Foraging

On the windowsill above the sink in my parent’s 150-year-old farmhouse kitchen sits a small, yellow flowerpot. In the pot grows a cluster of green-leafed wood sorrel, often referred to as shamrocks, but whose genus name is Oxalis. This pot of wood sorrel was given to my mother by her grandmother when she was a little girl. It was simply a weed stuck in an old pot, but that little plant bonded my mother to her grandmother. Mom is 85 now, and she’s kept this pot with its spray of heart-shaped leaves and beautiful, purple flowers for nearly seven decades. When I’m visiting home I know as long as that plant is doing well so is my mom.

Wood sorrel is a common, shade-loving “weed” found all throughout North American woods. Most people glance at it, and think it’s clover. Once they have assigned it a place in their universe, they move on, ignorant of their mistake. Yes, both clover and Oxalis have three leaves at the end of a stem, but that’s the only thing they have in common. Even a short study reveals big differences between the small plants, starting with the shapes of the leaves.

Clover leaves are round, or even slightly oblong, whereas wood sorrel leaves are shaped like tiny hearts. Looking closer, one sees clover leaves have a single vein running through the center of the leaf with smaller veins branching off like that of a sturdy pine tree. Turn to the wood sorrel, and you’ll see it has multiple veins starting at the point where the leaf attaches to the stem and running out to the edge, like the strong fingers of a mother’s hand, open and ready to catch her tottering child.

If I get too close to my mother’s plant, she admonishes me with a sharp, “Don’t you dare!” because we both know how absolutely delicious it tastes. The leaves, flowers and young seedpods all have a tangy flavor that’s wonderful by itself or to use as a replacement for lemon when cooking fish, chicken or lamb. It can be whipped into butter for a true zing. It’s best, though, when blended into a can of cream soup (mushroom, potato, celery, etc.) to complement the sweet creaminess with an irresistible tang. Start with about one-quarter cup of chopped wood sorrel per can.

Someday, I know my mom will pass on, and I will take possession of her precious little pot of hearts, but I don’t expect it anytime soon. She’s still as full of spunk and fire as she’s always been.

For now, those hearts belong to her ... as does mine.

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