Pucker Up for Sour Plants
The sour taste is ideal for summer. Like lemons, plants with sour tastes help us stay cool in the hot days. Lemony-tasting plants like lemon balm and lemon verbena are not what I mean though. I am talking about plants that are a sour as lemons, those that make you pucker up. Here are my favorites. (Note how many of them have “sorrel” in their names.)
Wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta)
With its leaves in threes, oxalis is often mistaken for a clover, even to the point of being called “sour clover.” But clover leaves are oval, and oxalis leaves are heart-shaped. And, of course, no clover is sour. This one is really tart. You will get a good pucker from it. My granddaughter has picked and eaten this plant with relish since she learned to identify it around age 2. The perky yellow flowers help the eye pick it out of the surrounding mass of greenery. Look for wood sorrel in the garden, not the woods. Though there are varieties that do inhabit the woods, they are not common on the east coast. All varieties of oxalis are edible, even the cultivated ones. Enjoy this great sour taste in your salad today!
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
This is another small plant with a large taste. It is perhaps the sourest of all, definitely worthy of a pucker up. The tiny red flowers are most visible at a distance, rather than up close, as this sorrel grows in patches along roadsides and in “waste” places. A large patch keeps my iris bed company, preventing other, larger, weeds from colonizing the bed. This sorrel does goes in the woods, in bare, open places. It is a favorite of mine both as a snack while I am out in the forest with the goats, and as a delicious addition to summer salads. Try some soon.
Sheep sorrel flowers
Garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
Notice that the botanical name of this plant is nearly the same as the previous sorrel. That’s because they are sisters. The ending “ella” means “little,” so we know that sheep sorrel is a little variety of garden sorrel. I don’t know which came first, the wild one or the cultivated one. In fact, I couldn’t swear that garden sorrel is not developed from a yellow dock. At any rate, this is the cultivated member of the Rumex genus. And it has been bred and chosen for that yummy sour taste. If you don’t have one in your garden, Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Vermont and Richter’s in Ontario can help you.
Curly dock, Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)
There are many dock with yellow roots that are used medicinally, and they are all known as yellow dock. But don’t try eating the leaves of most of them. Only the curly dock provides edible leaves. The other docks are too bitter. If garden sorrel was jumped up from a yellow dock, then this is the most likely parent. With just a little tweaking, the sour taste in these leaves could be selected for and grown into a great pucker up plant. The youngest leaves of the curly dock are the best, and the most sour. Try them in my Pucker Up Salad, or use them to make the classic soup Shav.
Pucker Up Salad Recipe - Click Here