Wood Sorrel

Wood Sorrel (Cu Jiang Cao)Wood Sorrel (Cu Jiang Cao)

Botanical Name: Western – Oxalis acetosela. Eastern – Oxalis corniculata.

Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosela) is a different plant from either garden or French sorrel (Rumex acetosa). Wood sorrel is in the family Oxalidaceae, which includes over 900 species of plants. An edible plant, wood sorrel has also been popularly used as a seasoning, in salads, soups and sauces. Wood sorrel is known for quenching thirst. In fact, it is commonly used to to treat high fevers because it both cools and quenches thirst. As a gargle it can be used to treat mouth sores, ulcers, and sore throats. In China, they make use of Oxalis corniculata, which is commonly also called sorrel, or Indian sorrel, and is a member of the same genus as Western wood sorrel.

Below is an overview of Wood Sorrel (Cu Jiang Cao), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Wood Sorrel (Cu Jiang Cao).

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Western Name: Wood Sorrel

Also Known As: Common Wood Sorrel, Sourgrass, Fairy Bells, Hallelujah, Stubwort, Three-leaved Grass, Wild Shamrock, Indian Lemonade

Organs/Systems: Febrile Diseases, Scurvy, Bladder, Wounds

Key Actions: Refrigerant, Febrifuge, Diuretic, Stomachic, Astringent, Catalytic, Antiscorbutic, Anti-inflammatory

Medicinal Uses: Scurvy, fevers, urinary tract infections, mouth sores, nausea, sore throats, hemorrhaging, coughs, wounds, swellings and inflammations.


Pin Yin: Cu Jiang Cao

Also Known As: Sheep Sorrel

Meridians: Stomach, Bladder, Lungs

Key Actions: Clears Heat, Supports Stomach Yin, Clears Damp Heat, Stops Bleeding

Medicinal Uses: Fevers, thirst, sore throat, cold sores, headache, prevents scurvy, sinusitis, congestion, headaches, diarrhea, dysentery, jaundice, kidney stones, gravel, herpes, hemorrhages.

Basic Habitat/Botany:

Wood sorrel is a rhizomatous plant (lots of creeping roots) in the genus Oxalis. There are over 900 species in the Oxalis genus. The plant has trifoliate compound leaves, with each leaflet being heart-shaped, folded through the middle and occurring in groups of three resembling clover leaves.  Its flowers are small and white with pink streaks, sometimes yellow. Red and violet flowers can also occur, but are rare.  The plant includes a second cleistogamous (hidden) flower allowing the plant to self-fertilize. These flowers are found concealed among the leaves with petals that never open out. The main easy-to-see flowers close at night or when it rains. The plant can grow to be about 15 inches tall.

Wood sorrel is common to most of Europe and parts of Asia. It prefers moist soil and partial shade and is often found in forests near wild violets, cleavers and wild onions.

Wood Sorrel (Cu Jiang Cao)Parts Most Frequently Used: Leaf, Flower, Seed, Immature Green Seed Pod, Tuber

Flavors/Temps: Sour, Tart, Cold, Moistening

Caution: Due to the oxalic acid content, which in high doses inhibits the uptake of calcium, use with caution if you have gout, kidney stones, high blood pressure, rheumatism, arthritis, or suffer from hyperacidity.

History/Folklore: The Latin name, “Oxalis” literally translates as sour referring to the sour taste caused by the oxalic acid content found in the plant. Because the plant flowers around the Catholic Easter holiday it earned the common name “Hallelujah.”

The oxalic acid in the plant is known to be toxic in extremely high doses of 500+ grams because it can inhibit the absorption of calcium. It is perfectly safe when eaten in regular dietary doses in soups, salads and stews.

The plant’s leaves, flowers, seeds, and immature green seed pods are all edible. It is often used in salads, as a seasoning, or in soups or sauces. Some say that it tastes like lemon. Typically the leaves are used and are well liked for making a wonderful refreshing tea (Use one large teaspoon of dried or fresh herb to one cup of liquid.) It can be boiled in water or milk.

As a gargle, wood sorrel was use to heal mouth sores and sooth sore throats.

Like all sorrels (including garden or French sorrel of the Rumex family), it has a long history of being used to treat scurvy, fevers, urinary tract infections, mouth sores, nausea and sore throats. Similarly, fresh sorrel is best for eating in salads and cooked with fish or wild game.

It is useful for treating high fevers as it both cools and quenches thirst.

Old traditional uses suggest that wood sorrel is better than garden or French sorrels as a blood cleanser. It has a history of strengthening a weak digestive tract or stomach, calming nausea, encouraging an appetite.

The juice of wood sorrel can be crystallized to produce a product that is called “Salts of Lemon.” “Salts of Lemon” are said to be more effective than Epsom salts for treating swollen muscles and feet. Mixing powdered salt of sorrel with powdered white sugar is known as “dry lemonade.”

Wood sorrel tubers come in many colors. They contain less oxalic acid than the other parts of the plant so will be less tangy and sour. They can be eaten raw, steamed or in soups or stews.

Common wood sorrel is sometimes referred to as a shamrock and is given as a gift on St Patrick’s Day, due to the plant’s trifoliate clover-like leaf. However, it is the white clover plant that is the plant most associated with the shamrock.

The Chinese use Oxalis corniculata, which is also called sorrel, or Indian sorrel. This herb is a common weed found throughout India. It is used to cool, astringe and treat diarrhea, fever, hemorrhoids, inflammation, and scurvy.

The flowers of wood sorrel can be used to make yellow, orange, red and brown dyes.

The juice of the leaves turns red when clarified.

It is commonly harvested from mid-spring through the fall.

Wood sorrel is often considered a common lawn weed.

Key Constituents:

Oxalic acid, Binoxalate of potash, Rich in Vitamin C and A.
Did you know?

Oxalic Acid

Broccoli and spinach also contain oxalic acid.

Reacts with Some Metals

Do not cook sorrel in cast iron or aluminum cookware. The oxalic acid in the plant reacts with the metals to produce a metallic flavor.  When using aluminum, the acids in sorrel may allow potentially toxic quantities of aluminum ions to leak from the cookware.
Fun fact!

Clover vs. Wood Sorrel

Clover is often mistaken for wood sorrel, but they are different plants. Both are safe and edible. Wood sorrel is easily distinguished from clover by its seed pods which bend sharply upward on their stalks.

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