Wild foods foraging tours help gatherers see beyond 'green wall'

GERMANTOWN, N.Y., May 17 (Reuters) - A dozen wild food foragers listened intently to botanist Hayden Stebbins in an upstate New York field, entrusting him to steer them clear of the poisonings and arrests that have plagued others across the United States.

Plucking a dandelion he said could be consumed from blossom to root, Stebbins said the purpose of his foraging tours is to reveal the scrumptious, nutritious and no-cost edibles in your own backyard as well as to connect participants with nature.

"To most people, when they're walking through the world, plants just form this green background, this green wall," said Stebbins.

"But once you start to learn about one plant or two plants it becomes almost a mosaic and the more you get into it the more you can connect to your surroundings," he said.

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Man teaches New Yorkers how to forage
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Man teaches New Yorkers how to forage
A woman gathers wild plants as she walks in the woods at the Gatherwild Ranch, a former apple farm and a location where Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species, leads "Forage and Feast" walks to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People gather to eat a meal made partially with wild plants gathered from the woods and nearby surroundings at the Gatherwild Ranch, a former apple farm, during a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species and how to cook them, in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Hayden Stebbins, (front R) an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species and food production, leads a "Forage and Feast" walk past wild-growing garlic mustard (foreground) to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, at the Gatherwild Ranch in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Women gather wild plants in the woods at the Gatherwild Ranch, a former apple farm, during a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species and food production, prepares a thistle soup with wild thistle and other plants gathered from the woods during a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species and how to cook them, at the Gatherwild Ranch in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
A woman holds a homemade pizza topped with wild plants gathered from the woods at the Gatherwild Ranch, a former apple farm and a location where Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species leads "Forage and Feast" walks to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species and how to cook them, in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
A glass of sun tea made with edible wild ground ivy, dandelion flowers, lemon balm, peppermint and catnip steeps is seen at a "Forage and Feast" walk, where people learn how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, at the Gatherwild Ranch in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species and food production, holds wild plants before preparing a meal during a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, at the Gatherwild Ranch in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
People walk with foraged wild plants at the Gatherwild Ranch, a former apple farm and a location where Hayden Stebbins, (front R) an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species, leads "Forage and Feast" walks to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Baskets of foraged wild plants sit on the forest floor at the Gatherwild Ranch, a former apple farm and a location where Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species, leads "Forage and Feast" walks to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species and food production, holds an edible wild onion plant known as "crow garlic" or "field garlic" as he leads a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, at the Gatherwild Ranch in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species and food production, gathers wild-growing garlic mustard plants as he leads a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, at the Gatherwild Ranch in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species and food production, holds an edible "pheasant back", or "dryad's saddle" mushroom, as he leads a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, at the Gatherwild Ranch in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species and food production, holds an edible wild violet plant as he leads a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, at the Gatherwild Ranch in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
A woman gathers wild plants as she walks in the woods at the Gatherwild Ranch, a former apple farm, during a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species and food production, gathers wild garlic mustard plants as he leads a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, at the Gatherwild Ranch in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
A woman gathers wild plants at the Gatherwild Ranch, a former apple farm and a location where Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species, leads "Forage and Feast" walks to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species and food production, poses with wild plants before preparing a meal, during a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, at the Gatherwild Ranch in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species and food production, smells a bunch of wild ground ivy as he leads a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, at the Gatherwild Ranch in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Hayden Stebbins, an ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist with a focus on invasive species and food production, holds an edible dandelion plant as he leads a "Forage and Feast" walk to teach people how to forage edible wild plant species growing in the woods and in common surroundings and how to cook them, at the Gatherwild Ranch in Germantown, New York, U.S., May 9, 2018. Picture taken May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
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Stebbins, a Cornell University graduate, created "Hayden's Harvest" to guide hunts for wild foods in New York's forests and fields, including on the edges of Gatherwild ranch, a private farm in Germantown, 114 miles (183 km) north of New York City.

Wild foods foraging tours have exploded in popularity since Steve "Wildman" Brill turned his 1986 headline-grabbing arrest for nibbling New York City's Central Park into a deal to conduct foraging tours in city parks. Brill, whom tabloids dubbed "The Man Who Ate Manhattan" and who still heads the hunts, showed the world how ubiquitous wild plants are and since then foraging has increasingly gained a hip, trendy appeal.

Many U.S. national parks have no-foraging rules but make exceptions for certain abundant foods, such as cactus pears in Arizona's Casa Grande Ruins National Monument and berries at Cape Cod National Seashore. https://reut.rs/2L6CQ7U

Depending on the time of year and location, sharp-eyed gatherers may fill their baskets with sheep sorrel, a lemony vegetable that looks vaguely like a sheep's head, lady's thumb, whose pink petals are used for tea, or linden tree blossoms, which makes a beverage prized as a natural tranquilizer.

Wild delicacies can be dangerous, however, with 6,000 Americans poisoned each year by mushrooms alone. (Reporting by Elly Park; Writing by Barbara Goldberg)

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