Hunt for Wild Butternuts in Forest Park

    Hunt for Wild Butternuts in Forest Park

    Sunday, September 6

    with naturalist/author “Wildman” Steve Brill

    On Sunday, September 6, naturalist/author “Wildman” Steve Brill, America’s go-to guy for foraging, will lead one of his world-famous foraging tours of Forest Park, in Kew Gardens, Queens.

    This is one of the best places for foragering in late summer. A wild, wooded park, with a large, mature forest, trailsides, thickets, and cultivated areas, it’s loaded with wild plants.

    This is the start of the nut season, and the butternut is one of the best. We’ll crack these flavorful nuts open with rocks, and enjoy a treat you can’t buy anywhere. Due to a fungus that attacks the trees, butternuts are rare nowadays, but there’s a huge tree off Park Lane South and Myrtle Ave. that often produces nuts in large quantities.

    Most roots are out of season in the summer, but burdock, an expensive detoxifying herb sold in health food stores, is an exception, and it abounds in human-disturbed areas scattered  throughout the park, where it’s invasive. Instead of brewing it as a tea, it’s so common, you cook it like potatoes, or marinate and bake it to make vegan beef jerky.

    Sassafras root, the original source of root beer, stays in season all year. You use it for tea, for making root beer, as the thickener for gumbo called filé powder, and as a cinnamon-like seasoning.

    Another tree we’ll look for is the black birch. It grows in the woods, with twigs that taste like wintergreen, and it provides the raw material for making birch beer. You can steep the twigs in hot water to make a fabulous tea, with anti-inflammatory properties that protect you from heart disease, similar to aspirin. Or thicken the tea with agar, season and sweeten it, and make black birch Jello. Even better, use it to flavor a tapioca-thickened Stick Pudding.

    There are plenty of summer herbs and greens in season. We’ll find mugwort, a tonic for the female reproductive system, and lamb’s-quarters, which you use like its relative, spinach. We’ll also be finding Asiatic dayflower, hedge mustard, poor man’s pepper, lady’s thumb, and wood sorrel, all great for salads, sandwiches, and cooked vegetable dishes.

    Wild seeds are in season too. We’ll hunt for the spicy seeds of garlic mustard, walnut-flavored seeds of jewelweed (a panacea for skin irritation—it even cures mosquito bites and prevents poison ivy rash), and the wild grains of foxtail grass.

    With lots of rain and a bit of luck, gourmet chicken mushrooms, milky mushrooms, boletes, and russulas may be emerging.

    Don’t miss a fantastic tour of this vastly under-appreciated park.

    The 4-hour walking tour of Forest Park begins at 11:45 AM, Sunday, September 6, at the 

    stone wall at Forest Park Drive and Park Lane, near the Overlook Building in Kew Gardens.


    The suggested donation is $15/adult, $10/child under 12. Please call (914) 835-2153 at least 24 hours in advance to reserve a place.


    For “Wildman’s” 2015 tour calendar and additional info, visit