Woodsorrell (_see Also Docks_)

This elegant little herb, called also French Sorrel, Rabbits' food,

Shamrock, and Wood Sour (Oxalis acetosella), is abundant

throughout our woods, and in other moist, shady places. It belongs

to the natural order of Geraniums, and bears the provincial names of

Sour trefoil, Cuckoo's bread, or Gowk's-meat, and Stubwort (from

growing about the stubs of hewn trees). Its botanical title is got from

the Greek word oxus, sha
p, or acid, because of its penetrating

sour taste. This is due to the acid oxalate of potash which it contains

abundantly, in common with the Dock Sorrel, and the Garden


By reason of this chemical salt being present in combination with

less leafy matter than in the other plants which are akin to it, the

Wood Sorrel makes a lighter and more palatable salad.

In olden days the Monks named this pretty little [611] woodland

plant Alleluia, because it blossoms between Easter and

Whitsuntide, when the Psalms--from the 113th to the 117th,

inclusive--which end with the aspiration, Hallelujah! were sung.

St. Patrick is said to have shown on the ternate leaf of the Wood

Sorrel to his rude audience the possibility of a Trinity in Unity.

The herb has been long popular as a Simple for making a fever

drink, which is thought to be somewhat sedative to the heart, and for

helping to cure scurvy. Also, it has proved useful against

intermittent fever.

Towards assisting to digest, by their free acid, the immature fibre of

young flesh meats, the Wood Sorrel leaves are commonly eaten as a

dressing with veal, and lamb. But too habitual use of such a salad or

sauce has led to the formation of gouty crystals (oxalate of lime) in

the urine, with considerable irritation of the kidneys. Externally, the

bruised leaves are of excellent service for cleansing and stimulating

foul sores and ulcers, being first macerated in a Cabbage leaf with


This familiar harbinger of Spring, with its three delicate leaflets on

a long stalk, and its tiny white flowers, having purple veins like

those of the Wood Anemone, bears the fanciful name of Fairy-bells in

Welsh districts.

Fra Angelico placed the claret-stained flowers in the foreground of

his pictures representing the Crucifixion. After the doctrine of

signatures, because of its shape like a heart, the leaf of the Wood

Sorrel was formerly esteemed as a cordial medicine. It was called in

Latin Panis Cuculi, meaning the Cuckoo's bread and cheese.

The leaves, when bruised, make with sugar a capital conserve which

is refreshing to a fevered stomach, or, if boiled in milk, they form an

agreeable sub-acid whey. [612] Twenty pounds of the fresh plant

will yield four ounces of the oxalate of potash, commonly known as

salt of lemons or salt of sorrel, which is often used for taking ink

stains out of linen. Francus, an old classical author, concluded by

experiment that the herb is of value (cordis vires reparare) to

recruit the energies of the heart, and (anginum abigere) to dispel

the quinsy. Its infusion makes an excellent anti-putrescent gargle.

There is also a yellow variety of the Wood Sorrel.