Wild on San Bruno Mtn: Foraging Fridays

This week:

Rumex acetosella (Common Sheep Sorrel, Dock, Sour weed)

Last weekend I was on a stroll with a group of ecopsychology friends, and one of them (Hi Amanda!) pointed out out the slender stalks with the small, nubby, red flowers. “Do you know what that is?”.

I didn’t, and is often the case with edible or medicinal plants, there was something a little “extra” about this plant that told me there was a discovery to be made. Have you ever noticed a plant like that? Over the years, I have learned to pay attention when a plant says hello with that little extra “glow”. As if it suddenly reaches out and tugs on my sleeve, edible and medicinal plants have a way of drawing the eye of the attentive nature lover.

I began seeing it everywhere, but still hadn’t taken the time to try to identify it. As I opened my edible plants book a few days later, I flipped right to “Sheep Sorrel”. And there was an illustration of my new friend.

Rumex acetosella blooms in late spring, early summer. The flower stalks grow to about 1 1/2 feet. Another variety, Rumex hastatulus grows to over 2 feet tall...but looks otherwise the same. Never fear, they are both edible!

Sorrel may bring to mind foklore from the french country side, and visions of creamy, tangy soup. Wood sorrel, another member of the Oxalis family, is often used alongside Sheep Sorrel for this delicacy. The leaves are delicious…sour, lemony, tangy…the perfect wake up for a soul still sluggish from winter.

The leaves look like arrowheads (or like a sheep's head...think ears and the long face...baaaa) and are sparkly when held up to the sun. The best way to tell is to take a nibble...the tangy lemon flavor is unmistakable.

I think they are best eaten raw, to munch as you mosey (or as other foragers say “a trailside nibble”). Since they cook down to practically nothing, you would have to collect A LOT (like 2 quarts) from a well endowed patch. I am a timid picker….I am not starving and am not reliant on wild foods for survival, so I like to take the smallest amount possible, unless there is a ridiculous abundance. Plus, in the case of Sheep Sorrel, the flowers and seeds are eaten by birds, and the leaves by Mule deer….since I am in their home, I feel they should get first “pick”.

After Sheep Sorrel has gone into bloom, look far down the stem, closer to the ground for the leaves. In Fall and Winter, you can identify it as it grows in mats on the ground, with those tell-tale leaves.

On this particular afternoon, it was unbelievably windy on the mountain. A stand of Eucalyptus trees roared a deafening song, and the other woods creaked and groaned. The trail itself was a bit sheltered, so I only got blasted occasionally. But there was something else. I kept turning around and looking behind me. I don’t always get this sense, but every once in a while…I was being watched and followed. Not by human eyes, it wasn’t anything creepy like that (O.K. Mom?)…animal or deva, I wasn’t sure. Eventually I just spoke quietly as I picked leaves, “I can feel you there. Is it ok that I am here?”. The attention felt playful and curious. I just let it be and continued walking…and looking over my shoulder. It was nice to have company.

Oh look! It's another picture of a leaf!

I picked about a cup worth of leaves. This morning, I put them into a smoothie with blueberries and maple syrup, thinking it would make a good lemondae-esque green drink. I was surprised and disappointed that the flavor all but disappeared. It was still very tasty.

Other than eating it as salad, Wild Man Steve Brill has a recipe for Sheep Sorrel Avocado Spread. Green Deane has a great page on Sheep Sorrel that includes a basic recipe for soup. And here is a recipe for Sorrel Pesto.

Like all oxalis, Sheep Sorrel has oxalic acid in it. And so do a lot of other foods that we eat all the time. So just don’t eat two pounds of it every day for a month and you should be fine.

Green Deane is wonderfully dorky and silly…this vid tells you all about wood sorrel and oxalic acid with a lot of humor.


What new plant friends are catching your attention lately?

The Disclaimer:

Think with your stomach! Do not ingest wild plants unless you are sure you have identified them correctly and are willing to take responsibility for using yourself as a guinea pig. It is SO not my responsibility if you eat the wrong thing and get poopy pants, or die. You’re an adult. You can make your own choices.

 Have a beautiful weekend kids.

P.S. Thanks for all the great book recommendations on my last post. Keep em comin!

P.P.S. I did the format of my foraging friday post different this week, without the usual categories of “where to find, what does it taste like” etc and made it more narrative. What do you think? I felt like doing it the other way was tedious. Do you like more “identification”  or more story?


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