Jun 10, 2011

Eating Weeds: Sorrel

Ever since we successfully harvested, cooked, and ate dandelion greens, I admit I've become a little obsessed with eating weeds. In fact, you might think I'm going too far, trying to figure out which weeds in our garden I can add to our dinner table. I know my husband thinks I'm nuts. But really, if I can find nutritious, free food for our family, why wouldn't I leap at the chance?

My latest discovery is sorrel. For years, I've been yanking it out of a brick planter in our front yard. Then one day, browsing the internet, I saw the same weed identified as sorrel - an edible plant. I was cautious. I scoured the web for identification photos and descriptions. I learned there are many types of sorrel, including sheep sorrel and Jamacian sorrel - not at all what I have in my own yard. What grows here is wood sorrel and is often eaten as a snack or in salads. It's sometimes even used in place of rhubarb in pie.

Some sources say sorrel came to the New World via the colonists; indeed, the plant was popular in European vegetable gardens, especially from the Middle Ages through the 18th century. It was often mashed with sugar and vinegar and used as a sauce for cold meat. (In Europe, sorrel is still sometimes called "greensauce.") Native Americans also used sorrel, but mostly as a medicinal. For many years, eating sorrel was a common way to prevent scurvy because the plant has good levels of vitamin C.

One thing worried me: A few sources warned sorrel contains oxalic acid and is therefore poisonous. After a little more research, though, I learned you'd have to eat large amounts of sorrel to suffer ill effects. To put things in perspective, rhubarb leaves also contain oxalic acid, and the average-sized person would have to eat about 11 lbs. of them to be poisoned. Sorrel reportedly has less oxalic acid in its leaves than rhubarb. Suffice it to say people have been eating reasonable amounts of sorrel for at least hundreds of years without becoming ill.

I wasn't sure what to expect, flavor-wise, but when I finally tried sorrel, I discovered it delicious - very lemony. (The name "sorrel" is derived from the French "sur" which means "sour.") Next, I gave my kids some. They absolutely loved it. My hubby was last. He was highly skeptical. "Just because I can eat it doesn't mean I want to eat it," he said. Followed by, "This isn't going to make me sick, is it?"

When at last he dared to try it, he was pleasantly surprised. "That's really good!" he said.

From now on, instead of pulling up most of our wood sorrel, we'll be eating it.

If you decide to try sorrel yourself, you should carefully identify the plant before eating it. Check out sites like Foraging Pictures and consult local foraging experts in your vicinity. Also make sure whatever plants you want to eat haven't been sprayed with chemicals of any kind.

So what do you think? Am I nuts for eating weeds?

1 comment:

  1. I don't think you're crazy. I wish I knew what was useful and what was just a weed. I need to do some studying on this subject.

    ReplyDelete