Wild Edible: Bermuda Buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae )

Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Photo by MathKnight

It’s Bermuda buttercup season in Los Angeles. Burmuda buttercup, also known as sourgrass, soursop, African wood-sorrel and  many other names, is a member of the wood-sorrel family. It originated in the Cape region of South Africa and is now found all over California, parts of Australia and probably other places as well. Here, it comes with the rain and vanishes with the heat.

It’s a “weed” (Wikipedia describes it as a noxious weed and an invasive species) so if you look it up on the internet you’ll mostly find information on how to eradicate it. It’s true, it’s terribly persistent, because it spreads through underground bulbs. But I think its attractive–usually more attractive than whatever neglected patch of landscaping it has colonized. More importantly, it’s super tasty.

It packs a potent, lemony punch, like true sorrel, which makes it an excellent salad green, and that’s how I use it–raw, in salads. The leaves, stems and flowers are all tasty, but for salads I just use the flowers and leaves. They provide a bright, lemony note which is just wonderfully fresh and tasty with tender new lettuce–springtime in a bowl.

As its true name, Oxalis, indicates, it is high in oxalic acid (as are many more common greens, like spinach), and (mandatory warning) oxalic acid should not be consumed in enormous quantities or if your physician has warned against it for some reason. But its sour nature makes it unlikely that you could stomach enough to hurt you.

Give it a try if you haven’t yet. If this form of oxalis doesn’t grow near you, other edible wood sorrels– or naturalized true sorrel–might. Have a look around.

Note the structure: 3 hearts joined at the center, and the distinctive brown freckles on the leaves.

Oxalis pes-caprae has another use–as a dye. I’m experimenting with that this week, and will talk about the results in a future post.

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16 Comments

  1. I think it would be good for zing in a cream soup, or with chicken. I have Polish sorrel growing also – I stick a leaf or two into salads etc, but wood sorrel grows all over the place and I have used it for years – and I use it when I’m not home to pick my regular sorrel. Just don’t eat it as a staple, that oxalic acid is too much to eat it for more than just flavoring.

  2. A favorite car camping food is a cucumber salad with Oxalis leaves.We love the lemony-sour-green -apple pucker.
    Here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and foothills I have noticed that where ever there is Oxalis growing later on there may be mushrooms.

  3. I translated Екатерина’s comment:

    “In Russia, this plant is growing, I use it in a salad.”

    Thank you Google Translate!

  4. Oxalic acid has lots of other uses, too: it’s sold as a means of removing mineral deposits from plumbing (CLR is one brand name), and so I’ve wondered if a broth from oxalis and eggshells might be a treatment for blossom end rot.

    Each oxalate radical can break down (via, e.g., fermentation) to form two molecules of carbon dioxide, which makes me wonder if it could be a useful component in fertilizer. American synthetic fertilizers are heavy on ammonium nitrate (which can be diverted to military uses, and can also be used more rapidly in microbe-deficient soils), but Chinese agribusiness tends to rely more on ammonium carbonate. This is clever because it’s less energy- and capital-intensive than making ammonium nitrate, it temporarily diverts CO2 that would otherwise just be vented, and it might potentially help crops whose growth is limited by access to atmospheric carbon. I also think it would also feed nitrate-forming bacteria a lot better, although chemical ag isn’t usually a good path toward a healthy soil ecosystem…

    Smaller-scale and more-sustainable methods include soil amendments like biochar, in which soluble nutrients are adsorbed onto the huge fractal surfaces of tiny lumps of charcoal. One method I’ve read about is to soak ground-up charcoal with some fresh comfrey leaves until the mix smells swampy. Adding some oxalis to the mix would presumably result in some of that ammonia (which, along with hydrogen sulfide, is a major component of swampy odors) forming ammonium oxalate. Aside from being a better thing to add to the soil than some other ammonium salts, I’d also expect ammonium oxalate to be a lot more stable on the charcoals’s surface, allowing it to better stay in the soil until nearby organisms need it.

  5. I find oxalis a little too sour myself, but we feed them to our chickens by the handfuls, they love pulling the leaves off and eating the bulbs when we manage to get them up with the plant.

  6. In jr high we would pull up the flower stems (which typically looked like long thin straws) and chew the juice out of the stem. ;) Kids called it sour grass. I have to point out though that they were at their sweetest when the flowers were blooming,or so I assumed, as I had pulled a flower once that hadn’t bloomed yet and it tasted grassy and awful.

  7. Funny to read this today…just saw a bunch of oxalis during a hike with my husband and told him that I used to eat it all the time as a kid because I loved the sour taste. Tried some again and it was just as I remembered.

  8. My brother an I have been eating them all our lives. They grow in abundance in our front yard flower bed and (besides looking great) taste awesome. It was our candy when we didn’t have money to go to the mini-mart (we call them liquor stores but people get confused).

    They still grow in abundance and chewing the flower stems as a playtime snack has been passed down to the young’uns on the block. All of our neighbors consider these beautiful yellow flowers weeds so the only place on the block to get them is our house. Haha!

  9. Also… I’m planning on sifting a few bulbs out of the soil and growing some Oxalis in a little pot on my balcony. It’s a very nostalgic plant for me. I love it.

  10. I wish I could find Bermuda Buttercup growing around here, in Oregon. When I lived in central California as a kid, it grew everywhere and I loved nibbling on it. I’d grow it in my garden if I could get my hands on seeds or bulbs.

  11. I used to eat these all the time as a kid. My friends and I called them sour leaves. We also used to eat the flowers, even though they didn’t have any taste.

  12. My mother-in-law gave me pink oxalis from her mother-in-law’s lawn. I grow in a lawn edging next to the “natural area”. Great color all summer long and a good salad addition.

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