Wood sorrel goes by many names in Britain, including Cuckoo’s Meat, Surelle, Fairy Bells and Wood Sour. In France it’s known as Pain de Coucou or cuckoo’s bread. It could possibly the Irish shamrock too, although several plants are also likely contenders such as the white clover (Trefolium repens), and other plants which have three leaflets in one leaf. My grandfather always told me that wood sorrel was shamrock, and I have no reason to doubt him as he proved to be right about other plants. The confusion lies in the story that the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick demonstrated the nature of the Holy Trinity by using the leaf of the shamrock. As all other contenders are of the clover Trefolium species, it would seem to be that the peasants and Saint Patrick would have said so.
    The wood sorrel is a member of the Oxalis family of plants and so different to the clover. It is an appealing little plant because like Tickle Me (choi moi) and the violet, it has shy qualities. Perhaps for that reason it is said to be a favourite of fairies and other wood sprites. It likes shady places and grows well in woodland along with bluebells, wood anemones and others. Also it is sensitive to touch, but not quite as much as Tickle Me. It also closes its leaves and flowers, and they droop in the dark, and during storms.
   It is a cleistogamic plant, which means that it is self-pollinating and the flowers don’t need to open for it to pollinate. (A very shy plant indeed!) It is also small and only grows to a height of about 3 inches.
   Neither the flowers nor the leaves have a smell although the leaves taste pleasantly acidic. They and the flowers can be added to salads, although you shouldn’t add too many leaves as they contain oxalic acid, so people suffering from gout should avoid this plant. Despite its name it isn’t related to Common sorrel which is a member of the Rumex family of plants. Its name comes from the Greek, oxys meaning sour or acid and acetosella means vinegar salts. If you use it in a salad there is no need to add vinegar to a dressing, just use oil.
   The association with the cuckoo has been explained in the following way by one of the old herbalists: -
   “The Apothecaries and herbalist call it Alleluya and Paniscuculi (Latin for cuckoo bread) or Cuckowes meate, because either the Cuckoo feedeth thereon, or by reason when it springeth forth and flowereth the Cuckoo singeth most, at which time Alleluya was wont to be sung in Churches.”
   As it flowers between Easter and Whitsun this seems a likely explanation for both names.
  The leaves have been used in folk medicine in many countries either fresh or dried, and given as a diuretic, antiscorbutic (because of the vitamin C content as well as some B-complex vitamins) and a refrigerant as it helps reduce fevers and is good to quench thirst (chew on the leaves and find out).It was used in cooking before the introduction into Britain of French sorrel. The leaves also contain a high amount of the mineral, calcium. To make a decoction from the leaves for any of the above complaints, just gather the fresh leaves and boil them in water for 5 mins then strain and drink half a cupful. To make Conserva Ligulae, pound fresh leaves with three times their weight of sugar and the grated zest of an orange; this can be used as the base for a refreshing drink in summer or to cool the body if you have fever.
   The decoction is also good for stomach problems and catarrh, as well as a diuretic and inflammation of the urinary tract (e.g. cystitis). Wood sorrel is considered to be better than the true sorrels and others of the Rumex family (such as dock) as a blood purifier, but there is little medical evidence to support this claim. In fact little research seems to have been done on Oxalis acetosella.
  The juice from the leaves when boiled will turn red but when this clears you will be left with a fine clear syrup which is as effectual as the decoction or infusion for treating wounds and staunching the flow of blood from them. The red juice can be used as mouthwash or a gargle and is a good remedy for mouth ulcers. If you soak a cloth in the juice, it can be applied to swellings and bruises to reduce the inflammation.
   Seeds from the wood sorrel have been found in glacial beds near Edinburgh (Scotland) and in Neolithic sites there and in Essex (England). The plant grows in the Arctic, Europe, North Africa and North and West Asia to the Himalayas as well as in parts of North America. Other sorrels also grow in these regions and the commonest in North America is yellow. However as you can see from the pictures here, the Wood sorrel flower, Oxalis acetosella is white with faint purple veins.

1 cup wood sorrel leaves
1 onion or 4 spring onions finely chopped
3 or 4 tomatoes peeled and roughly chopped
2 pints water
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small pot of cream
wood sorrel flowers to garnish

Lightly fry the onions.
Put all the ingredients into a pan and boil for 10 mins.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the soup to cool and then put it in the fridge to chill.
When you are ready to serve the soup add a swirl of cream to each bowl and garnish with the edible white flowers.
Serve chilled with fresh bread,
This has Taste and is a Treat.

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