Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Yellow wood sorrel

Today's featured plant is native to much of North America and is edible in limited quantities. In fact, one experienced forager called this plant and its close relatives "my favorite wild edible." After the jump I've enclosed several pictures of Yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta).

As a bonus, I included two shots of American bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum), one of my all-time favorite Iowa wildflowers. It's a common sight in wooded areas and along many shady bike trails throughout the summer.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

Many North American wildflowers have five yellow petals. The distinctive feature of yellow wood sorrel is clover-shaped leaves. However, clovers are European natives, and "clover leaflets are oval not heart-shaped." This plant is in the Oxalidaceae (Wood-Sorrel) family.

Yellow wood sorrel 1 photo yellowwoodsorrel2_zps3ba4cd91.jpg

I think that these photos depict Oxalis stricta. As the Illinois Wildflowers site explains near the bottom of this page, there is some confusion over distinguishing this plant from from Slender Yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis dillenii).

Yellow wood sorrel is widespread in "open woodlands, grassy meadows, lawns, gardens, edges of driveways, areas along parking lots, vacant lots, roadsides, areas along railroads, construction sites, landfills, and sunny waste areas. Areas with a history of disturbance are preferred." That description applies to the stretch of bike trail where I found this patch, not far from Fleur Drive and Gray's Lake in Des Moines.

Yellow wood sorrel 2 photo YellowWoodSorrelclose2_zps8a190ff3.jpg

Lots of insects enjoy nectar and pollen from this plant, and the seeds are a food source for many birds and some mammals. Humans have long enjoyed the leaves. Harrison Murray, who blogs about subsistence living, called this plant his "favorite wild edible."

It's deliciously sour, but in a pleasant, non-bitter way. It reminds me of lemons, and in fact, the French used to blend dried wood sorrel with sugar and make a "lemon free lemonaid powder."

As with most sour vegetables, it's very high in Vitamin C and has medicinal properties (see below.)

It's very refreshing on hot days. Since it can often be found along trails, it is a perfect mid-hike thirst quencher. The leaves, flowers, green seed pods, and roots are all edible, raw or cooked. It can be eaten straight out of the ground, added to soups, made into a sauce, or used as a seasoning. As a seasoning, it provides a lemony/vinegary taste to whatever it's added to.

It's been traditionally popular as a compliment to fish, and makes a great stuffing for fresh fish on the campfire (yum!) In lieu of a blender to make "lemonaid powder," you can just boil it with sugar, then let it cool, and you'll have a sweet sorrel tea that tastes similar to lemonaid.

However, DO NOT CONSUME WOOD SORRELS IN EXCESS!!! See warnings below!!!! [...]


Wood sorrels contain rather high amounts of potassium oxalate and oxalic acid and should be avoided by people with kidney disease, kidney stones, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout. Some people can have allergic reactions to wood sorrels.

[...] Excessive consumption can cause calcium to leech out of your bones, super bad for the ladies.

And, although less dire, you need to be careful eating too much raw sorrel because it can give you the runs.

Herbalists believe wood sorrels have useful medicinal qualities, but the plant is contra-indicated for anyone with gout or kidney problems or rheumatic disorders.

In this shot, some Virginia creeper (a native plant distinguished by large five-part leaflets) is growing in and around a patch of yellow wood sorrel.

Yellow wood sorrel 3 photo YellowWoodsorrelVirginiacreeper_zps5d104466.jpg

Here are the American bellflowers. They bloom from the bottom of the plant toward the top, so the same plant can flower for several weeks.

American bellflowers photo AmericanBellflowerbright_zps97ffae99.jpg

American bellflower photo Americanbellflowerdim_zps0f96405b.jpg

Tags: Wildflowers
  • Debate

    When is the first Braley-Ernst debate?  If Braley wants to see any separation here, he's going to have to make sure complex issues get discussed, and that he handles them perfectly.  She will struggle as long as he handles his own answers properly.  

    • not determined yet

      I asked this week. The campaigns are still negotiating over the number of debates, when and where.

      Tomorrow night (Thursday August 28) is the first Loebsack/Miller-Meeks debate on IPTV. Supposedly they have agreed to another IA-02 debate in the Quad Cities in early October.

    • whatever happens in debates

      I expect polls to be tight in the IA-Sen race right up to election day. Do not expect either candidate to pull ahead by significant margin.

      • Agreed

        The problem is that the national, liberal blogs are trashing Braley because they think he should have a 5-7 point lead because Ernst says crazy stuff.  They don't seem to understand that not every election is subject to a wave, demographic trends or other external factors that they use in their predictions.  There may be too much science in their Political Science, particularly when it comes to smaller states.  

        I went into detail about some of the local factors, calming some folks down, but with every new poll the same discussion arises.  

        • Ernst is not "crazy"

          She gets into trouble when she is knocked off her talking points because she's not well-versed on the federal policy issues. She gives the appearance of saying what she thinks she's supposed to say, which is different from being "crazy."

          The KCCI debate was a good example of this. She couldn't easily name three federal regulations she'd like to repeal, so she said there are "many, many" bad EPA rules. When pressed to give an example of a bad EPA rule, she said the Clean Water Act. It seemed like the first thing that popped into her head.  

          • Issues

            They think her views on nullification (a non-issue that would never come up.) Social Security privatization, Benghazi, Obama impeachment, EPA, and a whole host of things should put Braley on top.  She's not crazy, but she was trying to out Clovis Sam Clovis or at least stay on the same wavelength him. The only one of those issues that could come up would be EPA reform.  

            Braley has to get her to answer questions about these issues, she'll dodge, but hopefully the dodging with scare people off.  

    • IA-Sen debate schedule just announced


      The three debates are:

      1. KCCI-TV / Des Moines Register debate, held on September 28 in Des Moines.

      2. KWQC-TV / Quad City Times debate, held on October 11 in the Quad Cities.

      3. KCAU-TV debate, held on October 16 in Sioux City.

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