- never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
- never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
- never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.
When I walk around our property, whether in the woods or in the open areas, I often overlook a little group of plants that grows almost everywhere. The leaves are like those of clover, but the five-petalled flowers of the genus Oxalis are as delicate as any spring wildflower.
I am familiar with two Wood-sorrels, one a plant of the woods and one a plant of more open areas.
Common Wood-sorrel (Oxalis acetosella L.) grows in damp woods. Other names for this plant are Wood-shamrock, Lady’s-sorrel, and, in French, pain de lièvre (literally, rabbit bread). The flowers of Common Wood-sorrel are white with pale red veins and can be found blooming from June to August.
The Yellow Wood-sorrels (Oxalis stricta L. and Oxalis europaea Jord.) are low-growing weeds, found in waste places, along roadsides, in thickets, or in lawns and meadows. The Yellow Wood-sorrels are known by many names, including Lady’s-sorrel, Hearts, Sleeping-Beauty, and, in French, sûrette or pain d’oiseau (bird-bread). The flowers of Oxalis stricta and Oxalis europaea are yellow and bloom May to October. Oxalis stricta and Oxalis europaea are considered separate species, but there is a lot of ambiguity in the various references, probably since both are called Yellow Wood-sorrel. According to Grey’s Botany, Oxalis stricta has a tap-root, whereas Oxalis europeae has spreading and subterranean stolons.
The leaves of both Common and Yellow Wood-sorrels are pale green and clover-like. Each leaf consists of three heart-shaped leaflets. At night, the leaves fold downward.
The generic name oxalis comes from the Greek oxys meaning ‘sour’. The common name ‘sorrel’ comes from the French word for ‘sour’. Leaves of all species of Oxalis have a pleasant, tart taste and can be included in a salad as greens. The leaves are also used in a tea, to be served as a cold drink.
Oxalic acids cause the plants’ sour taste. Use caution ingesting this plant since it can aggravate some conditions such as arthritis, and large quantities can affect the body’s absorption of calcium.
To make a tea and a cold drink from Oxalis leaves, first pick, sort and wash the leaves…
Pour hot water on the leaves. They turn brown instantly! I left the tea to steep for about 10 minutes.
Strain and pour the sorrel-ade over ice cubes. The Wood-sorrel tea makes a pleasant cold drink, with a tart taste and a familiar but elusive flavour. Enjoy!~
Oxalis montana Raf.
carpets the grove
three green leaflets
lined in mauve, held low
in folds at night
creamy white, fragile
veins inked in red
Previously published in 2012 at www.nichepoetryandprose.wordpress.com
© Jane Tims 2016
When we were children, we often pretended to be storekeepers and picked various wild plants as the ‘food’ for sale. We collected weed seeds for our ‘wheat’, clover-heads as ‘ice-cream’, vetch seed pods as ‘peas’, and (gasp) Common Nightshade berries as ‘tomatoes’.
This is probably a good place to urge you to teach your children – everything that looks like a vegetable or fruit may not be good for them to eat! I don’t remember ever trying any of our pretend ‘groceries’, but some of them, such as the Common Nightshade berries, were poisonous and harmful.
We also ‘sold’ the leaves of Common Plantain at our ‘store’. They looked like spinach, and the Plantain leaves would have been fine for us to eat.
Common Plantain (Plantago major L.) is a very easily found weed since it grows almost everywhere, especially along roadsides, in dooryards and in other waste places. Plantain is also known as Ribwort, Broad-leaved Plantain, Whiteman’s Foot, or, in French, queue de rat. The generic name comes from the Latin word planta meaning ‘foot’. Major means ‘larger’.
Plantain has thick, dark green, oval leaves. These grow near the ground in a basal rosette. The stems of the leaves are long and trough-like. The leaves themselves are variously hairy and feel rough to the touch. The leaf has large, prominent veins, and, as the plant grows older, these veins become very stringy. The veins resist the breakage of the leaf and stick out from the stem end of a harvested leaf like the strings of celery.
Flowers of Plantain grow in a dense spike on a long, slender stalk rising from the leaves. The flowers are small and greenish-white, appearing from June to August.
