Urban Foraging

city flower

I wish I could say that I forage with wild abandon all over Brooklyn. I wish I scouted mulberry trees and returned as they began to fruit, that I rooted around for burdock in city parks and dug up sidewalk purslane and dandelion greens. Truth is, I’m something of a serial rule-abider and foraging in the city makes me nervous. In the country, there’s more of a sense of communal ownership. At the very least, you can usually find a field and wooded path where nobody’s there to watch as you fill a basket or two. Growing up, my mom would pick my sisters and I up from soccer practice and pull our lumbering minivan off the side of road to pull down a bramble of bittersweet for the front door. She’d spot a cluster of black-eyed susans during a walk by the beach, and we’d have a vase full of them at home. Once, she enlisted me and all three of my sisters to dig up an entire forest floor of daffodils in order to save them from their impending death by backhoe. You’d think that all of this wanton disregard for personal property would have instilled in me a similar streak. In some measure at least, it seems to have done the opposite. I get nervous about breaking rules. In the city, the side of road usually means someone’s yard. Trees have fences around them, for goodness sake. Foraging in city parks is frowned upon by park officials and last week when the juneberries were at their peak in Brooklyn Bridge Park, all I could muster was to pop a few ripe ones into my mouth. When I saw a young couple filling containers to take home, I felt a pang of jealousy, but found no more courageous reserves to harvest a pie's worth myself.

Besides my mild case of  rule-abiding, there’s also the pollution factor. I worry thinking about the kinds of things city plants are supping on. If the filmy dust on my window sill is any indication, there’s a lot of stuff floating around in the air around here, and not all of it can be good. Brooklyn Bridge Park is managed organically, but the same can’t be said for the 1700 parks managed by the City Parks Department. [gallery link="file" exclude="2086"]

Sometimes though, even a scaredy cat needs to face her fears. This weekend, I enlisted the help of my fiancé James to do some old fashioned foraging. If you live in New York, you might know that it’s linden flower season. Take a stroll down many of the city’s sidewalks and you’ll stumble upon the intoxicatingly floral scent of just-blossomed linden. It’s heady stuff. Dried, linden leaves and flowers make one of my favorite tisanes. It reminds me of lazy evenings spent in the south of France. After dinner and cheese and a glass or three of wine, we’d sip linden flower tea and ease even more gracefully into the evening. James and I plucked a whole bagful of the new spring leaves---flowers still attached---and I strung them up to dry in our apartment. Another batch is steeping, destined for syrup.

There’s yet to be a Brooklyn-berry pie baked at our house, but I think I just got a step closer. What about you? Any courageous foragers out there?