Wildman Steve Brill held up a plant. “Hedge mustard,” he announced. He tapped a finger on the side of a leaf—“Toothed, see? Ow—Don’t bite. Hah—I’ll bite YOU,”—and popped it into his mouth.

We thirty acolytes picked through the grass for the weed. I held up a leaf. The Wildman shook his head. Not Hedge Mustard.

“Here—have a bite,” said a woman who’d gotten it right. I ate a leaf. It was inoffensively bitter, the texture a tad hairy. Not the plant I’d live on, I decided, if I were left to starve here in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

Wildman Steve Brill is 60-ish, learned his trade largely from books, and looks like an unmade bed in his foraging clothes and frizzy greying beard. He has been stalking natural food in this most unnatural of cities for more than 25 years.

He was arrested, handcuffed and Miranda-ed for eating a dandelion leaf in Central Park in 1986. Which led to a barage of publicity, which led to dropped charges, which led to a gig as an official NYC naturalist tour guide for a few years. He met his future wife in 1998 on one of his tours. And, on this sunny Saturday, his patter was frequently upstaged by the exuberant expertise of the world’s youngest naturalist, his five-year-old daughter Violet.

Brill has written a wild-food cookbook. He paints. He sculps artistic renditions of mushrooms in plastic clay. He can make his mouth a “Brill-o-phone” and play Taps. And, for a suggested donation of $15 each, he leads popular foraging tours like ours several times a season through the city’s greenspaces.

We were adults, except for the irrepressible Violet. We were male and female, young and old. We were white, Black, American, Japanese, Jamaican, Trinidadian and Whatever, including one French journalist who’d come from Washington D.C. to tape a radio report for les gens back home.

Brill pushed Princess Violet before him in a stroller, and we straggled after like rats drawn by the Pied Piper. We stopped to dig Field Garlic in the grass next to a walkway. “Make sure the leaves are round, not flat,” the Wildman told us. “There’s a flat-leaved look-alike that’ll kill you.”

A young woman grimaced at the oniony bunch in her hand. “I can’t help wonder who or what might’ve peed on it.”

We picked off the barfy-smelling flesh of the Ginko fruit—it’s toxic, Brill told us—to get to the nuts. “Roast ‘em for a half-hour at 300 degrees,” he said. “They taste like a cross between peas and Limburger cheese.”

We stalked fallen pods of the Kentucky Coffee Tree and opened them. Mine was moldy. Violet shook out smooth brown seeds and gave me one. Raw, they were toxic, but roasted and ground, they’d brew a caffeine-free coffee taste-alike. “There’s nothing poisonous that looks like the Kentucky Coffee Tree,” Brill said blithely. I turned the raw seed in my hand and thought: nothing except the Kentucky Coffee Tree itself.

The Wildman pulled down a branch of the Japanese Yew and picked bright orange berries for us. “Spit out the seed, or your heart will stop.” Unless you were that old girlfriend who’d dumped him one Valentine’s Day, he added, because she didn’t have a heart.

We pulled dandelion leaves and dug burdock root and wild parsnip (“The roots are delicious, but the leaves are poisonous…”).

Our four-hour forage was nearly over when one of our intrepid young guys leapt a rabbit-wire fence and dug up some Wild Carrots (the tough white roots of the young Queen-Anne’s-Lace). “It should smell like carrots,” the Wildman said, “unlike poison Hemlock, which looks the same, but smells like dead mouse.”

Violet grabbed a root, sniffed, and stuffed it into her mouth. She chewed confidently.

When I got home, I dumped the contents of my plastic bags on the counter. I carefully cleaned the ginko nuts and stuck them in the oven. Then I assessed my greens.

Was that a poison parsnip leaf, or tasty goutweed? Was this spinachy Lambs’ Quarter, or Jewelweed, something you rub on mosquito bites to make them stop itching?

That Field Garlic—were the leaves flattened because they were dry, or…were they always flat?

Sweating, I dumped the whole lot into the trash.

The Ginko nuts were delicious…