Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is a wonderful wild food to gather from fields and hedgerows. It has a lemony tang which is great with fish, dairy products and in salad.
Here I describe a little of its characteristics and uses. You can find sorrel in my Wild Food Foraging book, including;
- Photos of it in different seasons
- Step by step recipes with photos
- ID tips
- Nutritional benefits
Sorrel is one of the plants I cover in my foraging courses, which is a fantastic way to learn about foraging through hands on experience with a professional guide.
This is so easy and a great way to use wild herbs and smother baked potatoes, toast, fish or anything you wish with foraged goodness. The butter can either be used within one week or frozen and sliced as needed.
When to make herb butters
Spring is often when an abundance of herbs appear and are at their best. In summer most flower and seed late-summer to autumn. You may find a new bounty in Autumn but bear the flurry of spring greens in mind!
60 g butter, room temperature
1 tbsp wild herbs
Herbs you could use:
- wild chervil
- wild garlic
- scurvy grass
- wild mustard
- hairy bittercress
- yarrow leaves
Method: Wash and dry the herb you are going to use, this minimises the water which doesn't blend brilliantly with fat! I pat mine dry on a tea towel. Finely chop and blend thoroughly with the butter. Use immediately, or if you're going to keep or freeze it, I wrap mine in greaseproof paper and roll into a sausage-shape. Once in a sausage-shape, it it is easy to slice from fresh or frozen and watch melt over hot food.
All the herbs mentioned are taught on my foraging courses, especially in Spring but perhaps not all on the same course! You can also keep up to date with what I'm foraging, making or cooking at @rachellambertwildfoodforaging
According to my Danish friend, this is what green tastes like!
The colour and flavour of this tart is heavenly! Fresh sorrel leaves add a wonderful lemony tang to desserts and savoury dishes. I used Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) for this recipe, but you could use cultivated sorrel or a different wild variety that grows abundantly in your area.
Here I share the recipe. Common sorrel is also one of the plants I cover in my book; Wild Food Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and on Spring Foraging Courses.
Wild Sorrel Tart recipe
I remember squatting in a field in West Cornwall and plucking fresh sorrel leaves from amongst the grass. Stuffing them in my pockets, I scurried away to trial another mouth-watering sweet sorrel tart. Here’s my winning version. Rich and tangy, it is perfect served on its own.
- 75 g salted butter
- 100 g plain flour
- 50 g wholemeal flour
- 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
- 1–2 tbsp water
- A little egg white
For the filling
- 1 whole egg
- 4 egg yolks
- 105 g unrefined granulated sugar
- 200 g sorrel leaves and stems
- 150 ml double cream
To make the pastry, cube the butter, sieve in the flour and sugar and rub between your fingertips until the mixture is well combined and resembles breadcrumbs. Add one tablespoon water and bind the pastry together, adding a tiny bit more water if needed. Wrap the dough in cling film, or in reusable wax wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190°C and grease a 23cm flan tin. Roll out the pastry and place in the flan tin, cutting off any overhanging pastry. Prick all over with a fork, place a piece of baking paper on top, fill with baking beans or equivalent and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, brush lightly with enough egg white to seal any holes and gaps and bake for another 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 170°C.
Meanwhile, wash the sorrel leaves and stems and either put them through a juicer, or blend until smooth, then gently squeeze through a jelly bag. There should be about 150ml of juice. If you have less, squeeze the pulp some more to see if you can make up the amount. Next, in a large bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolks and sugar. Spoon in the cream, followed by the juice, until there is a uniform pale green colour.
Pour or ladle into the pastry base and, very carefully and slowly, place in the oven. Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the filling is set in the middle. Allow to cool before slicing and serving.
Spring is full of wild ingredients that are perfect for adding into, oh so many different recipes. Farinata - a savoury bake made out of chickpea flour - is a great carrier for these spring wilds. Like an omelette, though egg-less, baked in the oven and extremely tasty, it happens to be vegan and gluten-free too and is easy to add shoots, leaves and flowers, and even seaweed to. Here's my spring version, feel free to add different wilds. I've made a version with hogweed shoots and rosemary too, which was equally delicious.
