Foraging wild greens is a relatively easy thing to do and an inexpensive way to put together some rather exotic, though completely native, salads. Many of us are familiar with the idea of foraging dandelion greens, and some of us are clued in with some other tasty foraged leaves, such as chickweed, sweet violet and purslane. Another good one to add to the list is sorrel.
Actually, sorrel is a two-for. There is sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), which is closely related to the cultivated French sorrel, and there is yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta), which looks more like clover. The two plants look nothing alike, nor are they relatives, but they are both delicious and fairly easy to find.
They both have a slightly sour flavor that derives from oxalic acid, oxalic literally meaning sour. This trait, which is shared with commonly cultivated crops like spinach and broccoli, also means they should only be consumed moderately in a balanced diet. An overabundance of oxalic acid, which is a lot, can prevent the absorption of calcium.
Nevertheless, both of these sorrel options are delicious and nutritious foods to forage and enjoy responsibly.
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Wood sorrel is the one that looks a lot like clover. It has three leaves that join in the center, but wood sorrel leaves are generally a little smaller and are distinctively heart-shaped. Wood sorrel, unlike clover, has a little five petaled flower, with yellow being the most common color and white, pink and violet possible variations.
It’s no stranger to find in lawns, but it will often grow more readily along the sides of partially shaded paths and trails. Wood sorrel is typically in bloom for mid-spring to early fall, and it doesn’t generally grow more than a foot tall.
Wood sorrel can be used in salad or as a kind of seasoning in soups and stews. It has also traditionally been used as a medicine: Being high in vitamin C, it works for treating scurvy, urinary infections, and cold-like symptoms (fever, sore throats, etc.).
Source: lynn.gardner/Creative Commons
Sheep sorrel looks somewhat like a miniature, scrappier version of French sorrel, a common European green. The leaves are around an inch and have a bit of an arrowhead shape. They are at the end of sometimes lengthy stems., and the plant itself grows in rosettes, much the same as dandelions. It’s a very common weed, found throughout most of North America, even into Alaska.
Sheep sorrel will grow in sunny fields, such as where a sheep might find itself grazing, which means they are also well-suited for appearing in lawns. They pop up in spring, and where the weather gets hot, they’ll go to seed by summer. The seeds are also edible and can be toasted into tastiness.
Sheep sorrel leaves are edible both raw and cooked. They are tart. For salads (raw usage), it’s best to find the younger, more tender leaves. Older leaves can be tossed into soups and sauces. A popular way to use sorrel is to simply cook it in olive oil to make a flavorful green sauce, a la pesto.
Plants from the Rumex genus are called dock when they are tall and sorrel when they are short, so there are many edible choices to collect.
While it is very important to be cautious and meticulous when foraging wild plants, by no means is it something to be afraid of. Until recently, it was very common practice, and thankfully, it’s making a comeback. Foraging from the wild, a local food source, is a much better practice for the planet than shipping hydroponic lettuce all over the place. And, learning about the plants around us makes us much more self-reliant in our food choices.
The best thing to do is become familiar with the easily identified and largely foolproof plants in your area and become comfortable and confident using them. Get a guidebook. Hire a guide. Within no time, you’ll be compiling a salad or soup on nothing but what’s in the lawn or along your favorite walking path.
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