Foraging and Cooking With Wild Sorrel


I walk through the Saturday farmers market near my home in Brooklyn, N.Y. A heap of beautiful French sorrel leaves for sale catches my eye. Their pleasantly sour, lemony flavor is so good with seafood, steamed vegetables or in soup. I’m not buying though— don’t need to. Every park, community garden and backyard near me —and across most of North America— has some kind of sorrel growing in it.

The most common variety is yellow wood sorrel, Oxalis stricta (other Oxalis species are also edible). Oftenwild sorrel mistaken for clover, this diminutive plant has leaves with three heart-shaped leaflets, small yellow flowers and seed pods that look like very tiny okra (I call them fairy okra). Oxalis loves to grow where it gets plenty of sunlight, but I find that plants growing in partial sunlight have the tenderest leaves.

When harvesting wood sorrel, gently strip the upper leaves, immature, green seedpods and flowers off the stems. All of these are edible, tender and delicious, but the lower stems are too tough and stringy to be good.

By the way, wood sorrel is unrelated to that French sorrel I saw for sale, but its taste and culinary uses are identical.

sheep sorrelThe other common wild sorrel is sheep sorrel, Rumex acetosella. This one is closely related to that cultivated French sorrel. Like the cultivated sorrel, sheep sorrel leaves are arrow-shaped. But sheep sorrel leaves are much smaller— often no more than 1 inch long. There are sheaths encasing the leafstalks where they attach to the stems. The leaves on the upper parts of the stalks are often smaller and more oblong than arrow-shaped.

Sheep sorrel also loves sun, and often grows amidst the grass in lawns. As with wood sorrel, though, I find bigger, tenderer leaves where the plants also get a little shade.

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