Foraging for wood sorrel
Earlier this week, walking in the woods that fringe the East bank of Loch Lomond I spotted wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) for the first time this year. It is likely to be there for the next couple of months.
Wood sorrel is a perfect walkers plant - it has leaves that can't be confused with anything toxic, so you can eat it as you walk. They look like bright green, large clover, growing in the moss on fallen trees in established woodland.
The leaves are larger than clover and have no markings, they hang backwards like a pinched handkerchief. The flowers are delicate, white or pale pink with feint markings, held on fine stems. Wood sorrel grows under trees - often rooting into fallen trees and branches on the forest floor.
It tastes like sherbet, lemony, sparkly on the tongue, refreshing - and traditionally it has been used to quench thirst on long walks. Take an apple and a knife on your foraging walk and cut fine slivers of apple to sandwich your wood sorrel leaves between - the perfect combination.
The fizzy sour taste comes from oxalic acid, which is present in many spring plants - rhubarb, cultivated sorrel, fat hen, purslane - as well as chocolate, nuts and sweet potatoes.
Though oxalic acid shouldn't be consumed in vast quantities, you would need to eat kilos of wood sorrel leaves to cause any problems. Old books suggest that 20 lbs of sorrel leaves can give you 2 oz oxalic acid for taking ink out of linen. It was also used to make a jam or sugar syrup which was used to treat scurvy.
In folklore it was believed that the cuckoo eats sorrel leaves to strengthen his voice, In Scotland it was known as gowke-meat (gowke is the Scots for cuckoo as well as for fool) and in France a common name is pain-de-cou-cou. It appears in church decorations, especially pre-reformation paintings - where the clusters of three leaves symbolise the trinity and is one of the contenders for being the original shamrock used by St Partick to explain the Holy Trinity when out evangelising.
Cooking dulls the sweet/sour kick of these leaves - I think the best way to eat it is on the hoof, strolling along, relishing the acidic pop in your mouth.
If you want to bring it home to add to meals it is best kept raw, as a vibrant accent to a salad, or sprinkled on top of a risotto right at the last minute.
Wood sorrel is a favourite of fashionable scandi-chefs and works well as a garnish on Smørrebrød, especially with smoked fish, or as a bright decoration in gin cocktails.
Always forage for wild plants responsibility - I have put together a Good Foraging Code with the main things to think about before you head out to pick anything.
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