Oxalis: How To Drown Your Sorrels

Oxalis have petals and can be pink or yellow. Photo by Green Deane

Oxalis have five petals and can be pink or yellow. Photo by Green Deane

Sorrels are like McDonald’s restaurants: No matter where you are on earth there’s one nearby.

That’s because the sorrels, properly Oxalises, comes from a huge family. What’s huge? There are some 850 different species of them, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. No, that’s not a record. The biggest family is the composites, you know, like sunflowers and daisies. There’s over 20,000 in that family, maybe more, no one really knows for sure. Still, an Oxalis (ox-AL-iss) is found at every location on the rotation except at the north and south poles. There are at least four species in Florida, three pink and one yellow, one of which has the good taste to sprout up in my garden. I live mid-state right on the line between temperate and subtropical so many plants said to be in the state are often 200 miles farther north in temperate or 200 miles farther south in tropical.

Oxalis is mistakenly often called clover

When you have a family of plants that’s 850-strong, and folks don’t know enough to eat them, you also get the other view: That the Oxalis is not a delicate, pretty little greenerific morsel but a pernicious ugly weed that uses up your water, fertilizer and garden space. Once an Oxalis gets a roothold in a garden, it’s there forever, which brings up a touchy point: Gardeners who complain the most about weeds are also usually the last group to consider eating the weeds.  It’s kind of like they are for controlled green but not natural green. To me an Oxalis in my garden is food I didn’t have to plant. As long as it’s growing where I want it to grow there’s no issue. If it isn’t, it’s not a weed. It’s dinner. Sorrel is the first wild plant I saw someone other than my mother nibble on. A childhood friend of mine named Peter Jewett (wrongly) called it “sour grass.” We used to play on a small island in a small brook in the Maine woods and it grew profusely there. It was the fort’s “food supply.”

Here in Florida I have at least five versions of the Oxalis; corymbosa, violacea, intermedia and articulata, large imports with pink blossoms, and the native Oxalis stricta, which is small and has yellow blosoms. All parts are edible including the root bulb, which is succulent and sweet. Above ground it tastes much like rhubarb but not as tart. The C. violacea occasionally has, in the words of Merritt Fernald, author of Gray’s Manual of Botany, “an icicle-like water-storage organ or fleshy root.” In other parts of the world, Oxalis tuberosa is popular not only as a green but as a root vegetable. The same with Oxalis deppei and Oxalis stricta.

Oxalis roots are popular as a vegetable in New Zealand

Sorrel is from the High German word “sur” meaning sour. Oxalis is from the Greek though the accent is on the end: oxal-IS, base word (Οξύς, pungent) The Oxalis is mildly tangy because of …oxalic acid… now there’s a surprise.  Corymbosa (kor-im-BO-sa.) is also from Greek and means clusters, in this case clusters of flat-topped blossoms, but it could also mean growing in clusters as well. Violacea (vye-o-LAY-see-uh)  like a violet. Intermedia (inter-MEE-dee-ah) means intermediate. Articulata (ah-tic-you-LAH-ta) is jointed. Stricta (STRICK-us) means upright, errect. The little plant does stick up as high as it can. Tuberosa (too-ber-ROW-sa) means tuber. Oxalises can grow individually or in colonies, and if you have one there will be colonies. They are refreshing to nibble on, are nice additions to salads, and can be made into an ade. Their tart flavor is both positive and negative. A little is good, but a lot when eaten uncooked, to excess, can leach some calcium out of your bones. (Yes, you would have to consume it like a force-fed lab rat for months, but it can happen.)

Oxalis root in situ

Cooking plants with oxalic acid reportedly renders them harmless, and that’s what has been done with other plants containing oxalic acid, such as docks and sheep sorrel, both Rumex and in the buckwheat family. This is particularly true if any form of calcium is used — milk for example — or included in other food. A good use for this plant is stuffing that trout you just caught and are cooking over the fire.

Every book on wild foods warns us not to consume too much oxalis acid, but that’s to keep the accursed lawyers happy. ( Shakespeare was right.) It is true that folks with kidney stones, gout and the like should not over-consume oxalic acid. Yet, when was the last time you read or heard of such a warning for tea, parsley, rhubarb, carambolas, spinach, chard, beets, cocoa, chocolate, nuts, berries, black pepper and beans? They all have oxalic acid as well, but no dire warnings are given with them. The French are not succumbing from sorrel soup slurping. As my Greek ancestors used to say some 3,000 years ago, μέτρον άριστον, [ME-tron A-ri-ston] all things in moderation.

