Wood Sorrel: A Nutritious Edible Weed
Wood Sorrel (Part of "Edible Weeds in Los Angeles")
Wood sorrel is one of my favorite edible wild plants. It's 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". So 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.
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, strait, drawn together".
There is further study of oxalis stricta at kingdomPlantae.
A local girl!
A lot of common weeds are transplants that were brought to America by European settlers, but Oxalis stricta is a North American native!
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. But clover has oval-shaped leaves. 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 "Shamrock"?
Really, no. The word shamrock is derived from the Irish word seamróg, which means "clover". The real Irish shamrock is white clover (Trifolium repens). But most of the popular images you see for shamrocks show leaves that look more like sorrel than clover.
If you want to see what the real Irish shamrock looks like, check out my page about clover.
Wood sorrel is high in vitamin C and also contains vitamin A.
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.
Ways 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.
- A multitude of soup recipes from Cooks.com
- Bay Scallops in Wood Sorrel Butter Sauce
- Wood Sorrel Custard Pie
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
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.
© 2009 Joan Hall