Wood sour

22nd April 2013

Wood Sorrel (or Wood Sour) Oxalis acetosella is a perennial plant that can be found all year round, but the cold and snow this year had meant in our Oxford woods this plant had disappeared this winter. Normally the vibrant pale green new growth would have been around for a couple of months by now and it should be well and truely be flowering by now but this year it only started to appear about a fortnight or so ago and has only now reached full size. 

Wood Sorrel Oxalis acetosella

 Foraging Courses

This shade loving, woodland plant is not related to the two true Sorrels we looked at last week but just happens to contain the same sharp tasting oxalic acid.  The heart shaped trifolate leaves, similar in appearance to clover (which has oval not heart shaped leaflets) are at this time of year a vibrant lime green colour, but darken during the year and can even take on a purplish tinge.  Normally the solitary, white bell shaped flowers are around by now, but like everything else this year, are late.  It is thought by some to be the true shamrock of St Patrick as the flowers are often around on March 17th it is also sometimes called Alleluia because it flowers around Easter time.  The flowers also give rise to its Welsh name of fairy bells, calling fairies and elves to “moonlight revelry”  according the Treasury of Flower Lore. They droop in downwards at night or in rain and the leaves themselves also fold downwards in the late afternoon.

The taste of Wood Sorrel is very similar to its namesake, but personally I think it has the best flavour of the three, sweeter with a more pronounced tang, especially at this time of year when it is young and tender. Unfortunately it is also much smaller and therefore to collect a reasonable amount takes an age.  Because of this is lends itself to salads and garnishes but if you can collect enough it can be used in exactly the same way as normal Sorrel. Unfortunately like the true Sorrels, it still goes a mucky brown colour when it is cooked. The flowers too can be used and taste similar to the leaves.

Kev Palmer



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