Today’s plant for #WildEdibleWednesday is one of our all-time favorites… the Oxalis genus, or Wood Sorrel. The species pictured, and the most common one in our area, is Oxalis stricta, or Yellow-Flowered Wood Sorrel. Before we get started, I’d like to say a word about this post and #WildEdibleWednesday in general – this is our first-ever repeat of a #WildEdibleWednesday plant. We’ve been at this for nearly a year now, and so far, we’ve had a distinctly different plant (almost) every week. But here’s the thing: The first few months of these posts were on Instagram exclusively and were limited by Insta’s character limit. They’re really short, and frankly, some of them are kinda boring. They leave out a lot of the important details about habitat, cultural history, and most critically, practical uses. So starting now, we’ll revisit a plant we’ve already covered now and again in greater detail on the blog so that you can gain a better understanding of its significance and how to actually use it when you find it. Sound good? Cool. Let’s get to it.
Like I said before, wood sorrel is one of our favorite wild edible and medicinal plants. Like so many of the plants we’ve featured, it’s generally considered a weed. If you’ve sprayed it or pulled it, shame on you – you’re missing out! Oxalis is a perennial native herb, and can be found throughout the Eastern Woodlands. There are similar species in the forests of the West that look similar and can be used for the same purposes. It grows 3”-10” with alternately branching stems tipped by three heart-shaped leaflets. Wood sorrel has no deadly or toxic mimics, but it is often mistaken for white clover. There are several ways to differentiate the two: Wood sorrel has heart-shaped leaves, clover has oval leaves. Clover leaves are usually a darker green with white rings mid-leaf. Wood sorrel leaves are a bright yellow-green and a solid color. And of course, there are the flowers. Wood sorrel flowers are bright yellow, five-petaled, and a little less than a half inch across at their biggest. Clover flowers are white, compound, ball-shaped, and about an inch around. One of the coolest things that wood sorrel does is “go to sleep.” At night, during rainstorms, or in the hottest part of the day, the leaves fold flat and downward to protect themselves. This is one of the easiest ways to spot wood sorrel.
As the name implies, wood sorrel likes rich, open woods with lots of sunlight. It’s also found commonly in yards, gardens, fields, pastures, roadsides, and home sites, both old and new.
Oxalis is probably one of the best-tasting wild greens around. It’s got a very tart, clean flavor with none of the bitterness or astringent flavor associated with most other wild greens. It’s extremely high in vitamin C and vitamin A due to the oxalic acid in its leaves. It’s great to pick up and forage on as you’re hiking through the woods, and will leave your mouth with a clean, fresh taste. It’s good as a salad ingredient, although it’s probably a little intense to be the only green in a salad. There are a whole slew of recipes out there for it, including soups, desserts, sauces to complement fish or game to braised or wilted greens to pair with venison. In an ironic twist of fate which we find highly entertaining, some of the fanciest restaurants in New York, L.A., Atlanta, and elsewhere serve wood sorrel as a garnish or a dish to complement meals that would be worth a few day’s pay for us. Then the same people that shell out hundreds of dollars for that rare culinary experience go home and spray the wood sorrel in their own yards with Roundup because they don’t know any better.
One of the best ways to experience wood sorrel is as an iced tea. I made some today for this blog post and I’ll pass the recipe along to y’all, because it’s definitely worth trying. It’s super easy – if you botch this, well… I’m not gonna go there.
- 1 cup wood sorrel, chopped loosely (or twisted and bruised)
- 2 cups water
- Local honey to taste
Boil the water. Pour it over the leaves. Allow it to steep for half an hour or so. Add honey to taste. Chill it, and serve over ice. It’s that simple.
You can experiment with the quantity of water, the temperature, or the steep time to change the flavor and find what you like best. Add in some other safe, tried-and-true tea plants like plantain, wintergreen, or white pine if you like. Go crazy. It’s a free country (sort of) and this is your tea. Do what you want with it. I made a batch after driving a farm tractor all day and choking on dust in the heat, and let me tell you, it’s an elixir of life. It tastes a lot like lemonade except it goes down easier. I even got fancy with it and served it in a pint jar garnished with a sorrel sprig, and I’m not a bit ashamed of it.
Wood sorrel also has several medicinal uses as well. That same tea is useful as a fever reducer, diuretic, and thirst quencher when you’re suffering from a high fever. A decoction (same process as the tea, just actively boil it instead of steeping it) is useful for treating stomach issues such as vomiting, upset stomach, ulcers, and a lack of appetite. Externally, it makes a great poultice for stopping bleeding and reducing inflammation. Disclaimer: Some sites (including WebMD) will tell you to stay away from wood sorrel and that it’s all kinds of evil, citing studies about the dangers and side effects of oxalic acid, including internal bleeding, kidney issues, pregnancy complications, etc. My take on this is that those studies involved laboratory testing of rats with high concentrations of pure oxalic acid – not wood sorrel. People have been using this herb safely and effectively for thousands of years, and when taken in moderation, it’s harmless. But at the same time, use common sense: If you have gout, kidney disease, or other renal issues, or you’re pregnant or nursing, talk to a doctor if you plan to eat or drink a lot of wood sorrel. And like we always say about ANY wild plant… only ingest a small amount until you’re sure of how it’s going to affect you. And, if you’re collecting from a yard or pasture, make sure you know the pesticide and herbicide use history before you eat it.
So that’s wood sorrel 2.0. If you tried the tea and liked it, tell us! We love to hear it when people actually get out in the field and get their hands dirty. If you enjoyed this post, like and share it! And if you want some hands-on experience with wild edible and medicinal plants, we’ll be covering it in Wilderness Survival Essentials on June 2nd from 0900-1900. Register now at www.sarcraft.com/wilderness-survival-essentials!