poetry and prose about place

Wood-sorrel (Oxalis spp.)

with 4 comments

When I walk around our property, whether in the woods or in the open areas, I often overlook a little group of plants I am certain grows almost everywhere.  The leaves are like those of clover, but the five-petalled flowers of the genus Oxalis are as delicate as any spring wildflower.

I am familiar with two Wood-sorrels, one a plant of the woods and one a plant of more open areas.

Common Wood-sorrel (Oxalis acetosella L.) grows in damp woods. Other names for this plant are Wood-shamrock, Lady’s-sorrel, and, in French, pain de lièvre (literally, rabbit bread). The flowers of Common Wood-sorrel are white with pale red veins and can be found blooming from June to August.

The Yellow Wood-sorrels (Oxalis stricta  L.  and Oxalis europaea Jord.) are low-growing weeds, found in waste places, along roadsides, in thickets, or in lawns and meadows. The Yellow Wood-sorrels are known by many names, including Lady’s-sorrel, Hearts, Sleeping-Beauty, and, in French, sûrette or pain d’oiseau (bird-bread). The flowers of Oxalis stricta and Oxalis europaea are yellow and bloom May to October.  Oxalis stricta and Oxalis europaea are considered separate species, but there is a lot of ambiguity in the various references, probably since both are called Yellow Wood-sorrel.  According to Grey’s Botany, Oxalis stricta has a tap-root, whereas Oxalis europeae has spreading and subterranean stolons.

The leaves of both Common and Yellow Wood-sorrels are pale green and clover-like.  Each leaf consists of three heart-shaped leaflets.  At night, the leaves fold downward.

The generic name oxalis comes from the Greek oxys meaning ‘sour’.  The common name ‘sorrel’ comes from the French word for ‘sour’.  Leaves of all species of Oxalis have a pleasant, tart taste and can be included in a salad as greens.  The leaves are also used in a tea, to be served as a cold drink.

Oxalic acids cause the plants’ sour taste.  Use caution ingesting this plant since it can aggravate some conditions such as arthritis, and large quantities can affect the body’s absorption of calcium.

To make a tea and a cold drink from Oxalis leaves, first pick, sort and wash the leaves…

Pour hot water on the leaves.  They turn brown instantly!  I left the tea to steep for about 10 minutes.

Strain and pour the sorrel-ade over ice cubes.  The Wood-sorrel tea makes a pleasant cold drink, with a tart taste and a familiar but elusive flavour.  Enjoy!

1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.



Common Wood-sorrel

Oxalis montana Raf.


Oxalis montana

carpets the grove

three green leaflets

lined in mauve, held low

in folds at night

narrow petals

creamy white, fragile

veins inked in red

Lady’s sorrel

nibbled, sour

rabbit bread



©  Jane Tims  2012 

4 Responses

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  1. I shouldn’t like this little plant as it’s one that seems to want to take over the garden, but I do. I didn’t realize you could make a tea from it. I enjoy tart drinks, especially on hot days.

    Beautiful drawing. 🙂



    June 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm

  2. The sorrel ade looks like it would be delicious on a hot summer day.



    June 16, 2012 at 1:17 am

    • Hi. I think any of these plants with a sour taste are good thirst-quenchers. Jane


      jane tims

      June 16, 2012 at 7:14 am

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