By Elly Park
GERMANTOWN, N.Y. (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.
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.
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)