Wood Sorrel – Oxalis SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Sourgrass of Wild Plants

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Like red osier berries, wood sorrel (oxalis spp.) is a sour edible to spice up your culinary adventures. It’s almost as easy of an edible and medicinal wild plant to find as dandelion.

We have at least two fairly common sorrels. Firstly, mountain wood-sorrel (oxalis montana), whose flower looks like spring beauties, only with shamrock leaves. And secondly, yellow wood sorrel (oxalis stricta) as pictured below. I have yet to notice mountain sorrel in the wild here. It’s in damp, swampy mixed woods, whereas the more familiar yellow sort likes old lawns, driveways, and sandy roadsides – everywhere humans have disturbed the soil.

Wood Sorrel - Oxalis SPP.
Wood Sorrel – Oxalis SPP.

Edible Uses of Wood Sorrel

Wood sorrel has a mild sour flavor, like a tarter spinach. Oxalis actually means “sour”; it’s the somewhat controversial oxalic acid that gives it sourness (see Warnings below). If you need to add sour to your recipe, it’s a go to wild spice of sorts. Wood sorrels used to be consumed often, until unrelated but similar in culinary usage “garden sorrel” overtook these wild sorrels in popularity.

Sorrel stems, leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked. Pleasant tasting new green leaves could even be used like rhubarb in a pie, or pickled to make a sort of wild sauerkraut. Older leaves can be eaten as well, though they have that usual touch of bitterness old plant age comes with. Speaking of rhubarb, its sourness also comes from oxalic acid.

The onion like tubers can be eaten raw or boiled too. In other parts of the world, some varieties are even cultivated like yams.

With its lemony taste you can make a lemonade substitute, adding sugar. A sorrelade. It’s apparently good for a dry wine too.

Raw or steeped it’s a good source of vitamin C.

Medicinal Uses of Wood Sorrel

Wood sorrel is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Antiseptic, Astringent, Diuretic and Stomachic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the green sauce or fresh leaves in a tea to soothe the digestive system. A cold infusion works as well. Because of the oxalic acid scare internal use has been shooed, but unless you have one of the conditions mentioned in the warnings below there should be no problem using the fresh leaves sparingly.

Alternative Uses of Lemon Clover

A yellow dye can be obtained by boiling the whole oxalis stricta plant. Adding washing soda will make it more of an orange red. Oxalic acid is a mordant, making sorrel a great choice for a natural dye.

If you’re a little thirsty in the woods, the leaves can be refreshing.

Growing Oxalis SPP.

Wood sorrel is native around Haliburton! It prefers partial to full sun and loamy soil. It’s an aggressive spreader if you just need to fill in disturbed spots in your yard as quickly as possible. It’ll probably move itself right in.


Consume in moderation due to oxalic acid; and for the same reason you may want to avoid it if you have arthritis/rheumatism/gout, kidney stones or any kidney issues. If you have normal kidney function it’s highly unlikely oxalic acid would cause any issues.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

A Modern Herbal (Volume 2, I-Z and Indexes)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

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