Society Adventures: Urban Foraging & Wild Edible Cocktails - Atlas Obscura
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Society Adventures: Urban Foraging & Wild Edible Cocktails

Somewhere between chewing on the lemony freshness of wood sorrel, grinding the invasive garlic mustard seeds out of a dried stalk into my hand, and imagining how the beautiful blue petals and yellow plume of the Asiatic Day Flower I just picked would look on a salad, it dawned on me that everyone around me was just as astounded as I was. Later that night, we’d find out how they tasted in Hendrick’s Gin cocktails.

 

Photograph By Dallas Lillich

 

During two expeditions on Friday, adventurous eaters, amateur botanists, and a handful of curious locals descended on the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of the Nation’s Capital in search of edible plants and wild foods with the renowned forager, ‘Wild Man’ Steve Brill. Our tour, co-hosted by Roadside Food Projects, Atlas Obscura, and Think Local First D.C., covered all of one block. But the number of foods we found, many of which were weeds you’d walk by without a second glance, didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the available bounty growing between the city’s streets.

Photograph By Dallas Lillich

For anyone who doesn’t know, D.C. is a green city. Rock Creek Park, centrally located, is one of the largest urban forests in the world, with trails that stretch the length of the District and herds of deer that meander at their leisure. And the National Mall, better known as that place where you can find rows of Smithsonian buildings and the Capitol building, is one of the most-visited and most-green parks anywhere in the country. But for the inaugural Obscura Society event in D.C., we couldn’t get a permit to forage in either of these areas. No matter: We decided to walk one of the city’s lushest neighborhoods instead.

Between the City Streets from Andre Szabo on Vimeo.

Photograph By Dallas Lillich

 

The tour started with Wild Man - adorned in classic safari fashion with pith helmet and expedition backpack in tow that was reminiscent of a blend between the iconic Dr. Livingstone and the hunter from the Jumanji film - introducing the gathered explorers to the basics of foraging. As people listened intently, Steve nonchalantly reached for a leafy stalk growing out the sidewalk. As he brought the greenery into view, he enthusiastically pointed out that the Purslane he had in hand sells for up to $6 per pound at farmers markets and is jam-packed with more Omega-3’s than any other vegetable on Earth.

 

Photograph By Dallas Lillich

 

We continued westward on Harvard St., where the Wild Man grabbed everything from Epazote – a.k.a. Mexican Tea – known for its relief of, urm, gaseousness, to Poor Man’s Pepper, whose taste is akin to its namesake and whose “spicy leaves flowers, and seedpods can be used in salads, soups, sauces, casseroles, and for making prepared mustard,” according to the Wild Man.  

Photograph By Dallas Lillich

By the time each tour wrapped up, the term ‘urban jungle’ had taken on a whole new meaning for all present.

Photograph By Dallas Lillich

 

Later that night, the Obscura Society headed over to the salon-cum-speakeasy, the Gibson, for a soiree of ‘Foraged Cocktails’ and bites with our friends at Hendrick’s Gin. Guests snacked on local venison sausage infused with Hendrick’s alongside a local macerated peach and foraged pesto crostinis as they sipped on their drinks. Jon Harris, the Gibson’s resident bartender, prepared a flight of four cocktails, each one featuring a different flavor that highlighted the foraged ingredients that grow around the District. 

Photograph By Dallas Lillich

 

Guests imbibed the following:

  • The Clover Leaf: Hendrick’s Gin, Foraged Wineberries, Lemon Juice, Farm Egg
  • City Herbs: Hendrick’s Gin, Black Bottle Scotch, Foraged Herbs, Lemon Juice
  • The Southside Punch: Hendrick’s Gin, Wild Mint, Foraged Purslane, Lemon Juice
  • Rose Marie Collins: Hendrick’s Gin, Foraged and Backyard Wineberry-Cucumber-Rose Soda

Photograph By Dallas Lillich

 The day’s events aimed to highlight the surprisingly fun and exceedingly rewarding activity of foraging for food and celebrate the bounty of D.C.’s regional foodshed. 

As we plot and plan our next adventure, we want your ideas! Drop us a line if there is a curious exploration that we should setup in your town! 

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The Obscura Society is the real-world exploration arm of Atlas Obscura We seek out secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us. Join us on our next adventure!

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Society Adventures are field reports from our favorite Obscura Society explorations - see them all here>