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Wood Sorrel - A Nutritious Edible Weed

Updated on February 22, 2017
I photographed this lovely patch of flowering yellow wood sorrel in a yard in Carson.
I photographed this lovely patch of flowering yellow wood sorrel in a yard in Carson. | Source

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!

Me holding a wood sorrel leaf.
Me holding a wood sorrel leaf. | Source

Identification

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.

A lot of sour foods are high in vitamin C, including wood sorrel.
A lot of sour foods are high in vitamin C, including wood sorrel. | Source

Nutritional Info

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.

Photo taken in Lynwood.
Photo taken in Lynwood. | Source

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.

Sweetened wood sorrel tea is said to taste something like lemonade. And some people use it in beer-making.

Wood sorrel photographed in a yard in Lynwood
Wood sorrel photographed in a yard in Lynwood | Source

Medicinal Uses

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

© 2009 Joan Hall

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    • profile image

      Deni 20 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Cecilie 2 years ago

      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 profile image

      ForestBear LM 5 years ago

      Thank you for the introduction to wood sorrel. Another great lens! Thank you for sharing

    • joanhall profile image
      Author

      Joan Hall 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      @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.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 5 years ago from San Francisco

      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.

    • mihgasper profile image

      Miha Gasper 5 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      i never heard about wood sorrel before. Thanks for introduction!

    • sockii profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Fascinating stuff - I would have thought the sorrel was clover as well!

    • RawBill1 profile image

      Bill 5 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      Interesting to know which weeds are edible - points out that we can always survive with innovation -:)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      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 profile image

      sorana lm 6 years ago

      I have to admit that I had no idea about the qualities of this weed. Very interesting lens.

    • caffimages profile image

      caffimages 6 years ago

      very informative lens. I do know a lot of edible plants but was unanware of this one.

    • Terry Boroff profile image

      Terry Boroff (flipflopnana) 6 years ago from FL

      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!

    • sudokunut profile image

      Mark Falco 6 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      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.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      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.

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      Allan R. Wallace 6 years ago from Wherever Human Rights Reign

      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.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I never knew this. I will be on the look out next time. This is very useful information for me.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      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 profile image

      dc64 lm 7 years ago

      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?

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 7 years ago

      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!

    • KOrazem profile image

      Seeking Pearls 8 years ago from Pueblo West

      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.

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      GrowWear 8 years ago

      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!

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      Well this is very interesting. Never thought of eating it.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 8 years ago from United States

      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.