Wild Edibles – Wood Sorrel (Oxalis)

It looks similar to clover, but as you’ll see they are quite different.  These tart little darlings are known as Wood Sorrel (a.k.a woodsorrel, wood-sorrel, sourgrass, shamrock, and many more), scientific name, Oxalis.  It gets its name from the oxalic acid content contained within the plant.  The oxalic acid is what gives this plant its sour or lemon like taste.  If you’re prone to kidney stones, or are allergic to oxalic acid in any way, then you’ll want to avoid this genus entirely.  Oxalic acid comes with a warning that the consumption of too great an amount can bind up the body’s calcium.  Don’t freak out, because many plants we already eat (like spinach, beets, beet greens, chocolate, pecans, rhubarb, and many more) contain some amount of oxalic acid.  Just eat them in moderation (I do).  Cooking foods containing oxalic acid can remove much of the chemical, so if you are afraid of spinach, then cook it.

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, this is the plant known as a shamrock (but so was clover Trifolium, which we will cover in another article), because its three heart shaped leaves represented the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Oxalis has over 800 known species.  This plant has a long history as a wild edible, and was also used for medicinal purposes.  A variety of Native American tribes used Wood Sorrel for  preventing scurvy, sore throats, colds, fever, or nausea.  It was even documented to have been considered an aphrodisiac.

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Pink Wood Sorrel Fl0wers

There are two types that grow around here.  One is what I call “pink wood sorrel” because it throws up a pink, 5 petaled flower in the later spring, and summer. The pink variety grows with one stalk, and one set of leaves (the shamrock-y part).  There are not multiple shamrocks growing from a branched stem.

The other type is what I call “yellow wood sorrel” because (you guessed it) it has a yellow 5 petaled flower.  The yellow type, I believe to be Oxalis stricta.

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Yellow Wood Sorrel Seed Pods

It has much, much smaller leaves, and flowers, and grows off of the same branching stalk. These little guys, when mature, form seed pods that are like little capsules.  When it is time to distribute seed, they pop open, and fling the seeds like an explosion.  My favorite part of the plant is the pre-exploded little seed pods, because when you bite down on them, they kind of pop in your mouth.  They are quite tart.

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Yellow Wood Sorrel with Flower

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Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta) with no flower or seed pods yet.

Both varieties, will fold up or close their leaves at night time.  This is known as nyctinastyThe entire plant is edible on both varieties.

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Left: Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta); Center: Pink Wood Sorrel (Oxalis something); Right: White Clover (Trifolium repens) for comparison

How it is eaten:

Wood Sorrel is good as a tangy addition to a salad, or as a trail nibble.  Native Americans used to chew on the flowers, leaves and seed pods as a thirst quencher.  It can also be brewed into a tea, or made into a lemon aid substitute.  I’ve even heard of people making deserts with wood sorrel. I may have to try to come up with a wood sorrel ice box pie one of these days!

It can be cooked, and doing so would remove some of the oxalic acid.  I’ve never tried this, because I prefer them raw in a mixed salad, but whatever floats your boat, man.  This is not a wild edible to eat as the primary ingredient in a meal, so don’t think you’re ever going to survive on this stuff in the wild or anything.  It is just a good herb to add to others collected to make a meal.

Medicinal use:

It has been said that Wood Sorrel has the ability to:

  • Reduce fever (antipyretic)
  • Act as a mild diuretic (eliminates excess fluids in the body through urination)
  • Increase appetite (if you are taking certain medications that might act as a appetite suppressant, like many ADD or ADHD meds)
  • Reduce inflammation (anti-inflammatory)
  • Induce Beer Goggle Effect. (If just one leaflet is consumed along with copious amounts of alcohol, it can make nearly any member of the opposite sex appear more attractive.) This last one is not a recommended use of this medicinal herb, and has only been proven by anecdotal evidence.  Subsequent research is forthcoming as evidence is collected weekend out of nearly every college and university worldwide.

AS WITH ANY OF THE INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS WEBSITE, DO NOT USE THE INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN FOR IDENTIFICATION OF ANY WILD PLANT OR OTHER MATERIAL.  IT IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY, AND YOU SHOULD CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED EXPERT BEFORE YOU CONSUME ANY PART OF A WILD PLANT.  A MISTAKE CAN BE FATAL.  DON’T BE A MORON.

DON’T CONSUME ANYTHING TO TREAT THE BODY IN ANY WAY WITHOUT FIRST CONSULTING WITH A PHYSICIAN.  AGAIN, DON’T BE A MORON.

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Categories: Food, Foraging, Nature

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