Wild Spring Farinata Recipe
Makes 7-8 farinatas
- 300 g chickpea flour
- 1 litre water
- 1 heaped tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp ground seaweed (I used bladderwrack/popweed, Fucus vesiculosus)
- Light olive oil or vegetable oil
- Large handful three-cornered leek/wild garlic, chopped
- Small handful common sorrel leaves and stems, chopped
In a large bowl mix the chickpea flour, water, salt and seaweed. Whisk well to combine. Leave to sit for at least an hour, ideally overnight, it will also keep well in the fridge for up to 4 days. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Using a heavy-bottom, oven proof pan, generously add oil and heat over a medium to high heat, till almost smoking.
Spoon in a couple of ladles full of the mixture, coating the pan with a thin layer, about 0.5-1 cm thick. Sprinkle over some three-cornered leek, allow to cook for 5 mintues, sprinkle on the sorrel and place in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and slice off with a fish slice or similar. Re-oil the pan and repeat with another couple of ladles full and follow until you have enough to eat! Best eaten fresh. Like I mentioned, the mixture keeps well in the fridge well for a few days in the fridge, so you don't have to finish it all in one go.
Works well as a snack (shared it on the beach with a foraging group), I also shared it with a friend, served with a potato salad and well-dressed green salad for supper. I run monthly foraging courses which always include homemade, wild tasters. I'm also available for private forays, looking at the weeds on your land, in your area or just for a holiday delight.
Song, verse, sound and rhyme have been used by humans for thousands of years to communicate, respond and express. Sound is an integral part of our daily landscape. It has been used functionally (to explain things) as well as for fun and as an essential part of celebrations across the world. Rachel Lambert is a foraging teacher who has sung all her life. She sings on her own on the moor, with friends, with family, to mourn and to celebrate life. Since childhood she has learnt songs and made up songs, feeling happy to hit the right or wrong note and just enjoy singing!
Why wild singing
There is much scientific evidence to suggest that singing is good for the brain, heart, gets creative juices running, sends feel good endorphins round the body and can help counter anxiety and loneliness. Coupled with the great outdoors, which can legitimately claim similar health and well-being benefits, wild singing is a pretty good boost for the body and soul.
The benefits of using song to learn about plants
Singing about plants and nature is also part of our historical tapestry. When Rachel Lambert (Wild Walks South West) has researched past uses of plants she’s often come across poems and songs. Songs tell of plant uses, claims of curing ills, bringing love and of old traditions. Rachel has taken this idea and created new songs to tell of plant qualities she often shares with participants on her foraging courses. Songs can be a great way to remember things, as well as just enjoying the moment.
If you'd like to see snippets of other songs, or read more about this experience, you may want to view my other Wild Singing blogs. I run The Singing Forager Experience for anyone who'd like to listen to, hum along or join in. Dates for these are here; The Singing Forager Experience and details of how to book is here.
Follow the #singingforager to find out or hear more.
Spring is exciting - a combination of warmth and light gets plants, animals and human-animals going. Sometimes, for me, too going. The term mad march hare feels too close to home for me, as I prance around the hedgerows picking wild greens as if there is no tomorrow, or as if spring won't last forever, which of course it won't. Lets face it, we've often being waiting a while for it to come too.
Many wild greens respond well to being plucked, for example when the tops of nettles are snipped off this stimulates more growth and leaf tops to grow. So below I've chosen 5 common wild foods that arrive every year, a plenty and are happy to be plucked, appreciated and eaten.
Here are my top 5 pick-ables (non-technical term :)) for this spring, I have loads of nuggets of information and recipes to share on each of them, though for now I'll keep it brief.
My Top Five Spring Wild Foods
1. Stinging Nettles Urtica dioica
Never under-estimate a common plant, believe me, nettles are a valuable food and we are lucky to have them. Their nutrition and versatility makes them easy to use (just avoid being stung) and they are (in my humble opinion and according to nutritional facts) better for you than spinach or cabbage.
2. Wild Garlic Allium family
The wild onion, garlic and leek family is vast and too large to go into here, though their commonalities include a wonderful garlic taste (and smell), anti bacterial properties and support for the heart. The whole of the plant can be used and it can be used raw or cooked - raw is stronger. It is one of the key edibles of spring.
