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.
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.
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.
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.
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.