Lastly, the Internet calls Oxalies “clover which is completely wrong. Different genus, different shape if you look closely.

Below is an Oxalix Cooler recipe from Sunny Savage

Oxalis Cooler

1 quart water

1/2 cup Oxalis leaf/stem/flowers/seedpods

1 Tablespoon agave nectar or honey

dash of salt

Mix all ingredients in a blender. If possible, let sit overnight in refrigerator and enjoy!

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Perennial growing to ix inches, three leaves, some times very delta shaped, other times round or lance shaped, depending upon the species. Pink and or yellow blossoms in Florida

TIME OF YEAR: Grows and flowers year round in Florida, July to September in more northern climes. Very prolific in February and March in Florida.

ENVIRONMENT: Anywhere moist but well drained, lawns, woods, trails, parks.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves and stems in salad, or made into ade or soup. Use as a stuffing for fish and chicken or ferment like a sauerkraut.  If you  cook oxalis best to use a glass or ceramic pot. Like all plants with oxalic acid should be used in moderation. Some people may be allergic to it. The juice can be used to coagulate milk for cheese making. See my article on rumex.


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{ 40 comments… add one }
  • Gisele May 9, 2012, 2:08 pm

    Hello, love your information! Thank you for sharing this information. I lived in central Florida until recently. I started learning about edible wild plants for my rabbits, and just started thinking about adding wild plants to my salads. In my untreated lawn, I have what I think is sorrel, but is it much smaller than yours, yellow flowers on a smaller stem off the main bigger stem, 3 clusters of heart shaped leaves. Could this be it? I live in NW North Carolina, so maybe our 4 seasons keep it smaller. Are the flower and the bud edible as well?

    • Green Deane May 9, 2012, 2:32 pm

      The native sorrel is Oxalis stricta. The entire sorrel is edible.

    • Cara February 14, 2016, 1:46 pm

      Be careful not to give your rabbits too much oxalis(and I can’t say what quantity that would be). A local rabbit rescuing organization’s head told me to give only infrequently.

  • Joo-Lian June 10, 2012, 9:22 pm

    Hi Green Deane,
    I’m a new fan of your site and videos. I live in Melbourne, Australia and native Aussies is looked upon wild foraging as odd and even foolhardy. I’ve been picking pine mushrooms for a few years (self taught) but mention wild mushroom picking and people think you’ll be the next casualty in the news! I do extensive research and am very cautious, so it would be unlikely.
    When I read on your site that oxalis is edible, I ran outside and picked some from my yard and munched… wow, what a tasty treat!! I’m already thinking of all the ways I can use this in my cooking. Have yet to try violet leaves (there are some right at my doorstep), but will probably make an egg soup or something simple with them. Thanks for opening up a whole new world to us.
    You should come over to Melbourne and educate the locals!

    • Brodie June 14, 2013, 10:12 am

      Hi Joo-Lian
      I too am from Melbourne, Australia and am heading up to Gembrook this weekend to pick me some sorrel, now that I know what it is I see it growing everywhere!
      Have you picked many mushrooms this season?

    • Sheila February 7, 2016, 8:00 pm

      We call this plant Sour Grass in Far North Queensland.

    • ted August 7, 2016, 11:25 pm

      Violet flowers and leaves are mild like lettuce, goes well with oxalis

  • name September 12, 2012, 6:29 am

    be carful if you are not yet “plant literet”. some people can not tell the differance between a rose shoot and a rose flower. most are not that bad, but, look for photograghs to be sure. if it is a clover with yellow flowers as I have here, it can cause varyous health problems in some people. of coarse is a member of the pea family with yellow flowers, there is a trend there. that said, my guess is that you have one of three types of oxalis based on your decription. it should have a leaf consisting of three leaflets(sometimes four or 5. unlike clovers, that trait will be common or even exlucive in the whole colony) and five petals. does any one know where I could buy oca(O. tuberosa) in the u.s.?

    • Joyce E Forager March 19, 2013, 10:31 am

      Google Horizon Herbs, they sell oca tubers for planting.

  • name September 12, 2012, 6:31 am

    thank you ancient puruvians!