The young leaves of Common Plantain can be used in a salad or cooked and seasoned with salt and butter. The older leaves are tough and stringy – not very palatable.
plantain, past the picking –
a pulled leaf resists,
tethered to a thread
© Jane Tims 2012Warning: 1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification; 2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives; 3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.
One of the poems in my book within easy reach recalls a walk I took with my husband and our discovery of wild strawberries growing in profusion in a clearing in the forest.
Old Man’s Beard
Usnea subfloridana Stirt.
you and I
forced our ways
bent through the thicket
of lichen and spruce
caught in your beard
and we laughed
us with stooped backs
and grey hair?
found a game trail
a strawberry marsh
crushed into sedge
dusted with sugar
washed down with cold tea
warmed by rum
an old woman
lost her way in the spruce
caught in the branches
Published as ‘Old Man’s Beard’, The Fiddlehead 180, Summer, 1994
© Jane Tims 2016
Although I don’t keep bees, honey bees were a part of my early life. My dad always had beehives. I can see him in my mind’s eye, calmly moving among the hives. I can also remember the honey centrifuge, ‘walking’ across our kitchen floor. Today, in my refrigerator, I still have one tub, part full and over 40 years old, of my dad’s honey. Not to eat, of course, but as a keepsake of those days.
The poem ‘beekeeper’ will be in my new poetry book.
bees smoke-drowsy rag smoulders swung slowly protected thick
in net and cotton wicking folds into beeswax candle flame
pours golden through panes in the honeycomb
streamers sweet circles sink into bread
flicks the bee
from his fingers
spit and mud
for a poultice
Published as: ‘beekeeper’, Canadian Stories 17 (95), February/March 2014
A version of this post was published at www.janetims.com in 2014.
Copyright 2016 Jane Tims
Within a month, I expect to launch my new poetry book, ‘within easy reach’. It contains poems and drawings about eating local foods, in particular wild foods.
As I worked on my poetry book, I researched each wild plant, found it in its natural environment, and then wrote about it. As with all my poetry, I am exposed to the words and characteristics of a particular plant and it is never certain which way the ‘muse’ will take me when I write the poem. Sometimes, I end up creating a poem about eating local food, and sometimes, I get a poem about something else. Usually these stray poems are, in some way, about the name of the plant.
I find the names of plants are very inspiring. First is the Latin or scientific name, familiar to me after years of botanizing, but mysterious to most people. I love to find out about the origins of the name and I usually discover the name is descriptive of the plant. An example is the scientific name for Yellow Wood-sorrel (Oxalis stricta L.), a small yellow-flowered, three-leaved plant of waste areas. The name stricta means ‘erect’, referring to the way the plant grows when young or the way its seed pods are held. The word oxalis is from the Greek oxys meaning ‘sour’, a reference to the taste of the leaves.
The common names of plants are also intriguing. Sometimes these are different for each area where the plant is found. For example, the Cloudberry (Rubus Chamaemorus L.), a small relative of Blackberry with a peach-colored fruit, is known locally (and particularly in Newfoundland) as Bakeapple. Plant names may also refer to a characteristic of the plant. A good example is Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris L.), a small purple flower. It inhabits waste areas and lawns, becoming small and compact if mowed. One of its common names, ‘Carpenter Weed’, comes from this characteristic… Carpenter Weed mends holes in lawns! The name Heal-all comes from the old belief that the plant has medicinal properties.
So, among my collection of poems about edible plants, almost every poem contains some reference to the name of the plant and it meaning.
I hope you will enjoy my poems. And when you see a plant, familiar or new, take a moment to find out something about its name and what it means!
(Prunella vulgaris L.)
snug Prunella, neat little weed
prim and proper, gone to seed
first called Brunella: gatherers found
Prunella purple fades to brown
a carpenter weed, busy, strong
mends bare patches on the lawn
heal-all, self-heal – your name suggests
an herbal secret you possess
A version of this post was published at www.nichepoetryandprose.wordpress.com in September 2012
© Jane Tims 2016