Wood Sorrel

(Oxalis acetosella) It is strange that such a well-known flower, with many vernacular names, should have so little folklore attached to it. The only superstition recorded comes from France, where it used to be said that if two lovers out walking should step on a wood sorrel, their marriage would be delayed (Sebillot). Some American Indians fed the roots to their horses, apparently to increase their speed (Mabey), but whether that is folklore or not is difficult to ascertain.

Oxalic acid is dangerous, but wood sorrel has been used, and is still in use by herbalists, for a variety of ailments (it could cure anything, so it was claimed in Wicklow. "Any badness in the system it would drive it out" (O Cleirigh)). An ointment used to be made in Ireland from the leaves, for cancer (Egan). It is always difficult to know whether 'cancer' or 'canker' is meant in old prescriptions; usually the latter, but the same authority also said that the leaves were eaten for stomach cancer. Interestingly, a leechdom for cancer also appears in Anglo-Saxon medicine. In Cockayne's translation, the requirement was to boil cuckoosour, singreen and woodruff in butter, in which cuckoosour is wood sorrel and singreen houseleek. This is obviously a preparation to employ on a canker rather than cancer.

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