3. Cleavers/Goosegrass Galium aparine
Cleavers spread. They grow up to 1 metre long and can be collected without a bag (let them stick to you). The leaves are a wonderful spring cleanser and support the urinary and lymphatic system, though best cooked to avoid the not so pleasant hairy texture when raw and use in small amounts. I like to just pluck the tops and sweat them with nettles in butter or oil.
4. Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum
Writing this from the south coast of Cornwall, Alexanders are definitely on my list. Abundant and often considered an invasive (land managers around Bristol have also practically pleaded with me to pick and eat them too). Nutritious and versatile, if you just know how to use them and pick them early on in spring.
5. Common Sorrel Rumex acetosa
Sorrel sap is tart and lemony and at its best in spring, and once you get your eye in, you'll start to see it everywhere. Delicious added to so many savoury and sweet dishes, though don't eat too much as it contains oxalic acid which isn't good to eat in large amounts. A little is fine though.
So there you have it, my five favourite wild greens, and yes greens are best in spring. Next spring, maybe I'll share a different five, as there's always more to share.
Unique Island Foraging
Really, like nowhere else.
Sudi Pigott, food journalist and author compared Gourmet Foraging and Dining on Scilly to an experience at Noma - Rene Redzepi's Copenhagen restaurant, which, at least twice has won best restaurant in the world awards (S. Pellegrino 50). Noma specialises in using foraged and seasonal produce and has a world renown reputation.
According to Sudi, we were on a level with Noma (Daily Express, 2011).
Travelling to the Isles of Scilly always feels magical to me. I couldn't get much closer really (well not much) and still live on the mainland. The Scillonian ferry is 10 minutes walk away from my house, and standing in the right place I could watch the boat leave and return daily, in season.
Foraging can appeal to such a wide reach of people, from foodies to wildlife enthusiasts, and Scilly really is the perfect environment for it. A series of islands, low population numbers and a priority for wildlife including birds, plants and sea life, plus a distinct lack of cars and motor vehicles is ideal for foraging to flourish in the clean air and land. Indeed, foraging has happened a-plenty in Scilly in the past, piles of empty limpet shells on (the now uninhabited island of Samson) pays testament to that.
(The Foragers: Hell Bay Gourmet Foraging and Dining Break, Isles of Scilly)
And what about now? Like elsewhere in the UK, foraging has largely been forgotten, and the Coop (the largest food shop on Scilly) is perhaps an over-used substitute for the wild stuff. Local foods are still used though, when available. Though I can't help casting my eye across all those beautiful fresh ingredients, forgotten in the hedgerow, fields and coastline.
When I first approach Hell Bay with the idea of doing gourmet foraging events, I wanted the best. The best chef, environment and eating experience that would allow the wild ingredients to really be appreciated for what they are - special. Special, abundant and worth rediscovering.
Our group of enthusiast guests, felt similarly (I hoped), and joined me for 3 days, 3 islands, 3 walks and 3, 5 course gourmet dinners - including the ingredients we'd foraged during the day. Travelling from various areas of the UK, foraging became our common ground, oh, and discussions about the hotel's enviable art collection.
We may not have looked like foragers, though looks aren't everything, and in a way, foraging was just the medium we used - the chosen lense to appreciate the islands and the natural abundance they had to offer. Indeed, both people's adventurous spirits, and the wild plants themselves came up trumps, my favourite being when we focused on the seashore...
Foraging for seaweeds is tide dependent and on the islands it is also dependent on the times of the boats. On our final day of foraging we got the boat to St Martins island. A sensitive juggling; this wasn't the first time we'd got dropped at the opposite end of the island to expected and planned for! A low tide is perfect for seaweed foraging, though not for mooring boats - oh well, we got to the island, were wellied up, well some of us, while others dared it with bare feet or trainers. Thankfully the coastline of St Martins came up with the goods.
It amazes me that pottering around just one collection of rocks enabled us to forage for a wide range of seaweeds to accompany our dinner.
I had a 'shopping list' of 7 seaweeds, which we snipped off with scissors and took, happily back to the hotel kitchen. Idyll memories of aisles of sandy beaches, rock pools, paddling expeditions and a little clambering, looking under kelp forests and getting faces up close to the splish, sploshing water around us. Those who chose to, watched from a distance, enjoying the sun while the wellied ones paddled out to find the freshest finds. We laid out are proud findings on the rocks (who ever took photos - I'd love a copy!) before revising their names and bundling them into our baskets before heading off to lunch.
