Many of my favorite experiences in the Permaculture Garden this summer have involved the discovery of the multitude of uses (edible or otherwise) of the common “weeds” we find in or gardens and yards. Who knew, for example, that the pesky Purslane that plagues our properties is one of the best plant-based sources of essential fatty acids? And that it tastes delicious! And Lambs Quarters? Totally yummy. However the weed that I have completely fallen in love with is Oxalis.
The common Oxalis found in yards and gardens is one of many, many species of the Wood Sorrel family that grows in North America. I believe that the “weedy” oxalis is Oxalis stricta, and is an extremely common wild edible. All species of wood sorrel are edible, and most have a tangy, slightly sour lemony taste.
Oxalis has three leaflets that radiate out from a central point, and the leaves are whorled around the stem. The leaflets are distinctly heart-shaped, and fold along a centerline at night. It is not particularly deep rooted, but in my experience can be difficult to pull up. Oxalis flowers are small and bright yellow. When they go to seed, the seedpods are bright green banana-shaped things that grow directly upright and have a fantastic lemon taste and a juicy bite. Although oxalis is pretty distinctive, it does look a bit like clover to the untrained eye (I think that I confused it for many years), but can easily be identified by the heart-shaped leaves. While it can be just a few inches tall, I have seen it grow as tall as 1 ½ to 2 feet in gardens when competing with other, taller species.
Oxalis, like many other wild and “domesticated” foods, does contain oxalic acid, so people with certain health issues need to exercise caution, and everyone should eat it in moderation. All parts of the pants above ground are edible, and have the nice citrus flavor, with a little of the chalky-taste of oxalic acid. The flavor and texture are much nicer in younger plants, as they can get a bit woody as they age. Oxalis can be eaten raw as a snack while gardening or hiking, used as a salad green, made into a drink similar to lemonade or sumac-ade, cooked or used as a seasoning. I like to nibble on it while I’m weeding, and I recently used it as a lemon-substitute in my favorite pesto, Lemon-Parsley.
Talk about multiple functions! You can weed your garden, have a snack and increase your Vitamin C intake all at the same time! Happy munching!