Wood Sorrel

Wood Sorrel, 2021, 5.5 X 8.5″, Morning light, Gouache, Walnut Ink

Wood Sorrel is another little plant that has a home in my yard without fear of it taking over. Considered a shamrock, looking for those four leaves brings smiles to my daughter and I’s faces. We’ve found quite a few! A lucky plant to have in my yard indeed. An easy way I’ve found to keep it contained? Eat it! It’s a little sour and is a great addition to soups. It should be noted that like broccoli and spinach, if you eat too much it can inhibit calcium absorption — moderation and knowing your body are key as always.

When I think of the time drawing and painting this plant… or the plant in general, the word “delightful” comes to mind. Full of interesting lines and textures, I became immersed for several days in the shades of green to yellow and back again.

10% of all print sales are donated to Story County Conservation, Iowa Arboretum, and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

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About Wood Sorrel

Oxalis acetosella, the wood sorrel or common wood sorrel, is a rhizomatous flowering plant in the family Oxalidaceae.

Other Common Names

Oxalis acetosella is commonly known as the wood sorrel, common wood sorrel, cuckoo bread, European wood sorrel, and the Irish shamrock.

Native Origin

The plant is native to eastern North America, including eastern Canada and the north-central and eastern United States.

Folk Lore

“The generic name Oxalis is derived from the Greek oxýs = acid, sharp, and hális = salt. Acetosella, from the Latin acetum = vinegar or sour wine, also describes the sour character of the plant. The first written mentions of Wood Sorrel as a medicinal plant are found in the manuscripts of the Greek physician and poet Nicander of Colophon (c. 150 BC).

In the Middle Ages the delicate plant was so popular as an ingredient of soups, salads and spinach that it was even cultivated in England in the 15th century. It remained popular until displaced by French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus L.), with which it is not related despite the similar common name. For a long time Wood Sorrel was the source of the oxalate used in textile dyeing, to remove ink and rust stains, to bleach straw and stearin and to clean copper and brass. Since it became possible to manufacture this salt synthetically, Wood Sorrel has lost its importance in this context. Moreover, obtaining oxalate in this way was a very time-consuming and expensive procedure. One of the main centres of the Wood Sorrel processing industry was the Black Forest region of Germany. It took about 75 kg of Wood Sorrel leaves to produce 500 grams of oxalic acid.

The Celts associated the sprightly Wood Sorrel with the leprechauns. Still today in Ireland there are representations of leprechauns always holding a Wood Sorrel leaf. Leprechauns not only enjoy playing tricks on humans, they are also extremely skilled artisans and guardians of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. To put the leprechauns in a good mood, the Irish used to place bread and milk or beer under the elder bush by the house, and would sometimes receive a little help with some handiwork in return. Whether the Irish shamrock was originally Wood Sorrel or Clover has never been definitively clarified. We discussed the issue in the plant portrait for Red Clover.

According to one folk myth, the cuckoo – a magical bird and messenger of the goddess of love and symbol of immortality – had to eat Wood Sorrel to get its voice. This is the origin of the common names Cuckoo Bread and Cuckoo’s Meat.”

Source: “Wood Sorrel.” Dr. Hauschka, http://www.drhauschka.co.uk/medicinal-plant-glossary/wood-sorrel/.

Traditional Uses
  • “Anthroposophical Medicine uses Wood Sorrel to harmonize the metabolism, to treat biliary colic and gastrointestinal cramps, to stimulate liver activity and help prevent stone formation, and to treat shock.

Folk medicine used Wood Sorrel as a cautery, for skin diseases, as an emetic and as an antidote to arsenic or mercury poisoning. Since it also contains some vitamin C it was used to treat scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) too. However, the human stomach can tolerate only a few fresh leaves. If large amounts are eaten, Wood Sorrel causes irritation of the gastrointestinal and renal systems.

Wood Sorrel can also be used as flavoring in soups, stews, salads, and more. The plant contains oxalic acid, which can be toxic in high quantities but beneficial in smaller doses. The seed pods are also edible and may be ground as a spice and added to recipes.”

Source: Source: “Wood Sorrel.” Dr. Hauschka, http://www.drhauschka.co.uk/medicinal-plant-glossary/wood-sorrel/.

Conservation Status

Not Extinct – Common

“Although it prefers moist soil, and partial shade, the Wood Sorrel is tolerant of a wide range of conditions. It is commonly found in fields, woods and borders, along roadsides and in other waste areas, and will even grow in the cracks of sidewalks. “

Source: “Wood Sorrel.” Dr. Hauschka, http://www.drhauschka.co.uk/medicinal-plant-glossary/wood-sorrel/.

10% of all print sales are donated to Story County Conservation, Iowa Arboretum, and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

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Learn more about the entire Backyard Botanical Collection by visiting the collection’s gallery page. Visit the online gallery to see originals and prints available.

Thank you for visiting and spending time learning about the botanicals in my backyard. May this bring you a deeper understanding and joy in your own ecology.

Kristin M Roach

Published by kristinMroach

Hi! I am an artist, author, and owner of a modern apothecary called Little Woods in Ames, Iowa.