Foraging in Brooklyn

A Weed Grows in Brooklyn… and Near You

You should never eat wild plants foraged willy-nilly, so I was glad I had a guide in Lois Pinetree. A member of the Floyd Bennett Garden Association, public school music teacher, and self-described “advocate for the wild plants that are being murdered wholesale,” she led a recent expedition in Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field to forage for greens, herbs, and flowers with which we would later make a salad. I was sure it would be a bust. How would we find anything edible, I wondered, as we roamed the park’s unkempt paths and vacant lots? Didn’t she realize we were in Brooklyn?

But there we were, in Brooklyn, plucking shepherd’s purse, lamb’s-quarters, mugwort, the flowers of purple clovers, rose petals, fennel fronds, and onion and garlic scapes (the part of the plants that grow above ground and give that lovely culinary aroma to your lawn). Filled out with some garden-grown butter lettuce from the community plots nearby, they made a great salad. Yet these are some of the delicious plants — weeds, many would say — that are destroyed daily in the quest for the perfect lawn or garden.

A weed, according to Pinetree, is simply a plant growing where people don’t want it. By that definition, of course, everything is a weed and nothing is a weed — it’s all subjective. The dandelion is her favorite example: a plant that’s almost wholly edible, at least when it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals, but frequently discarded. You can sauté the leaves or toss them into a salad, eat the flowers raw (they are sweetest and least bitter when young) or turn them into dandelion wine, and make a coffeelike beverage from the root. After hearing this, I felt silly: I have been guilty of extricating dandelions from my lawn only to later buy their peppery leaves from the supermarket for $5 per pound. Just then I realized that the value in Pinetree’s tour (and others like it) was twofold: There was, of course, the delicious salad, but also the reminder that before supermarkets, even before farms, there was only the earth.