There is also this bit of foraging etiquette, which mirrors the yogic principle of aparigraha (greedlessness): Take only what you need and what the plant can sustain. “It's a good rule of thumb for foraging and a good rule for life," Henderson says. "Learn about the plant's life cycle so you know how much harvesting it can take. Chicory, for example, is a perennial, so you should take only a quarter of the plants in a given patch so it can come back the next year. And never forage for ginseng or wild garlic. They don't reproduce readily and are almost extinct."
If food is so readily available in stores, why work to find it outside? Wild edibles are some of the most nutritious foods on the planet, Gail says. Rose hips, for example, are the world's best source of vitamin C. Violet flowers and violet leaves come in a close second, with 17 times as much vitamin C as oranges. And when you buy produce in a store, Gail adds, you can bet it's spent a week or two out of the ground and in transit. "By the time it gets there," he says, "that produce has lost up to 75 percent of its original nutritional value."
But there's more to it than that. As Gibbons so eloquently wrote, "We live in a vastly complex society which has been able to provide us with a multitude of material things, and this is good, but people are beginning to suspect that we have paid a high spiritual price for our plenty....Don't we sometimes feel that we are living a secondhand sort of existence, and that we are in danger of losing all contact with the origins of life and the nature which nourishes it?"
When you look for food in nature, you see where it grows, how it grows, and what it grows near. I will never see Tilden Park the way I did before I went foraging. I've learned that this place that holds many of my happiest memories can feed me in more than one way.
"Foraging connects you with all of creation," Gail says. "When you eat wild foods, you begin to realize what the source of all life and energy is, where it comes from, and how it works. You become more deeply connected to it, because you understand it. You have confidence that these plants will sustain you, which can give you a tremendous sense of steadiness and peace. People I teach say, 'I can't believe it—I've been walking over dinner all my life.'"
When my foraging walk at Tilden comes to an end, I thank Muscat for a truly eye-opening day. My pockets are filled with chickweed and miner's lettuce, which I'll prepare for tonight's dinner. I head home, already tasting them, fresh and sweet.
Want to try foraging? Follow these safety tips from Robert K. Henderson, author of The Neighborhood Forager: A Guide for the Wild Food Gourmet.
Don't eat any plant until you've positively identi½ed it by its botanical name. Common names change from place to place, and the confusion can be lethal.
Know which parts of edible plants are edible, and under what conditions. If you don't know for sure, don't eat any part of the plant at all.
Avoid plants growing on roadsides and in other high-traffic areas. They may be contaminated from automotive exhaust, motor oil, or other chemicals.