Wood Sorrel: A Nutritious Edible Weed
Wood Sorrel Is Edible
Wood sorrel is one of my favorite edible wild plants. Its lemony taste is a great addition to a morning salad. It's found all over the Los Angeles area. If you keep your eyes open, you're bound to encounter it.
Getting Acquainted With Wood Sorrel
The genus name for wood sorrel is oxalis. Oxalis comes from the Greek oxus, which means "sour". What this plant is best known for is its tangy flavor.
There are many different species of oxalis, the best known being oxalis acetosella, which has white flowers with streaks of pink. I've never seen that one around here, however. The sorrel that we have in abundance in the Los Angeles area is yellow wood sorrel (oxalis stricta), which has yellow flowers. Stricta is Latin and means "tight, close, straight, drawn together".
Did You Know?
A lot of common weeds are transplants that were brought to America by European settlers, but Oxalis stricta is a North American native!
How to Identify Oxalis Stricta
The most notable identifying feature is its three heart-shaped leaves. Because it has three leaves on each stem, it is sometimes confused with clover. Clover, however, has oval-shaped leaves, while sorrel leaves are heart-shaped.
Each leaf has a center crease. At night and in the rain, the leaves and flowers fold in. The leaves are usually green, but sometimes you see plants with reddish leaves. The flowers of the Oxalis stricta are yellow with five petals.
Is It a "Shamrock"?
Not really. The word shamrock is derived from the Irish word seamróg, which means "clover". The real Irish shamrock is white clover (Trifolium repens). For some reason, most of the popular images you see for shamrocks show leaves that look more like sorrel than clover.
Wood sorrel is high in vitamin C and also contains vitamin A. To no surprise, oxalis is also high in oxalic acid, which is the same substance that causes experts to tell us to eat spinach in moderation.
How to Eat It
I love eating a sprig of wood sorrel all by itself now and then. It's also one of my favorite salad ingredients. You wouldn't want to use it as your main salad ingredient, but it adds a wonderful zing to your other salad greens. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible.
In her book Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, Ruth Reichl talks about eating wood sorrel in salads at fancy New York restaurants.
I've never tried it cooked, but the internet has lots of recipe suggestions:
Sweetened wood sorrel tea is said to taste something like lemonade, and some people use it in beer-making.
Wood sorrel leaves are also recommended as a medicinal herb.
Some of its purported beneficial properties are:
- Diuretic properties
- Fever reduction
- Increasing appetite
- Reducing inflammation when applied topically
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Is oxalic acid a cause of gout and rheumatism?
I haven't seen any data that suggests that foods with oxalic acid will cause rheumatism, but some people feel that oxalic acid can make the disease worse in people who already have it. So it is recommended that people with rheumatism consult with a doctor for advice about what limits they should put on their oxalate intake.Helpful 5
Is the whole stem of the wood sorrel edible? I want to eat the clump where the stems come together.
Yes, I eat the stems all the time.Helpful 2
How do you control wood sorrel in your lawn?
Start picking the wood sorrel and adding the tangy, vitamin-packed leaves and flowers to your salads, and you'll probably run out it before you know it!Helpful 1
I have read that wood sorrels are poisonous, is it true?
I've never seen any source that called oxalis poisonous. One thing about the plant is that is has a lot of oxalic acid (a substance that is also found in spinach). Some nutritionists say that an excess of oxalic acid can be harmful, so that would mean that both spinach and wood sorrel should be eaten in moderate amounts.
© 2009 Joan Hall