Wild Edible Plants: Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella)

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella)Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella) is an amazing wild edible, that has leaves and flowers that are best eaten raw. Commonly called sour grass, and often confused with “yellow clover”, Wood Sorrel is a sour treat that will quench your thirst, while you enjoy it as a trail side nibble.

The familiar acid of the Wood Sorrels is refreshing in warm weather and the leaves have long been popular with trampers and mountain climbers for their mildly tonic and refreshing properties. In small quantities the foliage is a wholesome addition to a salad, but, on account of the abundance of oxalic acid contained in the plant, it is unwise to eat the foliage in very large quantity.

The woodland species is one of the several plants usually identified as the Shamrock and it was doubtless the European Oxalis Acetosella to which Spenser referred when he wrote the View of the State of Ireland during a Famine: “Out of every corner of the wods and glynnis they come creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them; they looked like anatomies of death; they spoke like ghosts crying out of their graves; they did eat the dead carrions; and if they found a plot of water cresses or shamrocks they flocked as to a feast.”

Purple Flowers of Wood Sorrel

The Wood Sorrel occurs throughout most of the world, except for the polar areas. It has been consumed by humans around the world. In Dr. James Duke’s “Handbook of Edible Weeds,” he notes that the Kiowa Indian tribe chewed wood sorrel to alleviate thirst on long trips, that the Potawatomi Indians cooked it with sugar to make a dessert, the Algonquin Indians considered it an aphrodisiac, the Cherokee ate wood sorrel to alleviate mouth sores and a sore throat, and the Iroquois ate wood sorrel to help with cramps, fever and nausea.

It has a tangy, tart, lemony taste that goes very well with many foods, especially salads and fish.

Edible Parts

  • Flowers
  • Leaves


Leaves – raw or cooked. A delicious lemony flavour, the leaves make a refreshing, thirst-quenching munch and are also added to salads, soups, sauces etc. This leaf should be used in moderation.

Flowers – raw. A decorative addition to salads. The dried plant can be used as a curdling agent for plant milks.

Medicinal Uses

The fresh or dried leaves are anodyne, antiscorbutic, astringent, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, irritant and stomachic.

A decoction is used in the treatment of fevers, both to quench the thirst and allay the fever.

Externally, the leaves are crushed and applied locally to dispel boils and abscesses, they also have an astringent affect on wounds. When used internally, some caution is advised due to the oxalic acid content of the leaves, the plant is
contraindicated for people suffering from gastritis or a calculus condition.

Other Uses

The juice of the leaves removes iron mould stains from linen. Plants can be grown as a ground cover in woodland or under the shade of shrubs. They should be spaced about 45cm apart each way.

Where Does Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella) Grow?

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella) Growing Area

How To Identify Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella)

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella) flourishes in open woodland and hedge bottoms.

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella) Features
Distinguishing Features:
The leaves of this wild edible plant slightly resemble a shamrock. Although there are several sorrels, the wood sorrel is distinctive in that the seed pods bend sharply upward on their stalks, and the stalks also grow at a sharp angle from the main stalk. Angels of both are about at 90 degrees.

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella) Flowers
The wood sorrel flower is yellow has five petals and it is about 1 to 1.5 cm wide. The flower has ten stamens and an erect, pencil-like pistil. It can be found blooming from May to October.

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella) Leaves
The smooth, palmately compound leaves are divided into three heart-shaped leaflets, each leaflet having a center crease, from which the leaflets fold upward in half. The leaves are most often green, but may also be purplish or brownish red. Wood sorrel folds its leaves up at night and opens them again in the morning. It also folds its leaves when under stress, such as when growing in direct sun.

Height: This edible plant usually grows to between 10 and 35 centimetres high.

Habitat: Wood sorrel prefers moist soil, and partial shade. Patches of wood sorrel are prevalent on forest floors, and are often found near wild violets, cleavers, and wild onions.


4 Responses to “Wild Edible Plants: Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella)”

  1. Dot says:

    I grew up in Eastern Tennessee. My aunt would send all us children out to pick what she called sheep sorrel and when we got a pan or two of the leaves and flowers, she cooked them and made a pie that tasted like rubarb. I guess it was an old country thing handed down from generation to generation.

    My mother never did this although she and my grandmother would go out in the spring and pick a mess of wild greens and either cook them like spinach or chop up the appropriate ones with onions and radishes and serve raw with a bacon dressing. Yummy!

    • Emergency Outdoors says:

      Dot, thank you very much for your own personal experience with Wood (Sheep) Sorrel.

      I have personally tried some in greens and it is an added treat. But have not tried with bacon dressing, will definitely have to try that!

      Again thanks so much,
      Sara @ Emergency Outdoors

  2. Dot says:

    As a side note, this pink oxalis is a noxious weed here in the section of Florida where I live. I am always digging them out and spraying in the spring and fall.

    Live and learn.

  3. Raincloud says:

    We have Wood Sorrel here in Idaho. As kids we always called it Sour Grass:) The Wood Sorrel in Idaho, California, Oregon, and Montana have yellow blossoms. Well at least all that we have ever used. Happy hunting :)

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