Botanical Name: Oxalis acetosella
Common Names: Wood sorrel, Common wood sorrel or sometimes Miriam
Other Names: Wood Sour. Sour Trefoil. Stickwort. Fairy Bells. Hallelujah
Habitat :Wood Sorrel is native to Europe, including Britain, from Iceland south and east to Spain, N. and C. Asia to Japan. It grows in moist woods, moorland and on shady rocks.
A perennial, Wood Sorrel is a small plant with leaves in three parts, which often fold up. The flowers are bell-shaped and white with a dash of blue. Despite its name, the plant is not related to Sorrel, but is closely related to the Geranium family.
It is a little plant of a far more delicate, even dainty character, growing abundantly in woods and shady places. From its slender, irregular creeping rootstock covered with red scales, it sends up thin delicate leaves, each composed of three heartshaped leaflets, a beautiful bright green above, but of a purplish hue on their under surface. The long slender leaf-stalks are often reddish towards the base. The leaflets are usually folded somewhat along their middle, and are of a peculiarly sensitive nature. Only in shade are they fully extended: if the direct rays of the sun fall on them they sink at once upon the stem, forming a kind of three-sided pyramid, their under surfaces thus shielding one another and preventing too much evaporation from their pores. At night and in bad weather, the leaflets fold in half along the midrib, and the three are placed nearly side by side to ‘sleep,’ a security against storm and excessive dews.
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It flowers between Easter and Whitsuntide.
By many, the ternate leaf has been considered to be that with which St. Patrick demonstrated the Trinity to the ancient Irish, though a tiny kind of clover is now generally accepted as the ‘true Shamrock.’
The flowers, each set on long stalks, are fragile, in form somewhat like the Crane’sbills, to which they are closely allied, being bell-shaped, the corolla composed of five delicate white petals, veined with purple, enclosed in a five-scalloped cup of sepals and containing ten stamens, and in the centre, five green, thread-like columns, arising from a single five-celled ovary. At the base of the petals, a little honey is stored, but the flower seems to find favour with few insects.
As the flower fades, its stalk bends towards the ground and conceals the seed capsule under the leaves, till ripe, when it straightens again. The case of the capsule is elastic and curls back when the fruit is quite ripe, jerking the seeds out several yards, right over the leaves.
A second kind of flower is also produced. These are hidden among the leaves and are inconspicuous, their undeveloped petals never opening out. The ripening and seed scattering processes of these self-fertilized cleistogamous (or hidden) flowers are the same as with the familiar white-petalled ones. Wood Sorrel droops its blossoms in stormy weather, and also folds its leaves.
Neither the flowers nor any part of the plant has any odour, but the leaves have a pleasantly acid taste, due to the presence of considerable quantities of binoxalate of potash. This, combined with their delicacy, has caused them to be eaten as a spring salad from time immemorial, their sharpness taking the place of vinegar. 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.’
Both botanical names Oxalis and acetosella refer to this acidity, Oxalis being derived from the Greek oxys, meaning sour or acid, and acetosella, meaning vinegar salts. Salts of Lemon, as well as Oxalic acid, can be obtained from the plant: 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.
Edible Uses :
Edible Parts: Flowers; Leaves.
Edible Uses: Curdling agent.
Leaves – raw or cooked. A delicious lemony flavour, the leaves make a refreshing, thirst-quenching munch and are also added to salads, soups, sauces etc. This leaf should be used in moderation, see the notes above on toxicity. Flowers – raw. A decorative addition to salads. The dried plant can be used as a curdling agent for plant milks.
Prefers moist shady conditions and a humus rich soil in shade or dappled sunlight. Dislikes very heavy and wet soils. Plants are hardy to about -25°c. A dainty woodland carpeter growing well in a woodland or wild garden. When well sited the plants can run aggressively and also self-sow. The plant flowers in early spring, but does not produce much fertile seed at this time. Most of the fertile seed is produced from cleistogamous flowers during the summer.
Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out in late spring or early summer. Division in spring. Very easy, larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer.
Part Used Medicinally:–-The leaves, fresh or dried.
Medicinal virtues: Similar to Sorrels, but is more effectual in hindering the putrefaction of the blood. It quenches the thirst, strengthens a weak stomach, stays vomiting and is excellent in fevers.
Modern uses: The plant is particularly rich in oxalic acid and potassium oxalate, which are not suitable for those with gouty or rheumatic tendencies. It can he injurious if prescribed injudiciously. The leaves are used for their cooling action in fevers. The infusion – i oz (28 g) to i pt (568 rnl) of boiling water – is also given for catarrh and urinary tract inflammation in doses of 2 fl Oz (56 rni). Excessive or prolonged administration is not recommended. The infusion is used as lotion for skin infections. The juice is used as a gargle for mouth ulcers.
General Medicinal Usage:
Excellent in any contagious sickness or pestilential fever.
It has diuretic, antiscorbutic and refrigerant action, and a decoction made from its pleasant acid leaves is given in high fever, both to quench thirst and to allay the fever. The Russians make a cooling drink from an infusion of the leaves, which may be infused with water or boiled in milk. Though it may be administered freely, not only in fevers and catarrhs, but also in haemorrhages and urinary disorders, excess should be guarded against, as the oxalic salts are not suitable to all constitutions, especially those of a gouty and rheumatic tendency.
The old herbalists tell us that Wood Sorrel is more effectual than the true Sorrels as a blood cleanser, and will strengthen a weak stomach, produce an appetite, check vomiting, and remove obstructions of the viscera.
The juice of the leaves turns red when clarified and makes a fine, clear syrup, which was considered as effectual as the infusion. The juice used as a gargle is a remedy for ulcers in the mouth, and is good to heal wounds and to stanch bleeding. Sponges and linen cloths saturated with the juice and applied, were held to be effective in the reduction of swellings and inflammation.
An excellent conserve, Conserva Ligulae, used to be made by beating the fresh leaves up with three times their weight of sugar and orange peel, and this was the basis of the cooling and acid drink that was long a favourite remedy in malignant fevers and scurvy.
In Henry VIII’s time this plant was held in great repute as a pot-herb, but after the introduction of French Sorrel, with its large succulent leaves, it gradually lost its position as a salad and pot-herb.
The herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, writing in England in the 1500’s, reported wood sorrel’s medicinal virtues. He recommended the plant ?to quench thirst, to strengthen a weak stomach, to stay vomiting, and he noted that it was excellent in any contagious sickness or pestilential fever. By the 1800’s this species of sorrel had been introduced into North America. One herbalist noted that a decoction, or extract, of wood sorrel was being used to treat inflammatory disorders, fevers, and diseases of the kidneys and bladder. A decoction of the leaves is used in the treatment of fevers, both to quench the thirst and allay the fever. Externally, the leaves are crushed and applied locally to dispel boils and abscesses, they also have an astringent affect on wounds. The juice of the leaves turns red when clarified and makes a fine, clear syrup, which was considered as effectual as the infusion. The juice used as a gargle is a remedy for ulcers in the mouth, and is good to heal wounds and to stanch bleeding. Sponges and linen cloths saturated with the juice and applied, were held to be effective in the reduction of swellings and inflammation. A conserve, Conserva Ligulae, used to be made by beating the fresh leaves up with three times their weight of sugar and orange peel, and this was the basis of the cooling and acid drink that was a remedy in malignant fevers and scurvy.
Other Uses :
Cleanser……..The juice of the leaves removes iron mould stains from linen. Plants can be grown as a ground cover in woodland or under the shade of shrubs. They should be spaced about 45cm apart each way
Known Hazards: The leaves contain oxalic acid, which gives them their sharp flavour. Perfectly all right in small quantities, the leaves should not be eaten in large amounts since oxalic acid can bind up the body’s supply of calcium leading to nutritional deficiency. The quantity of oxalic acid will be reduced if the leaves are cooked. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
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