Plant: Oxalis, Wood Sorrels (We are referring to several different species of the genus Oxalis, but they all look relatively similar and are all edible and tasty)
If you live in North America and have been in the woods or even in your backyard, you have most likely come across this plant. There are several different kinds of wood sorrels, but they all taste sour/tangy and are kind of like an herby version of Sour Patch Kids candies. In our opinion, they are quite tasty with a hint of citrus flavor. We picked a little bit of wood sorrel each day to add flavor to our salads. They do tend to be best eaten right away, since they tend to shrivel throughout the day. Though they are shaped like shamrocks, they are not related to clover and are not guaranteed to bring good luck, but we certainly felt quite lucky having lots of wood sorrel available to munch on all throughout the Appalachian Trail. Do be aware though to not consume large quantities, since these plants contain oxalic acid, which can inhibit the absorption of calcium if eaten in excess. Fun fact: Did you know plants like spinach and broccoli also contain oxalic acid? You don’t have to worry too much about oxalates, unless you have rheumatoid arthritis, kidney stones, or gout.
Just a Few of Wood Sorrel Benefits:
1. It grows like a weed! Wood sorrels grow like weeds because…they are weeds. And we foragers LOVE weeds because we don’t have to worry about picking too much. It grows in abundance, regenerates quickly, and comes back every year.
2. It is tasty! Not all survival foods are appetizing, but we sure enjoyed finding a sweet plant to snack upon! It definitely adds a lot to a foraged salad.
3. It has medicinal uses! There is currently limited data pertaining to the medicinal benefits of wood sorrel, but according to WebMD, “People take wood sorrel for liver and digestive disorders, a condition caused by lack of vitamin C (scurvy), wounds, and swollen gums.”
Warnings: Wood sorrel is NOT the same as sorrel. When foraging wood sorrel, be sure to try a small amount at first. Also, be sure you are absolutely sure you have properly identified the plant before putting it in your mouth! People tend to confuse wood sorrel with clovers. Avoid eating large quantities due to the oxalic acid present in wood sorrel.
Edible Parts of Wood Sorrel: Leaves, flowers, seed pods
How to Eat Wood Sorrel: The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. The flowers can be eaten raw or used as a garnish. You can also dry the leaves to make tea. You could also dry the leaves to make a curdling agent for plant milks…more on that later! On the trail, we enjoyed picking wood sorrel to eat raw, to put in our salads, add to soups, and add to burritos.
Taste to Expect: Wood sorrel has a surprisingly tangy flavor similar to a lemon or sour tangerine. We very much enjoyed the flavor explosion when we tried wood sorrel for the first time!
Where to Find Wood Sorrel: Wood sorrel grows all throughout North American in partially shaded areas. It is very common and easy to find!
When to Find Wood Sorrel: Spring to fall, but in warmer regions, wood sorrel can be found all year long. We found wood sorrel throughout the entire Appalachian Trail.
Things to Consider When Foraging:
1. Forage responsibly. There is plenty to be found right alongside the trail. There is no need to go off trail and risk trampling on sensitive plants and animal habitats.
2. Do NOT eat wood sorrel unless you are absolutely sure it is wood sorrel! Eat small amounts until you know how you’re body will react to a new wild food.
3. Wood sorrel is NOT the same as sorrel.
4. Wood sorrel contains oxalates, so don’t consume excessive amounts to avoid toxicity. Otherwise, eating small amounts is nutritionally beneficial.
Identification: Wood sorrel is easily identified by its 3 green heart-shaped leaves, unlike clover which has rounded leaves. Each leaf has a line in the middle like a folded paper heart. Fortunately, clovers are edible too, so if you make a mistake and are confused between the two, it’s not a problem. Wood sorrel produces flowers with 5 petals and depending on the species, they are usually white, yellow, or pink.