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Wood Sorrel

Oxalis violacea

Other Names: Sheep Sour, Purple Wood Sour, Sour Clover, Sour Trefoi, Purple Stickwort, Fairy Bells, Hallelujah, Cuckowes Meat, Three-leaved Grass, Trinity Grass, Purple Stubwort, Wild Shamrock, Purple Shamrock, Indian Lemonade, Violet Wood Sorrel

Habitat  Perennial native herb, Wood Sorrel is found growing in grasslands and openings in woodlands, shaded slopes, gravelly banks and prairies in Eastern N. America, New York to Wisconsin, south to Florida. Cultivation is fairly easy, through bulb transplants or seed. Plants do best in humus-rich soil in shade or dappled sunlight. Growing from a rose-colored underground bulb are several flowers clustered atop thin stalks up to 8 inches long. The half inch wide flowers, blooming as early as April and May, are usually violet, but may be white, being bell-shaped, with five delicate petals. Each leaf is ternate and has three hearth-shaped leaflets, a bright green above, and purplish to dark red on their under surface, especially at the base. The leaflets are usually folded along their middle, and are of a sensitive nature. As the flowers fade, its stalk bends towards the ground and conceals the seed capsule under the leaves, till ripe, when it straightens again. The capsule is elastic and bursts open when the fruit is ripe, throwing the seeds out several yards. Gather entire plant in bloom, use fresh, or dry for later herb use.

Properties    The leaves, flowers, and bulbs of Wood Sorrel are edible and medicinal. The entire plant is used as an alternative medicine, it has diuretic, antiscorbutic and refrigerant actions, and a decoction made from its pleasant acid leaves is given in high fever, both to quench thirst and to allay the fever. Decoctions used to relieve hemorrhages and urinary disorders, as a blood cleanser, and will strengthen a weak stomach, produce an appetite, and check vomiting. The juice is used as a gargle and is a remedy for ulcers in the mouth, it is good to heal wounds and to stanch bleeding. Linen cloths soaked with the juice and applied, are held to be effective in the reduction of swellings and inflammation. Salts of Lemon, as well as Oxalic acid, can be obtained from Wood Sorrel: 20 lb. of fresh herb yield about 6 lb. of juice, from which, by crystallization, between 2 and 3 OZ. of Salts of Lemon can be obtained and used for many medicinal purposes. For soaking tired, swollen feet, it is said to be better than Epsom salts. Excess internal use should be guarded against, as the oxalic salts are not suitable to all, especially those of a gouty and rheumatic tendency, or with high blood pressure. Several native tribes used it to make a kind of refreshing lemonade drink. The leaves have a pleasantly acid taste, due to the presence of considerable quantities of binoxalate of potash. Edible as an attractive and tasty garnish for spring salads from time immemorial, they were also the basis of a green sauce, that was formerly taken largely with fish. ’Greene Sauce,’ says Gerard, ’is good for them that have sicke and feeble stomaches . . . and of all Sauces, Sorrel is the best, not only in virtue, but also in pleasantness of his taste.’

Folklore   The ternate leaf has been considered to be that with which St. Patrick demonstrated the Trinity to the ancient Irish, though it is a tiny kind of clover it is now generally accepted as the ’true Shamrock.’ Violet wood sorrel was first described for science in 1753 by the Swedish father of modern biological taxonomy Carl von Linne (Linnaeus).

Recipes"Medicinal" tea: To 1 heaping tbsp. fresh or 1 tsp. dry herb add 1 cup liquid, may be infused with water or boiled in milk. Take warm at bedtime.

Lemonade: Boil fresh plant or dried herb in water, cool with ice, sweeten to taste. Using dried plant, grind to a fine powder, add sugar, store in air tight container, and you have "lemonade powders without lemons."

Article by Deb Jackson & Karen Bergeron

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