Very early in the year I get a real craving for wild food. My foraging fingers are itching and longingly I examine the hedges and pastures for any fresh green growth among the dry twigs and yellow grass. Not much there and certainly not enough to make a meal, but one of the plants that puts a smile on my face when I hike in the woods on early spring days is Wood Sorrel. This dainty little plant is in fact one of the first herbs I was introduced to when almost still a toddler. My mum would point it out, pick it and give me some to taste. Yummy! I loved the zippy, lemony flavour and thus, those drab walks through still quite wintery woods were at once transformed into an exciting and tasty foraging experience. Granted, wood sorrel does not make a meal either. But I just love the sensitive and delicate little flower that so determinedly defies the harsh conditions of early spring.
The shape of the leaves could fool a careless observer into mistaking it for shamrock, but the flower does not have any semblance with the pea family - nor, for that matter, is this plant related to the sorrel family, despite its name.
Wood sorrel has a long history of use for food and medicine. Native American Kiowa Indians munched the leaves to relieve thirst while on extended forays. It was variously used to treat mouth sores and sore throat, to alleviate fever, prevent scurvy and reduce cramps and nausea.
In the old world wood sorrel was used as a blood cleanser. In early spring, when the blood is thick and stagnant from all the heavy winter food and a more sedentary lifestyle, spring blood cleansing regimes coincided with the fasting period of lent. Sorrel and other early spring herbs were called upon to purify the blood and invigorate the spirits. They were a common ingredient of 'Green' soups and sauces which were (and still are) part of the seasonal food traditions in many parts of Europe. In the course of time innumerable variations of the original recipe have evolved.
According to Mrs. Grieves, 'an excellent conserve, Conserva Ligulae, used to be made by beating the fresh leaves up with three times their weight of sugar and orange peel, and this was the basis of the cooling and acid drink that was long a favourite remedy in malignant fevers and scurvy.' Wood sorrel is a versatile spring herb. It makes an equally excellent 'zingy' addition to a salad as it does to a soup or sauce and it complements fish dishes particularly well. It can be made into hot or cold drinks, (lemonade without lemon), syrups and juice, or it can be dried and powdered to use as flavouring.
However, it is one of those herbs that should be used in moderation. Those with a disposition to gouty conditions, rheumatism, arthritis, kidney or bladder complaints should refrain from its use altogether. Wood sorrel (like many other plants) contains oxalic acid, which can exacerbate such conditions.
Mince the wood sorrel in a blender, add mustard, butter and salt to taste. This recipe is variable - you can use cream cheese instead of butter.
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