Oxalis, the Sidewalk Shamrock

Oxalis corniculata

With its three-part leaflets and familiar heart shape, I call this plant the Sidewalk Shamrock. It’s also commonly known as Sorrel. The Latin name is Oxalis, referring to oxalic acid, the ingredient that gives Sidewalk Shamrock a pleasantly sour, lemon-y taste. The flavor distinguishes Oxalis from similar looking Clover leaves. A visual marker is Oxalis’s little five-petaled flowers.

I like to pluck Oxalis raw and eat it on the street, but it could be good dropped in a water bottle or added to a fresh salad. As you might guess, it is high in Vitamin C. Medicinally, you could use this plant to make an astringent wash for your skin, or you could drink a tea of it to get things moving in your digestive system. Use it sparingly.

Oxalic acid is a component in a controversial herbal treatment called Black Salve, a paste that is applied topically to a growth or tumor to literally burn it off the body. This is nothing to mess with — the internet abounds with stories of painfully corroded body parts. But as dangerous as it sounds, some healers swear that Black Salve works as a non-surgical cure for cancer, touting cure rates of 80-100%. Some even claim that it can be applied on the skin to “draw out” and fight internal tumors. Of course, for every web site that champions it, there’s 10 more calling it quackery.

Oxalic acid is found in an array of other plants besides Oxalis. Black Salve is most commonly associated with Sanguinaria canadensis, also known as Bloodroot.

This one is Oxalis stricta, a different species from the purple one featured up top. There are 31 different kinds of Oxalis in North America, including the common Wood Sorrel.

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  1. Pingback: Five Ways to Enjoy Sheep Sorrel « First Ways

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