Foraging in Westchester

The Ultimate Way to Eat Local and Seasonal

Executive Chef Jeremy McMillan and Chef de Cuisine Dan Sabia foraging on the land surrounding the Bedford Post Inn.

Executive Chef Jeremy McMillan and Chef de Cuisine Dan Sabia foraging on the land surrounding the Bedford Post Inn.

Wild plants foraged locally, such as ramps, cattails and wild watercress, are showing up more and more at farmers markets and restaurants. These foods are not just tasty; they’re rich in nutrients from the mineral-dense forest floor on which they grow.

Foraged Is the New Local

Wild foods are typically indigenous plants, growing locally and naturally in their native habitat. Alan Muskat, an advocate who’s passionate about preserving forests and sharing the skills of foraging with the next generation, says that only indigenous plants are truly local. “With some local food, you are taking a European import and making it grow here. Then you have to supplement and alter the soil to get it to thrive,” says Muskat. “For instance, European truffles are difficult to grow here because they don’t belong here and they are not adapted to this region.” In contrast, Muskat says that indigenous plants and fungi need no special tending, fertilizer or pesticides to be healthy and vibrant.

On the Menu

The popularity of wild foraged food is growing, due in part to professionals like Executive Chef Jeremy McMillan and Chef de Cuisine Dan Sabia of the Farmhouse restaurant at the Bedford Post Inn. Both are fans of wild food, picked fresh each day. “It’s hard to say what our favorite foraged item is,” says McMillan. “When it comes down to it, the deeper we search into the forest and property, the more we find and the more excited we become. It truly depends on the day and what Mother Nature gives us.”

McMillan has been teaming up with “Wildman” Steve Brill, a naturalist who specializes in edible and medicinal wild plants, to search the more than 100 acres of land surrounding the Bedford Post Inn for delectable items. Brill delights in teaching others where it’s safe to forage and how to properly identify and harvest wild plants and mushrooms. His weekly foraging tours throughout New York and beyond have drawn people for decades, and he’s published several books on the subject. Brill has even developed an application (App) that helps identify plants in the field. “It tells you how to spot a plant, provides a checklist for positive identification, and includes similar plants to clarify any confusing factors,” he says. Botanical illustrations emphasize the most important identifying features, and photos show the plants as they change throughout the seasons.

Last month, Brill invited Natural Awakenings publisher Dana Boulanger to join a foraging trip at the Bedford Post, to chronicle the expedition and sample the tasty wild-foods lunch that followed. “After a delightful and educational day of foraging and eating, I returned home and had fun finding several of the new greens in my own yard,” says Boulanger, who reports that she now adds these items to her daily morning smoothie. “I also now keep my eyes open for wild berries and grape leaves on my morning walk, which gives me a delicious new perspective on the neighborhood.”

Cattail was Brill’s favorite food from this particular foraging trip. “The crunchy inner core has a sweet cucumber flavor that I love,” he says. “It usually grows in sunny wetlands, and I haven’t had the chance to visit those habitats this spring, so it was a treat to collect and eat this choice wild food.” McMillan notes that foraged foods likely to be incorporated into the restaurant’s menu include wild grape leaves, wood sorrel, shepherd’s purse, ramps, and garlic mustard.

Foraging Is Good for the Forest

Contrary to popular belief, foraging is not bad for the forest. “It does not deplete the forest’s treasures,” says Muskat, who argues that foraging in the woods for mushrooms, for example, is actually good for the environment. “The fungus is still there beneath the ground or in the log. You aren’t removing it, because it’s renewing and sustainable,” he says. “Truffles and chanterelles, for example, only grow in healthy woods. If people realize this, they’ll treasure the woods even more.”

A little education makes it easy to harvest things like leaves and roots while respecting the impact on plants, says Muskat. “When you have a personal relationship with your food, it becomes like friends and family, the people you care about,” he says. “So foraging is not what hurts the environment – not foraging is what hurts the environment.”

To learn more about the work of Alan Muskat visit NoTasteLikeHome.org.

Connect with Steve Brill at WildmanSteveBrill.com. His Wild Edibles App is available at the iTunes store.

The Farmhouse and The Barn restaurants at the Bedford Post Inn are located at 954 Old Post Rd. Bedford, NY. For reservations and more information, call 914.234.7800 or visit BedfordPostInn.com.

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