naturalist Steve “Wildman” Brill it's also a smorgasbord too, full of edible herbs and seeds.

Next weekend, Brill, 65, who grew up in Kew Gardens, will lead a walking tour around the park, which he has been visiting since he was 3. 

“This is one of the best places for foragers in late summer,” he said.

In late August and early September, Brill said, the park features numerous mushrooms and nuts, including butternut, which begin to fall off trees at that point.

Butternut trees, he said, are rare nowadays because of a fungus that attacks them. But Forest Park still has a number of them, including a tree that grows near Park Lane South and Myrtle Avenue, and usually produces many nuts, he said.

“We'll crack these flavorful nuts open with rocks, and enjoy a treat you can't buy anywhere,” Brill wrote in an email.

The tour will take about 4 hours and will be very hands-on, Brill said.

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"I go into the science behind the plants, I talk about my recipes and I give people samples," said Brill, who has been taking New Yorkers on foraging tours since 1982, despite the practice being against city regulations with a potential $250 fine.

Participants will also look for white oak acorns, burdock root, an herb with detoxifying features, Sassafras root, which is the original source of root beer, and the bark of black birch, “which tastes like winterfresh gum, prevents heart attacks and you can put it in puddings," he said. 

A number of herbs and seeds are also in season, such as garlic mustard, as well as mushrooms, including chicken mushrooms, which, according to Brill, taste like chicken.

The four-hour walking tour begins at 11:45 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 7, at the stone wall at Union Turnpike and Park Lane, near the Parks Department's Overlook building.

The suggested donation is $15 for adults, $10 for children under 12. There is no obligation to pay. Participants should call 914-835-2153 at least 24 hours in advance to reserve a place.

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