Photo by Karen Bergeron
Photo by Deb Jackson
Other Names: Sheep Sour, Purple Wood Sour, Sour Clover, Sour Trefoi, Purple Stickwort, Fairy Bells, Hallelujah, Cuckowes Meat, Three-leaved Grass,
Trinity Grass, Purple Stubwort, Wild Shamrock, Purple Shamrock, Indian Lemonade, Violet
Perennial native herb, Wood
Sorrel is found growing in grasslands and openings in woodlands, shaded slopes, gravelly
banks and prairies in Eastern N. America, New York to Wisconsin, south to Florida.
Cultivation is fairly easy, through bulb transplants or seed. Plants do best in humus-rich
soil in shade or dappled sunlight. Growing from a rose-colored underground bulb are
several flowers clustered atop thin stalks up to 8 inches long. The half inch wide
flowers, blooming as early as April and May, are usually violet, but may be white, being
bell-shaped, with five delicate petals. Each leaf is ternate and has three hearth-shaped
leaflets, a bright green above, and purplish to dark red on their under surface,
especially at the base. The leaflets are usually folded along their middle, and are of a
sensitive nature. As the flowers fade, its stalk bends towards the ground and conceals the
seed capsule under the leaves, till ripe, when it straightens again. The capsule is
elastic and bursts open when the fruit is ripe, throwing the seeds out several yards.
Gather entire plant in bloom, use fresh, or dry for later herb use.
The leaves, flowers, and bulbs of Wood Sorrel
are edible and medicinal. The entire plant is used as an alternative medicine, it has
diuretic, antiscorbutic and refrigerant actions, and a decoction made from its pleasant
acid leaves is given in high fever, both to quench thirst and to allay the fever.
Decoctions used to relieve hemorrhages and urinary disorders, as a blood cleanser, and
will strengthen a weak stomach, produce an appetite, and check vomiting. The juice is used
as a gargle and is a remedy for ulcers in the mouth, it is good to heal wounds and to
stanch bleeding. Linen cloths soaked with the juice and applied, are held to be effective
in the reduction of swellings and inflammation. Salts of Lemon, as well as Oxalic acid,
can be obtained from Wood Sorrel: 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 and used
for many medicinal purposes. For soaking tired, swollen feet, it is said to be better than
Epsom salts. Excess internal use should be guarded against, as the oxalic salts are not
suitable to all, especially those of a gouty and rheumatic tendency, or with high blood
pressure. Several native tribes used it to make a kind of refreshing lemonade drink. The
leaves have a pleasantly acid taste, due to the presence of considerable quantities of
binoxalate of potash. Edible as an attractive and tasty garnish for spring salads from
time immemorial, 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.'
The ternate leaf has been considered to be that
with which St. Patrick demonstrated the Trinity to the ancient Irish, though it is a tiny
kind of clover it is now generally accepted as the 'true Shamrock.' Violet wood sorrel was
first described for science in 1753 by the Swedish father of modern biological taxonomy
Carl von Linne (Linnaeus).
"Medicinal" tea: To 1 heaping tbsp. fresh or 1 tsp. dry herb
add 1 cup liquid, may be infused with water or boiled in milk. Take warm at bedtime.
Lemonade: Boil fresh plant or dried herb in water, cool with
ice, sweeten to taste. Using dried plant, grind to a fine powder, add sugar, store in air
tight container, and you have "lemonade powders without lemons."
Article by Deb Jackson & Karen