Joan lives in Los Angeles, where she has an enduring love affair with edible weeds.
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".
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
Question: Is oxalic acid a cause of gout and rheumatism?
Answer: 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.
Question: I have read that wood sorrels are poisonous, is it true?
Answer: 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.
Question: Is the whole stem of the wood sorrel edible? I want to eat the clump where the stems come together.
Answer: Yes, I eat the stems all the time.
Question: How do you control wood sorrel in your lawn?
Answer: 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!
© 2009 Joan Hall
kate talbot on August 05, 2018:
I love the taste of sorrel and mine has purple leaves and pale pink flower; but I have heard oxalic acid is bad for gout sufferers - do you know if its true?
Deni on January 19, 2016:
I too live in Los Angeles and have happily munched this plant for a long time but need to correct your naming. The plant with bright yellow flowers and small purple freckles on tall stems that grow from one central stem is called Bermuda Buttercup, Sour Grass, or African Sorrel (among other common names) and native to South Africa. It grows like crazy here when the weather is cool, from fall into spring and then dies back when the weather heats up. It can grow wild here, living off nothing but rainfall. It grows from a small, brown "nut"-like bulb, which reproduces like mad in the fall and ends up covering large areas.
The plant usually called Wood Sorrel, Oxalis stricta, grows close to the ground and spreads into a large patch with underground runners. It is more rare here in Southern California because it prefers cooler, more nothern climates. You also have photos of other Oxalis with small pink and/or white flowers which are little bushy ornamental varieties that tend to grow in peoples gardens here but usually dont survive without some watering or care.
All of them are edible and taste lemon-y or "sour" because of the oxalic acid.
Cecilie on August 28, 2015:
Hi Joan. Thank you for your articles! I learn a lot from them! I live in Catalunya where we have lots of wild plants.
We have an abundance of little plants looking just like this wood sorrel, except they have no flowers and the leaves are dark green. Are there any toxic look alikes you know about? I try to make very sure I am certain before I try eating any of these plants :)
Thank you for your help!
ForestBear LM on May 06, 2012:
Thank you for the introduction to wood sorrel. Another great lens! Thank you for sharing
Joan Hall (author) from Los Angeles on April 01, 2012:
@ecogranny: Yes, it does require a particular mindset. Some people won't eat anything that grew anywhere in Los Angeles because of the air pollution! But I think that the weeds are a gift to us to help us survive life in the urban jungle. I would love to share knowledge about edible weeds with homeless people who need food to eat, but I'm not sure how I would do it.
Something that fills me with longing is when I see a vacant lot that has been fenced off to keep out evildoers and it's overrun with beautiful weeds.
Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on April 01, 2012:
Another wonderful page about edible wild plants. I so enjoy these pages. I did not know wood sorrel was edible. I also love the images you conjure in my mind of foraging for these plants among the cracks in concrete in the heart of Los Angeles, or picking them in the shadow of a rusty barrel in an empty lot.
Miha Gasper from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU on March 31, 2012:
i never heard about wood sorrel before. Thanks for introduction!
Nicole Pellegrini from New Jersey on March 17, 2012:
Fascinating stuff - I would have thought the sorrel was clover as well!
Bill from Gold Coast, Australia on December 03, 2011:
Wood Sorrel is not one that I was as familiar with in Australia, but a visiting American friend who is an expert in the field of edible weeds managed to find some growing earlier this year at a retreat that I was at with him.
anonymous on July 25, 2011:
I've always wanted to know more about wood sorrel, as I have eaten and loved it since I was a little girl, but I only knew it's name in my language, Afrikaans, which is Suurrings :). Suur meaning sour.
Thanks for all your info, long live Wood Sorrel! Lank lewe die Suurrring!
darciefrench lm on May 30, 2011:
Interesting to know which weeds are edible - points out that we can always survive with innovation -:)
anonymous on May 30, 2011:
Great advice. I think there's some of this growing near the woods in our backyard--I'll have to try it. Never knew so many weeds were edible!
sorana lm on May 28, 2011:
I have to admit that I had no idea about the qualities of this weed. Very interesting lens.
caffimages on May 15, 2011:
very informative lens. I do know a lot of edible plants but was unanware of this one.
Terry Boroff (flipflopnana) from FL on April 01, 2011:
I see this growing everywhere and just thought it was clover. I will be sure to pick some and try it in my salad soon. Thanks!
Mark Falco from Reno, Nevada on March 26, 2011:
I first experienced the taste of this on a school trip to Danbury woods umpteen years ago. I remember everyone was very reluctant to eat the various 'weeds' our guide kept plucking out of the ground! This one tasted great though. I didn't realise it had medicinal properties as well.
anonymous on February 19, 2011:
You took me by surprise here too Joan but I shouldn't be after learning about stinging nettle from you. I guess I thought wood sorrel was some type of clover all this time.
Allan R. Wallace from Wherever Human Rights Reign on January 10, 2011:
I grew up in Orange County, I think this is what we ate as sour grass -- just the long yellow flower stems, usually eaten on the way to and from school. My older brother shared it with me. I taught my kids to eat it too. Refreshing. Five generations of my family have lived in California, it's funny what we've picked up without knowing origins.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 30, 2010:
I never knew this. I will be on the look out next time. This is very useful information for me.
anonymous on August 05, 2010:
I live in Western Australia and the yellow wood sorrel is in full bloom at the moment. Every time we go outside my son runs straight to it and grabs a couple of handfuls to eat in the car. People have questioned me on whether or not he should be eating it and I assumed it was fine because I remember eating it as a child. I'm glad to hear that it does have some nutritional benefits but I think that I will be limiting him to maybe just a couple of stems a day due to its ability to reduce iron and calcium absorption. Thanks for all of your info :)
dc64 lm on June 23, 2010:
Living in the middle of the woods like I do, I've wondered how many of the different weeds that grow around here are edible. I'm going to look for this plant today. Perhaps it also grows in Alabama?
RinchenChodron on October 05, 2009:
Very nicely done lens. Good luck reaching Giant Squid! I'm afraid I wouldn't eat anything growing the LA - the air is soooo poluted!
Seeking Pearls from Pueblo West on August 05, 2009:
hmm...I'm in Colorado so I wonder if it is growing in this area, it sure does look like shamrock. This is an interesting lens Joan. I enjoyed it.
GrowWear on August 04, 2009:
Now I have to do some inspecting. We've always called our little guys "clover." The heart shape is very familiar. I bet we've been clueless all these years. :D Thank you for the enlightening us!
anonymous on August 04, 2009:
Well this is very interesting. Never thought of eating it.
Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on August 04, 2009:
Hwy, Isn't this what Milly picked in the movie "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" to make soup on the night they got married? So glad you told me about it. I had no clue.