  • Charley January 1, 2013, 11:28 pm

    GReat website and newsletter. Muchisimas gracias!

    I’ve heard that white clover and red clover are edible, but what about crimson clover?

  • Lianne January 15, 2013, 2:02 am

    Now I feel really bad for digging up and smashing every Oxalis root I found in in my yard.

  • Deborah Aldridge February 14, 2013, 10:42 am

    I’m glad to read that Oxalis roots are edible. I was looking for info on the O. tuberosa, which I could not find a good picture of. I have 5 kinds of oxalis in my garden, two I put there (the green “shamrock” with white flowers, which seems to grow very slowly and the purple with pink flowers) and three that just came up; the triangle leaved green with pink flowers, round leaved green with pink flowers and a creeping yellow which I can’t really identify. The purple grows like — well — a weed, so I’m glad to know I don’t have to toss out the roots now.

  • Moz March 12, 2013, 4:29 pm

    Hey Grean Deane,

    The oxalis cooler/ade is great! I expected it to have a slight grassy flavor, but I got no such result. I also used stevia instead of honey. My only note is that if anyone wants it to be a little more tart, I’d reduce the ratio of water to oxalis. I made 2 quarts and used a cup of oxalis, and my oxalis was pretty sour, so next time I think I’d like to use maybe 1.5 quarts to that much oxalis.

  • hope March 17, 2013, 9:32 am

    How does one prepare the tubers of the locally abundant native and introduced Oxalis (like the purple flowering ones – O. debilis? – so common in Central Florida) ? Are the root tubers eaten raw, or must they be cooked, and if cooked, how and for how long? Found some beauties while weeding yesterday (prior to reading my emails); now I wish I had kept the tubers. Won’t make the mistake of “weeding” out these pretty and valuable forage plants again. Thank you Deane for your generous “continuing education” emails and web site for all of us arm-chair horticulture enthusiasts. We appreciate you, and always look forward to seeing your Green Deane Newsletter updates in our email box. Thanks again.

    • Green Deane March 18, 2013, 2:11 pm

      The tubers can be eaten raw or boiled or roasted. Kind of small to actually cook them.

  • EB May 2, 2013, 12:03 am

    Does oxalis have any look-alikes to be aware of or is it a pretty safe bet as far as the wild edibles go?

  • Farmers Wife February 18, 2014, 3:46 pm

    Hi! Thank you for your informative website! We have Buttercup Oxalis (Oxalis pes-caprae) growing in our Organic Pear Orchards. I have been feeding it to my chickens. They love it! I noticed a comment above which mentioned that yellow flowered oxalis may cause health problems. Wondering if this is a concern? I really want to begin foraging for the incredible edibles in our orchards. We have Oxalis, Plantain, Purslane, Dandelion, Cat Tail, Chickweed and lots of others. Please advise on the safety of yellow flowered oxalis. Thank you!
    Also, what about alfalfa??

    • Green Deane February 18, 2014, 4:11 pm

      People who have a history of calcium-based kidney stones usually avoid foods with oxalic acid in them, which includes Oxalises.

    • ted August 7, 2016, 11:07 pm

      I’m 60 years old, been eating yellow flowered ones in Oregon my whole life.

    • RLM McWilliams September 7, 2016, 1:06 pm

      If your orchard was conventionally managed before it was transitioned to organic status, be careful of toxins and heavy metals which may have built up in the soil over the years. Different plants and fungi tend to concentrate certain metals or toxins- which can be useful for removing those from the soil, but this can make otherwise safe and nutritious edibles dangerous.
      Alfalfa is edible, and has a long history of being used as a vegetable, prior to it’s fame as a forage plant for feeding animals.

  • Becky April 20, 2014, 2:57 pm

    I grew up having “sheep sorrel” tea as a spring tonic. I have Native American in my background and was told the tea was an old natural remedy. It makes a nutricious tonic because it leaches minerals out of the soil and is high in vitamin C and minerals. It thrives even in poor rocky soil because of its ability to pull so many nutrients out of the soil.

  • Susan January 23, 2015, 10:50 pm

    Hmmm Can I grow sorrel in southwest Florida (Zone 10a)? I hear it grows best in Zone 4-9…I am sure it will be fine indoors but I’m just wondering if I can add it to my balcony stock.

