Will's Wild Food Diary

 Wild food diary

Fresh, organic and free! Of all things bushcrafty, nothing gets me more excited than a foraging adventure.

From time to time, I update this page with a different wild food that is in season –  gradually building up a seasonal diary of some of the foraging delights available to us.

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Disclaimer: there's lots of good wild stuff to eat, and much of it is fairly easy to identify. Unfortunately, there are also some plants and fungi that can make you seriously ill or worse. This diary is a brief overview intended to inspire and not a substitute for an in-depth field guide and/or skilled teacher. I will endeavour to point out any obvious poisionous look alikes, but ultimately foraging is the individual's responsibility. Unless you are 100 per cent confident you know what something is, leave it alone! Also, please be aware that, as with any food, different people can have different reactions. It is wise to try just a small amount first.

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Category: Wood sorrel

  1. Green Heart

    Posted on

    I’ll continue from my last post with another easy ‘four season’ wild green. Wood sorrel

    Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) is very common across the UK and much of Europe. Unusually, it is happy in both broadleaf and deciduous forests, and is one of the few plants in the UK that can actually survive ‘coniferisation’ fairly well – the unfortunate practice of felling broadleaf forests to grow trees like pine, spruce and larch for timber (once common forestry practice in the UK but increasingly frowned upon today).

    The taste is somewhere between lemon and apple, and is pleasantly tangy and refreshing. Indeed, there are accounts of it being used in fruit pies in the past, to bridge the gap between the last of the stored apples and the first summer fruits. Such a dish would take a lot of picking and would be hard to do in a sustainable way, so I therefore reserve wood sorrel as an out-and-about nibble; a wild food that I chew on as I’m wandering through the forest or along a craggy Dartmoor valley – where these photos were taken.

    Although you can find the leaves at any time of year in the UK, wood sorrel is particularly Wood sorrel 3lovely in spring, as the fresh white flowers, which are also edible, reach towards the light.

    Foraging considerations

    People often mistake wood sorrel for the similar sized clover **. Fortunately clover is also edible but, as this is such a common ID confusion, I will list the main differences here:

    1: Habitat: stopping and looking around at your immediate surroundings is a really useful skill when learning to identify many plants. Wood sorrel has a strong preference for woodland; while clover likes open sunny grassland and lawns. 

    2: Leaves: they are both trifoliate (growing in clusters of three –unless you get lucky with the clover) and a similar size, but that is Wood sorrel 2where the similarities end. Clover has rounded dark-green leaves while wood sorrel is slightly heart shaped and a light-green colour.  Curiously, sorrel leaves also have a fold down them, a bit like a paper airplane. At night and in heavy rain, the leaves along with the flowers fold up as if going to sleep!

    3: Flowers: they are completely different. Wood sorrel flowers have tender white petals, often with faint-red ribs, while clover has hundreds of tiny petals arranged in a globe shape. Sometimes clover flowers are white, but they can just as easily be pink or red.

    4: Taste: if all the above criteria match, then you might consider a little nibble. Wood sorrel should reveal a lemony, tangy flavour, while clover is more bitter. To be clear, taste testing any wild plant should always be done with upmost care, checking that all other ID criteria are in place first.

    wood sorrel 1As its Latin name suggests, sorrel contains oxalic acid. I talked about this in a previous post about sea beet. In large quantities this can leach calcium from the body, but frankly you’d have to pick a large amount of wood sorrel on a regular basis for this to be a concern, and as I’ve already mentioned, this is not practical time-wise or respectful to the local environment.

    * In other countries, such as those in Scandanavia, there is a lot of wild food to be found in the conifer forests. However, in the UK these forests don’t have an established eco-system, so the forest floor is usually quite sparse – the remnants of Caledonian pine forest in Scotland are one exception.

    ** Wood sorrel and clover are not the only trifoliate plants, so don’t get too cocky! Some of them may be poisonous, but if you carefully follow the other ID points I’ve mentioned, you’re on strong ground.