The evening's menu was always greeted with satisfying ooohs and aaahs - all the excitment you would expect from a special dinner party. I love that part - although we forage together, I like to keep the evening's menu a surprise. It's like revealing a new painting - we've worked creatively behind the scenes - myself helping design the menu and advise processes, then leaving the chefs to use their talents and skills to create 5 bespoke courses with a range of colours, textures and visual arrangements. Like art, food comes down to personal taste, though the variety and skill seemded to be enough to please everyone...
Some dishes were a hit, while others had a mixed response that might be expected from more experimental cuisine. Personally, Sea Spaghetti (Spaghetti-like seaweed) with Grilled Turbot and pangretta with sea lettuce, followed by Rice Pudding with crystalised Alexander stems were hits with me. Though some disagreed! Other's loved the hogweed seed biscuits that accompanied Cornish cheeses - for me, I was completely satisfied already and had no room for anymore. All created within the style and quality you expect at Hell Bay.
Unique Scilly foraging it is.
I could list all the dishes of each evening, though just as a taster, here's the menu we enjoyed on our second evening after foraging on the Island of Tresco and an afternoon free to enjoy the Tresco Abbey Gardens.
- Sorrel & Wall Oxalis Soup
- Fennel Tempura Fillet of Hake, dressed White Crab Meat, steamed Rock Samphire,
- Pan roasted fillet of Venison, Nettle Gnoochi, Frosted Orache, Three-cornered Leek puree, Chocolate & Yarrow Jus.
- Gorse Flower Creme Brulee with Blackberry Leaf Sorbet
- Cornish Cheeses with Hogweed & Alexander Seeded Biscuits
I offer bespoke foraging experiences on the Isles of Scilly, my availability is limited, and especially limited in high-season when the chefs are exceptionally busy. Luckily, foraging is best in early spring and autumn - do bear this inmind if you'd like to experience the wild side of these beautiful islands.
Once you know Common Sorrel (rumex acetosa) it's perfectly normal to start seeing it pop up all over the place; in hedgerows, lawns, fields, grass verges. It really is so common, that you'll be amazed you never spotted it before!
Of course, each plant has its own characteristics, making it unique and easily identifiable, though to me it is as if each plant also develops its own character too. Or perhaps I just start to see each plant as a character. In the early days of foraging I would regularly take walking breaks to help clear my head and gain perspective again - life becomes a lot simpler I find, if I go for a walk. I would mindlessly begin spotting plants as if they were landmarks or a way to orientate myself in the landscape, whether I knew the walk well, or it was completely new to me. Somehow being able recognise plants along the way helped me feel comfortable and at home.
It was a bleak, non-descript kind of February day that I comforted myself by the fresh greenery around me, and feeling particularly inspired, or who knows, maybe the plant spoke to me, these words started to flow. Perhaps it reflects those early days of identifying and getting to know the plants, anyway, I wrote this poem in honour of Common Sorrel.
I met a friend today,
A familiar face in the hedgerow.
Smooth skin, tall and straight,
A tailored jacket and spear shaped hat.
He promised me tangy company, tarty surprises
And melt in the mouth experiences.
Though his delicate demeanour hid a sharp taste, addictive and tantalising.
Oozing witht As, Cs and Iron strength.
I plucked him from his familiar home,
Twirling him between my fingertips.
I watched his tails flutter in the wind, till his jacket became limp and a sour expression covered his face.
One bite and I am hooked on you dear sorrel
Your lemony tang is un-mistakable,
Your taste, instilled in my taste buds
And I will dance to see a sight of you in the hedgerows again.
Sorrel is a great winter, spring & autumn salad leaf, it has a great tarty, lemony taste & traditionally has been used in sorrel soup, in omlettes & even in sweet tarts. There is two things to be wary of with sorrel; firstly identification, secondly not to eat too much of it. I've heard some stories of people mistaking lords & ladies for common sorrel (not a pleasant mistake), & eating too much of it can bind up valuable nutrients in the body - hardly the desired effect! Enjoy in moderation & be sure you're identifying the right plant.