I checked my NYC Bus Time phone app and saw that I had seven minutes until the next bus. I was on my way to teach an edible weeds class for NYBG. Normally, I’d have the students out on the grounds for most of the class, but the sky was ominously gray and the forecast predicted heavy thunderstorms.
Sure, I had the backup of PowerPoint slides, but that’s just not the same. A slide can’t convey the felty feel of a burdock leaf
or the ID-clinching smell of field garlic.
(The knot in the photograph is for what I call “the bay leaf method.” When field garlic leaves get too tough to use like chives, I tie them like this and use them to flavor soups and sauces. Remove the garlic knot before serving.)
So I decided to collect some samples just in case we ended up having to spend most of the class indoors.
I dashed across the street to a promisingly weedy-looking patch of Van Cortlandt Park (in the Bronx). I quickly gathered dandelion, field garlic, burdock leaves, common mallow, curly dock, chickweed, shepherd’s purse, and lamb’s quarters. Then I got nervous about missing my bus and scampered back across the street, arriving at the bus stop with a minute to spare.
Through a fence at the bus stop, I spotted mugwort growing amidst spent daffodils. I reached through and added that to my collection just as the B9 bus pulled up.
All of the plants I gathered for class samples were invasives: I wasn’t harming those species populations by collecting them. Far from it! Many of those introduced plants (a.k.a. “weeds”) are a threat to slower growing native plants.
Lately I’ve been seeing the word invasivore crop up online. It refers to folks who seek to balance their immediate environment by eating the invasive plants that are crowding out other species. Many invasive species are also delicious edibles. I think it’s a grand idea to help your immediate environment by eating it into balance!
I didn’t eat the samples I’d gathered, though. That harvest was far too close to a heavily trafficked street to be food. But I know some safe collecting spots nearby, and I’ll be headed to them soon, when I’m not running to catch a bus.
Foraging for class samples was definitely a more interesting way to wait for a bus than, well, waiting for a bus.
Shameless plugs: My new book, Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries was just released by Timber Press last month! You can order it here.
My upcoming foraging tours and other events are here.