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Vegetarians in Paradise
VegParadise Media Reviews

Wild Edible Basics
A Comprehensive Class in Wild Food
Foraging with the Wildman Series
Canopy Media, 2004
Videocassette, $18.00

New York City is not just a landscape with a myriad of skyscrapers rising out of miles and miles of concrete. To Wildman Steve Brill the city is a place to experience the delights of wild food, if one knows where to look and what to look for that is edible, delicious, and safe.

Brill, author, naturalist, and environmentalist, is well-known to the people of New York because he leads many groups in search of natural wild food treasures. Even the New York Police Department is familiar with him because he was once arrested for criminal mischief for removing vegetation from the park during one of his hunts in Central Park. They caught him eating a dandelion.

Wild Edible Basics The criminal became a celebrity achieving renown through media exposure and writing books like Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild and Not-So-Wild Places and The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook. A Vegetarians in Paradise review of the cookbook appears at http://www.vegparadise.com/vegreading48.html

In watching this 56-minute film, the viewer accompanies Brill on one of his many walks to discover black walnut, wild black cherry, lamb's quarters, chicken mushrooms, and wrinkled wild rose. "Wild plants have more flavor and nutrition," Brill announces. "Commercial plants are grown for their weight."

Before beginning the forage, Brill cautions his hikers about safety considerations. He urges people not to pick anything within 50 feet of heavy traffic or near railroad tracks that have most likely been sprayed. Picking anything in water that has not been tested is also not safe. He also cautions his mostly eastern audience to recognize and avoid poison ivy. People in the West have the same concerns about poison oak.

One valuable hint he provides is to find jewel weed, squeeze the stem and rub the juice on any body part exposed to poison ivy to ease the itching.

Brill advises wild food foragers to prepare for their quest by taking plastic and paper bags, plastic containers, work gloves, a digging tool, a pen, a notepad and a whistle on a key ring. The whistle is to let other people know where you are. Work gloves are a sane way to deal with thorny berries. His own equipment bag includes a 17-power jeweler's loupe he uses to examine plants.

Three principal rules are the cornerstone of his philosophy:

  • Pick only small amounts of abundant plants that are not endangered.
  • Take only as much as you need or will actually use.
  • Never pull up roots unless it is an abundant root vegetable.
  • As viewers accompany Brill, they learn about lamb's-quarters' diamond shaped leaves and that the plant can be used like spinach. "It's loaded with more calcium, potassium, iron, and vitamin A than anything you can buy in the store," says Brill. He also extols the benefits of burdock that has an array of nutrients including inulin that is beneficial for diabetics and hypoglycemics. Brill even provides a burdock recipe called Kinpira Gobo. This recipe segment is an unabashed plug for Brill's video called The Wild Vegetarian Kitchen.

    Brill shows how he stores his collection of wild foods and how he uses his dehydrator to keep his wild morsels indefinitely. None of his dried items need any preservatives. Sulfur dioxide, used to preserve the color of commercial apricots, earns his wrath. He calls sulfur dioxide "car exhaust."

    Wild Edible Basics appears to be the first in a series of videos that provide viewers with a sound introduction to foraging and eating wild edible plants. Brill is careful to warn viewers of any dangers and to inform them of look-alike plants that are dangerous. The Wildman's sense of humor is evident throughout the film. At one point he refers to his dementia botanica. On another occasion he plays his Brillophone, music created by clapping his hands in front of his mouth.

    Just when viewers believe the wild edible film has concluded, Brill presents a crash course on Lyme disease that is caused by ticks. The brief segment offers information on what to wear to avoid bites and what to do when bitten.

    Urban dwellers, outdoor naturalists, and hikers will all benefit from this excellent introduction to foraging and using wild plants in the diet. The Wildman is constantly stressing the health apects of these plants that are virtually ignored as food sources. He is a staunch believer in the natural goodness of these treasures provided by nature. With his books and videos he is bringing this valuable wild food message to the general public.

    Those interested in purchasing his videocassettes or learning more about Brill and his activities can go to the Wildman's website at http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com

    Click here for Media Review Index

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