Wild Edibles-The Delicious, Lemony, Medicinal Wood Sorrel

Wood sorrels are my favorite wild edible. They're from the oxalis (ox-AL-iss, meaning "sour") family, and there are sorrels found at every location on the rotation except at the north and south poles. The best part? They're VERY hard to mis-identify, especially when you take into account their VERY distinctive taste.

Another thing I love about the wood sorrel is the fact that it's useful for edible
and medicinal purposes. I'll explain that later. MAKE SURE YOU READ ABOUT THE WARNINGS BEFORE YOU EAT TOO MUCH!

Identification
The plant, which is widely considered to be the plant that St. Patrick used to demonstrate the Trinity to the ancient Irish, is distinguished by it's clover-like leaves, arranged alternately along the stem, divided into 3 heart-shaped leaflets.


Yellow wood sorrels and creeping red wood sorrels have dainty yellow flowers that occur in clusters, they spring out from long stalks at the leaf axils. (In the photo above, the yellow flowers are hidden beneath the outer green covering.) Individual flowers consist of 5 yellow petals that are 4 to 9 mm long.


Common wood sorrels, like in the photo above, look the same but lack the yellow flowers. Instead, they sometimes have white flowers with purple accents. The ones in my neck of the woods, however, don't have any flowers.


The stems have tiny little hairs on them, which you can see in this picture. They're not very noticeable unless you look REALLY close. Depending on the particular species, they can be bright green (like this photo here of the yellow wood sorrel) or a light reddish color (like the common wood sorrel photo below).


If you pull up the wood sorrel, you'll find long, slender rhizomes underneath with a fibrous root system. There are minor differences between how the roots look in different sorrel types, but they all have root systems which connect (either rhizomes, like with the yellow wood sorrel or stolons, like with the creeping red wood sorrel, if you want to get technical!)

The entire plant is devoid of any odor, but it's taste is VERY distinctive and unmistakable.

You can find wood sorrels in shady areas, along trails, in lawns and gardens...pretty much anywhere without TONS of direct sunlight.

Eating Wood Sorrels
One of the reasons I'm so fond of wood sorrels is the taste. It's deliciously sour, but in a pleasant, non-bitter way. It reminds me of lemons, and in fact, the French used to blend dried wood sorrel with sugar and make a "lemon free lemonaid powder."

As with most sour vegetables, it's very high in Vitamin C and has medicinal properties (see below.)

It's very refreshing on hot days. Since it can often be found along trails, it is a perfect mid-hike thirst quencher. The leaves, flowers, green seed pods, and roots are all edible, raw or cooked. It can be eaten straight out of the ground, added to soups, made into a sauce, or used as a seasoning. As a seasoning, it provides a lemony/vinegary taste to whatever it's added to.

It's been traditionally popular as a compliment to fish, and makes a great stuffing for fresh fish on the campfire (yum!) In lieu of a blender to make "lemonaid powder," you can just boil it with sugar, then let it cool, and you'll have a sweet sorrel tea that tastes similar to lemonaid.

However, DO NOT CONSUME WOOD SORRELS IN EXCESS!!! See warnings below!!!!

Medicinal Value
It has diuretic, antiscorbutic (which means it treats scurvy) and cooling properties. The cooling factor is very useful in treating fevers. The diuretic property can help with urinary disorders, and it has been used to treat hemorrhages. HOWEVER, it should NOT be used by anyone with kidney disorders or rheumatic disorders. The oxalic salts are also bad for people who suffer from gout.

It's soothing to the stomach, relieves indigestion, can produce an appetite, and can help stop vomiting. It also acts as an astringent, which constricts blood vessels...useful to help stop bleeding. Sorrels are attributed with blood cleansing properties and are sometimes used by cancer patients.

WARNINGS!
Wood sorrels contain rather high amounts of potassium oxalate and oxalic acid and should be avoided by people with kidney disease, kidney stones, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout. Some people can have allergic reactions to wood sorrels.

As with anything, you should consume it in moderation. Excessive consumption can cause calcium to leech out of your bones, super bad for the ladies.

And, although less dire, you need to be careful eating too much raw sorrel because it can give you the runs. In a camping situation, this is exceedingly unpleasant. In a survival situation, it could mean the difference between life and death.

Cooking plants with oxalic acid reportedly renders them harmless, so you can easily avoid this if you're sensitive to oxalic acid or just want to be super careful.

Overview
Wood Sorrels are tasty, medicinally useful, plentiful, easy to identify, and have no dangerous look-alikes. The wood sorrels from the Oxalis family are found all over the world, and they are very sturdy weeds, so you will probably be able to find a plentiful amount. Every part of the plant is edible all year long, so you don't have to worry about missing out on the season. In addition, it can be eaten raw or cooked, and its uses are myriad.

Keep in mind that eating too much can give you diarrhea, cause you to lose calcium from your bones, and make people with gout, kidney disease, and rheumatic conditions very sick.

Once you've tasted a sorrel, you'll never be able to forget the flavor and therefore will have a VERY VERY hard time misidentifying it in the future. However, as with any wild edible, you should check with local experts before you eat it, and eat at your own risk.

I'm Survival Charley, the Survival Gourmet, saying "Eat, drink, and be merry...but always in moderation!"

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