One of the things I inevitably spend way too much time doing is weeding. Our yard was a terribly neglected weed-patch when we bought the house, and between that and the weeds you get even in the best-tended and mulched garden beds, there's a lot of ground to cover. Hunched over in the hot sun or swatting away mosquitos as I dig out roots and rhizomes, I'm inclined to curse these out-of-place plants -- but a little research and a lot of closer looking has changed my outlook somewhat.

For all that the weeds drive me crazy, there are relatively few in my yard that are "useless," and several that are useful enough that it's astonishing that as a culture we've dismissed them so thoroughly. So this summer I want to talk about a few of these that you just might have sprouting around your yard, and even if you don't decide to eat them, you might regard them a little differently.

Some of the plants I'm going to mention require a lot more effort to use than it's probably worth most of the time. (After all, who wants to spend hours digging, cleaning, and pounding quackgrass roots to make bread when we have far more effective ways to do it? What we might do in a time of need may not be worth it in a time of relative plenty.) But this one is easy; you can pick it as-is, rinse it off, and pop it right in your mouth, and it's delicious. It grows all over the place and isn't difficult to find or identify, so it's free...how can you beat that? :) This is wood sorrel, a diminuitive clover-like plant common in the Midwest:

This plant is not too problematic to identify, because the only thing it closely resembles is clover, which (while far less palatable) is not toxic. There are a couple of ways to distinguish it; a patch of sorrel isn't going to have clover flowers, for one! (Its flowers are the dainty yellow ones in the picture; they can also occasionally be white depending on the sorrel variety, but they don't look anything like clover flowers.) Clover also tends to have duller green leaves with lighter-colored markings on them (as in the picture below), which wood sorrel lacks. If all else fails, you can tell by taste -- a clover leaf tastes...leafy...while the taste of sorrel is hard to miss.

Wood sorrel has a delicious, tangy, lemony flavor that will surprise you if you've never tried it before. It tends to grow in clumps, so you can gather enough for a meal in just a few minutes. I toss mine into a cup or paper bag and then rinse it out in a colander in the kitchen sink the same way I'd rinse lettuce leaves, then use in a salad either by itself or with other greens like spinach and basil. The flavor is strong and pleasant enough that it doesn't need much dressing up; I use just a tiny amount of oil and vinegar (citrus balsamic is absolutely fantastic with it; in the Twin Cities you can get this stuff cheap at Holy Land). Sesame seeds or almond slivers are good in this kind of salad, too.

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