I finally got impatient for Spring to come to the Union Square Green Market and decided to take matters into my own hands. Wildman Steve Brill takes groups to the various parks in and around New York City to collect wild edibles growing right under our noses. This weekend he had a tour up at the Crestwood Riverside in Westchester, which is one of those “jogging” parks bordered on one side by a highway and the other by railroad tracks. While the environment doesn’t sounds too appealing the roster of items along the tour included ramps, fiddleheads, stinging nettles, field garlic, wild ginger and violets.

I called up, reserved a spot, and found myself traipsing through stands of Japanese Knotweed and fields of cut-leaf toothwort, in search of some of my favorite Spring-time delicacies. After a lackluster start, we came upon a small patch of stinging nettle.

These little shrubs have thousands of hollow needles filled with formic acid (a skin irritant). You need to handle them with gloves otherwise you’re hands turn red and burn. I’m not sure how someone figured this out, but when you cook them, the needles wilt and the toxins are neutralized so you can eat it without the unpleasant side-effects. It has a green flavor and is delicious added to pasta or soups.

Once we got past the nettles, there were a few ramps scattered about. The clusters grew more and more dense until we were surrounded by a field of these glorious members of the onion family. They’re like a cross between baby leeks and garlic with tender, slightly sweet leaves and a small bulb at the bottom. Someone needs to figure out how to make these things more hardy so grocery stores will carry them at a more reasonable price. By far my favorite thing to forage for, and quite possibly my favorite vegetable.

After scouring the park for 2 hours, we hit the foraging jackpot with the first sighting of these little green fiddleheads emerging from the forrest floor. These little guys are only in season for a few days and we managed to catch the tail end of their short season. They’re the spring shoots of the Ostrich fern and can only be eaten when they’re curled up and first erupting from the ground. Slightly sweet and with a texture like young asparagus, these are delicious steamed with a bit of lemon and olive oil, or sauteed and added to a pasta.

Overall it went well and I may have to head back up there this weekend for more ramps. As for the tour guide, he’s great. If you live in the NY/CT area, he has tours almost all year long picking everything from spring greens, to summer berries, to fall mushrooms.

Here is the rest of my haul:

Yes, they’re pretty flower, but did you know you could eat them too? Great in salads, or candied on cupcakes:-)

This Cuckoo Flowers are not only pretty to look at they pack a spicy punch.

This stuff grows everywhere, almost like a weed. If picked young, it tastes like a cross between mustard and garlic and has a slightly bitter taste.

These look like chives on top, but when you dig them up there are small bulbs that taste like garlic.

Originally from Asia, this high iron taproot can be found where in places that humans have disturbed the natural habitat (like in parking lots). It’s leaves are inedible, but the roots are delicious!