Oxalis acetosella

When I was growing up, I remember all kinds of flowers around our house. Everyone said that my mother had a green thumb. I guess that was true, because not only the outside of the house had a lot of plants. But the inside of the house did too. They were on the window sill, on the plant stands on the porch and about any place you could put a plant.

I remember two or three little plants in particular. My mother called them shamrocks. They were such plain little plants. They weren't particularly pretty, and they didn't smell at all and I don't ever remember seeing them in bloom. I told my mother that I thought they were clover plants that she must have dug out of the lawn. She laughed and said that a shamrock was much different from lawn clover.

At times, I remember seeing my mother and one of my sisters pinching off a stem and leaf and eating it. Mom said it was for upset stomach or heart burn. I pinched off a stem and leaf and chewed them up. It was a little tart and was kind of spicy, but tasted pretty good. That was a long time ago and I never thought much more about shamrock.

When we moved to Leeds, Utah, my wife worked at a nursery. One day we bought some plants from the nursery and planted them in a nice shady place by the house. It wasn't long until we had a whole mat of shamrock growing around the other plants. One day she started pulling out all of the shamrock. I said, “Hey, why are you pulling up all of the shamrock?” She said, “This isn't shamrock, it's wood sorrel. It grows like crazy. If it ever gets started, we will never get rid of it.” We both learned something that day. WE learned that shamrock was wood sorrel and that wood sorrel was shamrock. When we moved from Leeds, we still had some shamrock.

Wood sorrel is a very small, green, plant that grows into dense mats in moist, shady areas. It has a creeping rootstock that send up from four to eight single-leaf stems and a couple flower stems. Each leaf stem has a leaf that is divided into three heart-shaped leaflets that are kinda purple underneath. The leaf is very sensitive. When the leaf is in the shade and the day is bright, the leaf opens up until it is flat. If the leaf is in the full sun the leaflets fold up in the middle until the leaf looks like a pyramid to protect the plant. At night or during a rain, each leaflet folds in half along the midrib. Then the three leaflets snuggle tightly together to sleep all night or until the storm is over. The bell-shaped flower on the wood sorrel is white and it has five petals that have pinkish or purple veins. When the flower withers, the stem bends to keep it in the shade. When the seeds ripen, the flower stem straightens out. The curved seedpod is elastic. As it tries to straighten out, the seeds flip out away from the plant.

Wood sorrel is diuretic. It will help the kidneys and the urinary tract. It is an antiscorbutic. If some of the old sailors had taken this plant along on voyages, they wouldn't have gotten scurvy. Wood sorrel is a refrigerant that will cool down a fever and quench thirst. As a digestant, it can be used for heartburn or an upset stomach, and it is a great addition to any salad. It has been used for jaundice, liver complaints and as a blood cleanser.

Wood sorrel used to have a very high reputation, especially in Ireland. It is said that the good Saint Patrick used the three leaflets of the shamrock to explain the doctrine of the trinity to the heathen Celts, so it became the symbol of the Emerald Isle. It is delicate, but it is powerful and strong. Large amounts can be very toxic. Moderation in all things.

Follow us:

for the latest information on herbs and our products

facebook twitter

Related Products