Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Field Garlic in Manhattan

Take the A train.

To Inwood. From Brooklyn that took us about 35 minutes. Underground all the way to the northern tip of Manhattan, to 2o7th Street. The neighbourhood is Latino and the thwack of bats against balls characterized a Sunday around the baseball diamonds of Inwood Park.

Our stomachs were rumbling. We had actually come for the meat on a stick man, whose kebabs we'd inhaled last summer. But the ice cream man said, This year he no come. Sad. His meat on a stick was good. If anyone knows where he is, please tell. His sticks cost $2.50. If they were dog, they were good dog. He could make three times as much lower down on the island. Maybe that's what he did.

But I had folded an Unattractive Plastic Bag into my pocket as an afterthought, leaving home. So the mission changed. An onioning we'd go. Up the wooded path and into the woods we went with spring songbirds twittering in the branches high overhead.

Blueberry flowers were a promising sign of things to come.

The rail bridge we'd crossed on our train trip on the Adirondack to Montreal last December, had swung open to allow a boat through. Vince stayed to watch for trains as it closed, and I hunted about in the bushes for things to eat.

I remembered that native Solomon's Seal is edible in shoot, but I could never cut them. They make beautiful clumps and there just weren't enough of them to justify a mowing down. Anyway, I think they're beyond harvest stage now...Ellen?

Garlic mustard, growing right beside the path, so I had dog pee visions. No thanks.

Is this what I think it is? Poison ivy in spring?

It was everywhere. I cautioned Vince, who had started foraging with me, and whose experience post Staten Island last year had been nightmarish. He leapt back.

You see how it surrounds the field garlic? Now some of it is five leafed, and some three. They are both poison ivy aren't they?

I pulled onions carefully. Muttering about needing jewel weed (reputedly an antidote to poison ivy if applied immediately after contact) and it being too early in the season when, lo! A cluster of seedlings practically yelled at me: We are jewel weed! I pulled some up, crushed them and made the Frenchman 'wash' his hands with them. If you'd seen what he looked like and how he suffered last year you would have done the same.

Later I found some more, larger seedlings. Sappy stems, soft leaves, quite easy to identify even without three feet of summer growth and beautiful yellow flowers. I washed my hands too.

We found some excellent patches of field garlic, away from the path.

At first I made a mistake. I pulled out a whole clump, the way we'd been shown on our foraging tour last year in Prospect Park. Apart from being hellish to clean it made no sense, as so many bulblets were too small to be of use, and many would be wasted. So I started to pull them one by one, targeting the fattest leaves.

Much better. They were fat and firm, entirely different from fall's skinny things.

Our bag quite full, and smelling heavily of garlic, we walked down to the broad Hudson River and then east a little to catch a train back from 191st Street.

Back home, the real work began.

Stay tuned.


  1. You are cordially invited, any weekend, to visit my garden. The wild garlic grows in profusion,dig as much as you like. We'll make a game of it, I'll call my part weeding. And I remember you like dandelions too? Have at 'em. Hope to see you soon.

  2. i love this post. the old ladies in my neighborhood used to forage in riverside park for spring greens. they're all gone now :(.

    garlic mustard can go to blazes though.

  3. flwrjane, such trouble. your garlic! Seriously. It's good!

  4. Marie, not being there hard to be 100%, but the serrated 5 leafer probably is Virginia Creeper and the droopy leaves all a shiny in threes mos def P-Ivy -although it will show up in 5s as well from time to time. Creeper-serrated, Pivy not so much.

  5. I'm with Frank on the poison ivy - it's definitely already out all shiny and pretty and trying to suck one into touching!

    Also agree with Flower Jane - please come dig my wild garlic! It's every where in my neighbor's yard and loves to sneak over here and plant itself when I am not looking. I dig and dig and dig and it keeps coming back! Nasty stuff - glad you have a use for it, but don't let it loose in your 66 square feet or it will take over!

  6. OMG it's me again! I've passed on a Sunshine Award to you. Hope you don't mind but you were and are my inspiration.

  7. Yes, the Solomon's Seal is a little too far along to harvest. I was all set to try the rhizome this year because I read about them being a good starch source, but all reports say it's not delicious, just a survival food, and I'm all about delicious! The shoots are supposed to be much tastier. Since I have plenty in my PA garden (and we're a few weeks behind NYC) I'll taste and get back to you. Have you tried hosta shoots?

  8. Anonymous - thank you; I love stories like that...

    Denise - it's a pleasure!

    Frank - thank you. I feel so stupid!

    webb - I wonder if the poison ivy is less virulent this early?

    flwrjane - Thank you, that's very kind and sweet of you, and your blog is always a pleasure to read.

    Ellen - survival food. Have you ever made flours out of cattails? Or eaten the young sweet heads (I quote Euell Gibbons)? Had no idea about hosta shoots...

  9. This is all at the tip of Manhattan?? It looks as if you're in the middle of nowhere! Awesome.


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