[ FORAGING ]
Many people who profess to know nothing about
wild plants forget that they enjoyed eating wood
sorrel (Oxalis spp.) greens as children. It’s a
common childhood experience and I can think of
no better (or simpler) introduction to the pleasures
No searching is needed to find wood sorrel.
Our most widespread species are common
yellow-flowered weeds of gardens and lawns.
One species, Oxalis montana, is not a weed. It
has white flowers striped with pink and it grows
in even the darkest hemlock stands. Nor is care
needed to time the harvest: wood sorrel greens
remain tender throughout the season and can be
gathered any time from mid-spring through the
summer, and into autumn.
Our region’s sorrels all fit a pattern that even
beginners can recognize. The low-growing plants
have alternating, clover-like leaves on long stalks.
Each of the three leaflets is creased along the
mid-vein and notched at the tip, making it look
like a folded paper heart. The only plants that look
similar, the clovers, have rounded leaflets; the
two can also be distinguished by looking at the
leaf veins: wood sorrels’ branch off the midvein
while clovers’ diverge in parallel rows like the
barbs on a feather. Mistakes in identification are
low-stakes. Clovers are also edible, and the first
taste will serve to distinguish the two. Clovers
have none of the sour flavor of sorrels.
Wild-food guides often have dire warnings
about the oxalic acid in the plants interfering with
calcium absorption and leading to renal and joint
problems. While it is true that this acid can cause
problems, the concentrations present in wood
sorrel are low. Spinach and rhubarb seldom carry
such warnings, yet they are also high in oxalic
acid. Anyone eating occasional servings of any
of these plants has nothing to fear. Besides, the
oxalic acid (along with other acids) is the source
of the plant’s distinctive flavor.
Sorrels require no preparation whatsoever.
Just pluck off a leaf and pop it in your mouth. The
entire plant is edible, though the leaves are the
most flavorful part. The sour flavor makes them
a welcome addition to salads and soups. Wild-foods writer John Kallas even uses a sorrel sauce
to flavor ice cream. Experiment with using them
in dishes that call for lemon or vinegar. Some
foragers prefer not to include the stems in their
dishes because of their stringy texture. Rather
than tediously plucking off the leaves, I chop the
sorrel greens in a food processor, stems and all.
Easy to find, easy to recognize, ready to eat
as soon as they are picked, and blessed with a
lemony tang that nearly everyone enjoys, wood
sorrels make a great introduction to wild foods for
people of all ages.
[ NATURALLY CURIOUS ]
Muskrat Division of Labor
Muskrats are herbivores, favoring cattail roots, arrowhead, bur-reed,
pickerelweed, and other aquatic vegetation. This muskrat is not feeding,
however – it’s doing its share of parental care. While the mother nursed
her four or so young, this father spent time gathering bedding material
for his offspring. When he couldn’t fit one more blade of grass in his
mouth, he’d scurry down the bank and disappear into a burrow which
most likely led to a chamber where his young were being raised. Like
their beaver cousins, muskrats tend to keep a tidy house and forage for
fresh bedding with some regularity. — Mary Holland