Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wood Sorrel Oxalis oregana One of my favorites!

When I was a kid, wood sorrel grew abundantly in the forest behind my house. I did not know it's name, and I can't remember what brought me to try eating it. I just remember I ate it every time I went exploring through the woods. When friends were with me I would talk them into eating it too. Their reaction (after some hesitation to try it) was always "WOW". Wood sorrel has a wonderfully sour taste. Great to add to salads, or to just eat as you are walking the trails. I have also heard the root stalks where used (back in the "old days") to make a pie similar to rhubarb. We harvested rhubarb every year in the field behind my house and made tuns of pies & crisps, I wish I would have thought to add the sorrel, perhaps this year.

Medicinal Uses
Medicinally this herb is a diuretic. My personal experience is this plant helps with minor stomach complaints, nausea. The herb is rich in vitamin C. I have heard some warning of the oxalate content of this plant, for more info on this read my post in the wild foods section on oxalate content in plants.

Oregon Wood sorrel is the species of sorrel I discussed above (oxalis oregana). This plant looks like a shamrock and is a gorgeous ground cover. There are other types of sorrel's (also called sheep sorrel) such as Rumex acetosella mountain sorrel, Oxalis stricta Cascade sorrel, as well as some poisonous look-a-likes you should be aware of. The other species I mentioned have arrow head shaped leaves, this can be mixed up with Solanum Dulcamara or bittersweet nightshade & the bindweeds Convolvulus arvensis that also grow in similar habitats.
The other sorrels have succulent leaves with some body to them, they are not papery or leathery. The sorrels are found in 4 basic forms. A plant whose leaves all rise from the ground ( a basal cluster of leaves sometimes forms a rosette); a plant with an upright flower stalk, with a rosette of leaves at the base; a colony of plants so intermixed you see a whole bed of leaves arising form the ground; or an intermixed colony of flower stemmed plants resembling tall reddish grass.
Sheep Sorrel often grows in colonies of exact clones, it reproduces by quick spreading rhizomes. Colonies are great because they make for easy harvesting.
The poisonous look-a-likes.
The best way to distinguish sheep sorrel (rumex acetosella, ocalis stricta) from the other poisonous plants is sheep sorrel's leaf is wider at the tip and the lobes are not typically aligned directly across from each other. You cannot see the veins in sheep sorrels leaf unless you light it from the back. The flowers are small and red.
Most bittersweet nightshade plants have leaf lobes that are separate from the rest of the leaf blade. The veins in the leaves clearly arise out from a main vein. Nightshade's stems get woody and can grow to be yards long. It has rocket ship shaped flowers that have purple petals and yellow anthers.
Field Bindweed's leaf lobes are directly across from each other, like bittersweet nightshade the veins arise directly out from a main vein. The vine stems twine around the stems of other plants. It's flowers are trumpet like, white or pink, and large.
Sheep sorrel grows all over North America in a varity of habitats. Mostly it likes acid, disturbed soil. I have found the wood sorrel in most shady wood areas around the Pacific Northwest.


Follow this link for some great pictures of Oregon wood sorrel

Rumex acetosella Sheep Sorrel

Bittersweet Nightshade (solanum dulcamera) Photo

Bindweeds (Convolvulus Arvensis)

Resource: Wild Food Adventurer 2001 Volume 6 #3
Photograph by Gary Braasch/Corbis

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