Common Yellow Woodsorrel is a charming plant, low-growing, with bright green heart-shaped leaves and sweet little yellow blooms. Sometimes confused with clover for the shape of its leaves, this plant may also exhibit purple or burgundy leaves. It has a sprawling habit, with fine hairs along its older stems. Quirky qualities of this plant include its seed pods, which resemble pinky-nail sized okras that burst open to release their progeny; their leaves also fold themselves together in the evening. Often, Oxalis stricta can be seen growing on forest floors alongside other tender understory plants such as ramps or violets. Though it is often considered native to North America, there is some thought it may have originated in Eurasia.
This plant, also called Sourgrass, is known in a contemporary context as a troublesome garden weed; however, it has a long history of culinary use. By tending Oxalis stricta in an isolated patch, or pulling before it sets seed, one can easily control its population. With a lemony tart flavor profile (similar to that of rhubarb) and tender greens, Woodsorrel makes a delicious fresh-eating green, one with such a high Vitamin C content that it was once used to treat scurvy. Note that it is not recommended to consume this plant in large quantities, as it contains oxalic acid, high amounts of which can cause adverse reactions (this property is also present in many cultivated vegetables, like spinach or broccoli). All parts of the plant are edible.It has an excellent cooling property, and is a bright addition when added to juices, teas, or soup. Italy and France especially have culinary traditions of working with this delicate and delightful wild vegetable (‘sorrel’ means flower in French).
Woodsorrel can also be used to make dyes, ranging from yellow, orange, and red to brown. Also called Fairy Bells or Cuckoo’s Meat, a glance at and taste of this plant can easily put whimsical notions into one’s mind.