Take a look at your lawn. Unless you maintain it to putting-green smoothness, you’re likely to see some yellow flowers.
Not the dandelions — look closer.
You might mistake them for buttercups at first, but they’re really quite different. These little yellow five-petaled flowers are yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta). They’re a native wildflower where I live, and vastly superior to the grass that still attempts to poke its way up through their heart-shaped leaves and small yellow flowers.
As a native herb here, it doesn’t have a long history of use in old European grimoires. There are, however, many other varieties of wood sorrel — some native, some not, and some of questionable origins.
I’m a big proponent of using native alternatives to exotic herbs whenever possible, so I figured I’d give some background on wood sorrel and a few ways to use its magical (and delicious) American cousins.
Wood Sorrel Folklore
The species name Oxalis comes from the Greek word oxus, meaning “acidic” or “sharp.” The leaves of wood sorrel have a very tart flavor which makes them a tasty addition to salads. When dried, wood sorrel can be used to curdle milk for cheesemaking.
These plants are connected to fairies and woodland spirits. In Wales, wood sorrel is called fairy-bells.
In herbal medicine, a decoction of the leaves was used for thirst and fever. Applied externally, the crushed leaves have an astringent effect which helps with abscesses, boils, and wounds.
Dried leaves are said to attract luck and, due to the doctrine of signatures, be healing and protective to the heart.
It’s also said that the dried leaf will allow the user to see fairies.
There’s some debate about shamrocks (an Anglicization of the Gaelic seamróg, meaning “little or young clover”). Shamrocks are associated with Saint Patrick, who used a three-leafed plant to explain the idea of the Christian Holy Trinity. Most depictions of the shamrock show it with three heart-shaped leaves. Since clovers have rounded leaves, this indicates that the shamrock may actually be a species of Oxalis and not a clover at all.
The ancient Druids were said to have regarded the shamrock as a sacred plant with the power to drive off evil spirits.
In the Victorian language of flowers, wood sorrel represented joy and motherly affection.
Wood Sorrel Magical Uses
Magically, wood sorrel is used in spells for luck, healing, protection from evil and misfortune, and love.
These plants can also be useful for working with three-part deities, like the Triple Goddess or Brighid. They make good offerings, or even natural representations of the deities themselves in a pinch.
Using Wood Sorrel
Wood sorrel isn’t a substitute for a visit to a doctor, but it can be a helpful herb for minor problems. Be sure you can reliably identify sorrel before attempting to consume it or use it topically.
If you live where wood sorrel naturally grows, you may want to cultivate a native species in your yard or garden space. This is especially true if you have an altar or dedicated space for nature spirits — wood sorrel is strongly connected to these entities. I’m planning to put an offering bowl and some large bull quartz crystals on the edge of the patch of yellow wood sorrel here, for example.
Using wood sorrel as a protective plant is an interesting idea. This protection may stem from the plant’s three-leaved appearance, which is reminiscent of various triple deities. The number three is also regarded as sacred in itself, since it reflects the past, present, and future; youth, adulthood, and old age; birth, life, and death; and the upper, middle, and lower worlds. Wood sorrel may also be considered protective because it’s very sour. Sour things, like lemons and vinegar, are often used to ward off or cleanse away negative energy.
With all of this in mind, I’d brew a tea of wood sorrel and use it to wash doors, windows, and thresholds. Growing wood sorrel could also have a protective and luck-drawing quality.
The dried leaves and flowers would make a very nice addition to jar spells and sachets for love magic. I’d probably combine the flowers with roses, apple blossoms, and other seasonal blooms associated with love-drawing, then use this mixture in a magical bath.
If you’ve never tasted wood sorrel, I highly recommend it. The tart leaves and flowers are a very interesting addition to salads, soups, and sauces. If you’re into kitchen witchery, these edible wildflowers can be a powerful way to work with your local landscape to bring love, protection, and luck into your life.