    • Green Deane January 24, 2015, 5:19 pm

      It grows there naturally, and can be transplanted easily.

  • kate March 9, 2015, 4:56 pm

    Thank you! I have been go ogling clover for the last 2 hrs and found ur article. I have LOVED this “weed” for yrs and always thought it was clover. Some sites claim it’s shamrock. I AM soooooo thankful for your insite. Had NO idea we could eat it. I think it’s too pretty to eat. But if it’s as invasive as u say then I’d be up for it. Just got a GREAT clump of it from weeding out property. Gonna find a spot for it 🙂

  • Shawna April 12, 2015, 10:45 pm

    How do I know if I’ve eaten too much oxalis? I eat a lot of it raw. It’s one of my main leafy greens, since it grows outside & I don’t have to worry about it rotting in my fridge. Would it lead to a calcium/magnesium deficiency? I apparently have a magnesium deficiency. Thank you.

    • Green Deane April 13, 2015, 8:21 am

      If you an adult it would take several pounds of oxalic acid containing material to cause any kind of serious problem. Children, however, can get an upset tummy by eating far less and because of the tartness they tend to eat too much of it.

    • ted August 7, 2016, 11:01 pm

      Over eating causes stomach ache and mild dieria.
      My son picked alot, made a large glass of juice. About 20 ounces. Had stomach ache for 24 hours.
      We snack on it when hiking in the woods to help with thirst.

  • multikulinaria August 17, 2016, 7:05 am

    As far as I know, we only have the yellow sorrels in Germany. They grow in mountanious areas but not in the lowlands. At least I haven’t seen any in the woods around Berlin yet (my foraging grounds).

  • Emma Cooper August 18, 2016, 2:33 am

    Oxalis is one of the minor weeds in my garden, but I haven’t tried eating those yet. I do grow Oxalis tuberosa, however, so I will have to give that cooler a go! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Nic Wilson August 18, 2016, 4:19 am

    Fascinating article thanks. I grow Oxalis tuberosa here in the UK and enjoy the colourful harvest in November when the rest of the garden is sleepy. I’m trialling oca this year with the Guild of Oca Breeders to try and find better, more heavy yielding varieties, so a quarter of my allotment is full of these little beauties. 🙂

  • Francisco September 13, 2016, 3:15 pm

    I grew up calling this “sour grass” as well. It was especially nice when it had ‘bananas’ for us to pick off and eat. They were extra tart. I munched on them regularly and taught my children and grand children they could eat it also. Granddaughter and I often use it as ‘food’ for our teas with her dolls.

  • wisterianicol January 22, 2017, 8:50 pm

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon this article. Unfortunately, there are no McDonald’s in Ghana(sadly) so I guess sorrels aren’t like McDonald’s(Lol).
    And I’m so glad Oca(the roots) plants are considered a weed. Meaning if i look a little harder, I just might find one. Lovely site.

  • David April 12, 2017, 5:33 pm

    I welcome (and LOVE eating) wood sorrel in my backyard! Oddly enough, I usually find it in close proximity to the lambs quarters (chenopodium album) growing there. Two-fer!

  • Veronica May 17, 2017, 10:41 am

    I have the Oxalis plants but none of the roots/tubers I have look like these you have pictures.
    The roots I see of mine are black little circles the size of peas but the above flowers are exactly like yours.
    I have pink, white, & dark pink ones.
    **Are mine just not mature enough yet to have the tubers? Mine have been growing a little over a year now.
    Thank you for a great article!!

    • em May 19, 2017, 3:50 pm

      I’d think that the colored roots are from a different, also edible Oxalis

  • Seasonn June 19, 2017, 3:06 pm

    Thanks for this article. I would just like to clarify that all oxalis’ foliage are edible even the ones with burgundy leaves? I have planted oca in my garden, which I dig up for the tubers and use the clover like leaves for salads. Also I have two types of sorrel taking over one area of my garden, if I dug those up, would the roots be ‘tubers”, and edible?

    • Green Deane June 20, 2017, 2:43 pm

      Yes burgundy Oxalic leaves are edible.

  • Laura July 6, 2017, 6:06 pm

    Great article … and website in general! I have a small correction regarding “Sorrel is from the High German word ‘sur’ meaning sour.”

    The high German word is “sauer” (pronounced like “sour”), but I believe that once upon a time pronunciation sounded like “sur”.


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