A Pair of Perennial Edibles

The word perennial derives from the Latin per (meaning throughout) and annus (meaning year), and applied to plants indicates species that persist from one year to the next. This doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that the above-ground parts of the plants persist throughout the winter. For example, a Daffodil is a perennial that survives from one year to the next due to its underground bulb.

Two perennial plants with edible leaves that I’ve seen in good condition while out and about this week are Common Sorrel, Rumex acetosa, and Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata.

Leaves of Common Sorrel, Rumex acetosa
Common Sorrel, Rumex acetosa, in Teesdale, County Durham, December 2011. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Common Sorrel is a common plant of moist areas such as lush meadows, wayside verges, woodland clearings and riverbanks. It has an elongated leaf with a rounded tip and two ‘wings’ that extend towards the stem. The leaves feel quite thick and firm for their size and a little rubbery in surface texture.

Common Sorrel contains oxalic acid which gives sorrels their distinctive sharp, acid taste reminiscent of that of the peel of fruits such as apples or plums.

Common Sorrel has long been put to culinary use, bringing a distinctive flavour to various sweet and savoury dishes. A number of ideas and recipes are mentioned, for example, in Richard Mabey’s book Food for Free.

Leaves of Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata, amongst grass.
Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata, growing on a wayside verge in Teesdale, County Durham, December 2011. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Ribwort Plantain is a very common plant in the UK. It has long, lance-shaped leaves (NB the lanceolata element of its scientific name) which have very well defined ribs running along their length (remember this as the rib part of ‘ribwort’).

Similar to Common Sorrel, Ribwort Plantain grows in grassy areas such as meadows, riverbanks and waysides. The leaves are edible and best steamed/lightly boiled. The ribs make the steamed leaves stringy, however, so it’s best to cut them up first.

Have you tried either of these plants? Do you have any recipes to share? Let us and other readers know in the comments.

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Paul Kirtley is Founder and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog. He is the author of Wilderness Axe Skills and Campcraft, as well as having contributed to several other books. Paul has been involved in teaching bushcraft since 2003. He is also a Canoe Leader, British Canoeing Level 3 Canoe Coach and UK Summer Mountain Leader.

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3 Responses

  1. Austin Lill
    | Reply

    Have to say, I usually think of Plantain in medicinal terms and have never eaten it.

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Austin, have you used Ribwort Plantain for treating coughs and colds at all?

    • Matt Batham
      | Reply

      I too was more familiar with the healing properties of plantain. Used as a pultice to encourage the healing of cuts, it is said to have some anaesthetic qualities aswell as encouraging cell growth. The fluid gained from working the leaves is also good for cleaning wounds in the absene of clean water.

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