Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide

Wild Food: Wood Sorrel family

Oh my oh my. The wood sorrel family is a fantastic family of edible plants to get to know. In this blog I take you through four different varieties and how to identify and use them.

How to identify the wood-sorrel family

The wood-sorrel family (Oxalidaceae) is easier to identify compared to common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and sheep's sorrel (Rumex acetosella) - the two other sorrels I tend to teach on my foraging courses. Common sorrel is also in my wild food foraging book.

This plant family is found across most of the world and on every continent/ Wood-sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) is the only variety native to the British Isles. Luckily, the other 17 introduced species here all share similar characteristics.

Each plant in this family have 3 leaflets (trefoil) that fold to make a heart-shape. Not folded like the image below - that's me playing with the shape and separating each leaflet to show their shape. Pretty hey!

Identifying wood sorrel on a foraging course

How I discovered this family

When I started on my wild food journey I found wood-sorrel easily in woodlands. As an artist I'm lucky to have good eyes and seem to spot plants easily. Checking identification is an important part of foraging, so when I started seeing very similar plants in people's gardens, in walls and fields I was intrigued.

Pink sorrel on a foraging course

Different varieties of wood-sorrel

Native wood sorrel loves to grow In deciduous woods and shady places. It has delicate stems and leaves and typically flowers in spring aka April and May here in Europe!

The leaves spread out to look like a canopy not dis-similar to clover leaves, yet at night or just before it rains (yes plants and animals can predict the weather too) the leaves 'close' to create a folded origami-like shape.

Pink and Yellow Sorrel varieties

In and out of gardens I find pink and yellow sorrel varieties. This is mainly Spreading Yellow Sorrel (Oxalis corniculata), less so Upright Yellow Sorrel (Oxalis stricta) and of course Pink Sorrel (Oxalis articulata). It has a habit of escaping gardens and becoming free!

These plants are self-explanatory in terms of colour and structure; spreading yellow sorrel sprawls with long, legging stems upright yellow sorrel has upright stems and pink sorrel has pink flowers! I've already described the leaf shape which is shared across this family.

Pink sorrel on a foraging course in Cornwall

Varieties on the Isles of Scilly, South America and Africa and beyond...

On my trips to the Isles of Scilly I noticed a greater range within this family. Beautiful succulent versions growing out of stone walls and leggy yellow ones with large, flouncy flowers when open, and long yellow trumpets when closed.

The flouncy yellow one is of course Bermuda Buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae). It is native to South Africa and now flourishes on the Isles of Scilly, southern Europe and in the USA, particularly the Californian coast. It is also one of the plants in my Wild Food Foraging book. In my book I share more detailed identification tips and recipes.

Bermuda buttercup on a foraging walk on the Isles of Scilly

Though the prettiest that caught my eye is a plant that is at home in South America with its succulent leaves and an almost shimmering under-side. Known as Fleshy Yellow sorrel (Oxalis megalorrhiza), I prefer the name - Wall oxalis.

Fleshy yellow sorrel on a foraging walk on the Isles of Scilly

How to use the wood-sorrel family?

All the plants mentioned here and in this family have a wonderful lemony, tart flavour. They are ideal sprinkled into salads for a mixture of textures, shapes and colours. I have also used them to flavour simple soups - even creating a three sorrel soup on the Isles of Scilly! They make a brilliant edible decoration for savoury and sweet dishes. Do remember not to eat too much though, as the oxalic acid present in this plant can be toxic in large amounts.

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