Foraging with the Wildman

Steve Brill with fawn mushroom

“Wildman” Steve Brill examines a fawn mushroom

I’d heard about this guy for a while. Turns out  the “Wildman,” a.k.a. Steve Brill, looks pretty normal, more like your high-school biology professor (albeit one who wears a pith helmet) than Crocodile Dundee. Brill has spent the last 30 years tasting his way through parks and preserves in the northeast, cataloging edible plants and fungi, and teaching others to do the same. This past Saturday, I was pretty frantic with joy to discover he was leading a group on a trek in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, a stone’s throw from my house.

I hold a dim childhood memory of mushroom hunting with my Grandma Frietchen, and I recall she was very, very good at finding morels. Of course, I regret I didn’t pay more attention or ask her about it later. It’s a skill I’d love to have now. Instead, I fumble with my little Audubon books, trying to tell the difference between a hen-of-the-woods and a polypore. Sadly, it wasn’t wet enough to find many mushrooms, but Brill found plenty of wild greens, spices and medicinal plants, growing alongside the joggers and cyclists in the park.

If you go…

Check Brill’s website for tour dates and locations. Wear pants and closed shoes unless you’re immune to poison ivy. Bring plastic bags and containers for pickings; a trowel and gloves are handy. A camera and a small notebook will help you keep track of what you’ve seen.

If you’re ready for more than just a four-hour tour, Brill’s book, “Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in the Wild“, app and website offer deeper info and recipes.

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