Go Foraging with the "Wildman"
Thanks to its varied habitats and combination of native and introduced species, Central Park is a great place for foraging in late fall. Herbs, greens, nuts, berries, and mushrooms will all be in season simultaneously.
The spectacular fruit and berries will surprise even experienced naturalists. American persimmons, much tastier than the larger Asian species, will be falling from trees east of The Ramble. Tart crab apples, which taste like tamarinds, will abound throughout the park, as will the sweet berries of the Japanese Yew.
Another "fruit” (botancially speaking) is the pod of the Kentucky coffee tree, a leguminous species growing a few minutes walk north of the Boathouse. The seeds inside the pods and on the ground make the world's best-tasting caffeine-free coffee, even though this tree isn't related to coffee. It's also an awesome seasoning for chocolate. You can add it to hot chocolate, chocolate pudding, and chocolate truffles, with amazing results.
We've also been finding choice blewit mushrooms under the tree in 2017 and 2018.
All root vegetables are in season in autumn. Burdock root, an expensive detoxifying herb sold in health food stores, grows in disturbed habitats throughout the park. Use it like other root vegetables, in soups, stews, grain dishes, or bean dishes, or try using it to make "Wildman's" Vegan Beef Jerky.
Sassafras root, the original source of root beer, grows in thickets and wooded areas. Use it to make tea and root beer, and to season sweet dishes, as well as beans.
Everyone will also find plenty of leafy herbs and green vegetables, such as lamb's-quarters (a wild spinach), chickweed (which tastes like corn), sheep sorrel, which is super-lemony, mild-flavored common mallow, and garlicky garlic mustard and field garlic.
While most nut trees are already out of season, Central Park's black walnut trees still have intact nuts, and ginkgo trees will be at their peak. Inside a malodorous orange fruit you'll find a white, almond-shaped nutshell containing a soft green kernel. 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, and may be good for memory. This living fossil is a relic from the days of the dinosaurs. Chinese monks rescued it from extinction centuries ago, and after Western botanists rediscovered it, it was planted throughout the world, including Central Park.
Given enough rain beforehand and a bit of luck, gourmet oyster mushrooms, brick tops, pear-shaped puffballs, and enoki mushrooms may be emerging from trees and stumps.
Late fall foraging is highly-productive, as you'll soon realize when you attend this tour.
The four-hour foraging tour of Central Park begins at 11:45 AM, Sunday, November 17, just inside the park, at 72nd St. and Central Park West, not on the East Side. The suggested donation is $20/adults, $10/children under 12. Please call (914) 835-2153 at least 24 hours ahead to reserve a place.
Venue: Central Park
Central Park West and West 72nd St.
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