Crunchy Mama's Urban Homestead

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Green Sour Butterfly Leaves (Wood Sorrel; Oxalis) — Crunchy Mama’s Wild Edible Adventures

Greetings, friends!  Next up in my wild edibles series is wood sorrel.  Wood sorrel might be mistaken by new foragers for clover but after reading this post you will know how to distinguish it from clover.  It is similar to clover in that it has three small leaves coming from the end of a small stem.  Wood sorrel, however, has three heart-shaped leaves and the veins in the leaflets radiate out from the base whereas clover has three egg-shaped leaves and the veins in the leaflet come out from various points from the center vein.  The wood sorrel flowers have 5 petals and the clover flowers have “lots of tiny pea-like flowers clustered together on flower heads” (Kallas).  Click here to see images of clover flowers.  Both clover leaves and flowers and wood sorrel leaves and flowers are edible but the taste difference is very distinct.

Wood sorrel between my fingers

 
Wood sorrel has a bright, sour, lemony flavor.  Clover does not have this sour flavor.  The sour flavor comes from a mixture of acids including oxalic acid; a common warning to those with kidney problems, gout, etc. is that they should avoid plants with oxalic acid.  Everyone should be aware that consuming vast amounts of foods with oxalic acid might cause problems (see below for more links regarding oxalic acid).  Many “normal” foods have oxalic acid but there are no big warning labels on them regarding oxalic acid (spinach, swiss chard, and beet greens, okra, figs, peanuts to name a few, according to http://juicing-for-health.com/oxalic-acid.html).  John Kallas writes, “[i]n spite of many authors claiming so, oxalates are not a problem for normal healthy humans eating a normally diverse diet.”  You will need to do your own research and decide what works for you. 
 
One of its nutritional benefits when consumed as part of a varied diet and in moderation (whatever THAT means — sarcasm) is that it is high in vitamin C.  Another source says that it is high in vitamin A.  Kallas reports that it is high in iron and calcium.
 
 
Other names it might be called are: sour grass, shamrock (although clovers are sometimes called shamrock so I would avoid calling wood sorrel shamrock), yellow oxalis, sour clover, or oxalis (after the genus that it belongs to).
 
I have personally only eaten wood sorrel as “trail nibble”, meaning that I just picked some leaves and ate them then and there.  Because of the oxalic acid, the surface of your teeth will feel strange for a few minutes.  It’s the same feeling that you would get after eating raw spinach leaves (for the same reason: oxalic acid). 
 
Poisonous look-alikes? No
 
Here is the itemization for wood sorrel:
 
Identification: Herbaceous (non-woody) plant with slender rhizomes; each leaf (green or plum-colored) is made of three heart-shaped leaflets that are an inch or less in length and they grow out from one point at the end of the leaf stalk (aka the petiole, pronounced PET ee ohl) and each leaflet has a crease along the middle and the leaflets can open and close depending on the weather (like a butterfly); the small flowers can be yellow or violet and have 5 petals. 
 
Time of year: spring through fall
 
Environment: Found in the lower 48 States. Likes partly shady areas and moist soil.
 
Method of preparation: You can eat the leaves, flowers and pods raw or cooked.  John Kallas recommends that when you snip off the leaves and flowers that you snip about 1/2 inch down the stem (from the leaves and flowers).  The stem is fibrous so you do not want to include much of the stem.  You can include some wood sorrel in your salad (maybe 20% of your greens) or you  can add them to soups or make a tangy sauce with them (see Kallas’ book for the recipes).  You can dry the stems, bundle them together with some clean string and make a tea by seeping the dried stems for a minute or two in hot water, according to Kallas.
 

Additional resources for learning more about wood sorrel:

John Kallas’ Edible Wild Plants pages 177-190 (This book is one of the BEST books on wild edibles! Go read the reviews!)

Green Deane’s http://www.eattheweeds.com/sorrel-not-a-sheepish-rumex/

Steve Brill’s http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Plants.Folder/Sorrel.html

http://www.american-lawns.com/problems/weeds/wood_sorrel.html

http://kingdomplantae.net/yellowWoodSorrel.php

http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/s/sorwoo68.html

More reading on oxalic acid:

http://juicing-for-health.com/oxalic-acid.html (“ORGANIC oxalic acid is essential for our body. It is the INORGANIC form of
oxalic acid that we need to be aware of.”)

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400344/Avoid-Vegetables-with-Oxalic-Acid.html

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