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Prospect Park is a great place for foragers to celebrate the approach of spring. Like Central Park, this Olmstead-designed park features a variety of habitats filled with native and exotic plants. Cold-weather greens abound throughout the park. We'll find goutweed, which tastes like parsley, celery, and carrots; andchickweed, which tastes like corn-on-the-cob. Both sweet-sharpdaylily shoots, and chive-like field garlic, will be producing bumper crops in partially sunny areas throughout the park.
Field Garlic (In the photo)
Field garlic leaves are best from September through April, before they get tough and coarse. The bulbs are mild in the winter and early spring, and especially most spicy from mid-spring through summer
We'll also be finding garlic mustard galore. This foreign invasive species produces garlic-flavored leaves and horseradish-flavored taproots. It also contains nutrients that reduce the risk of both heart disease and cancer.
The first tiny leaves of wild parsnips, growing alongside the skating rink, will clue us in to the location of the large, sweet roots. The same species as commercial parsnips, the wild version of this European biennial adds way more flavor to soups and stews than its domestic forerunner.
And the abundant, green, fragrant twigs of sassafras saplings will let us locate roots you can use to make your own wild root beer, or a sweet seasoning.
The first shoots of Japanese knotweed will also be up. This invasive plant tastes sour, like its relative, rhubarb, so it's great to make bland ingredients more exciting, or to contrast sweet fruit.
On the first tour of Prospect Park in 1982, I got lucky and discovered a huge stand of curly (yellow) dock growing along the lake. The same plants are still alive and well in the same location 3 decades later! The sour leaves, full of vitamin A and iron, are delicious raw or cooked, and the root is a major liver detoxifier and tonic. Its relative, bitter dock, grows throughout the park. It's as delicious cooked as it's awful raw!
In an area of loose, recently overturned soil dwells a wonderful stand of burdock, with roots that taste like a combination of potatoes and artichokes. Usually very difficult to weed, the deep taproots grow in unusually soft, rock-free soil here.