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Monday - May 17, 2010

From: Jacksonville, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Seed and Plant Sources
Title: Trying to find a plant called sheepshire
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Hey there Mr. Smarty Plants, just one question. As a child in east Tennessee, we picked plants called sheepshire that looked like small clover leafs and had small yellow blooms. One could chew these leaves and they had a bitter-like taste. Is this true sheepshire or something else? Thanks.


I think you must mean woodsorrel, Oxalis spp.  The plants of this genus have clover-like leaves and a sour taste due to the oxalic acid that they contain.  Here are four species of Oxalis with yellow flowers that are native to Tennessee:

Oxalis dillenii (slender yellow woodsorrel)

Oxalis grandis (great yellow woodsorrel)

Oxalis priceae (tufted yellow woodsorrel)

Oxalis stricta (common yellow oxalis)

There is another plant called sheep's sorrel (sort of close to sheepshire), Rumex acetosella, a native of Europe, and a native one, Rumex hastatulus (heartwing sorrel), that I remember as a child in East Texas chewing on the stem and that we called the plant "sourweed".  Here's an article about both Oxalis and Rumex.

Delena Tull in Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest says, "Rumex hastatulus and R. acetosella, both commonly called sheep sorrel, have a pickle-sour flavor similar to that of Oxalis."

Oxalic acid is the compound in both Oxalis and Rumex that causes the sour flavor. In small portions it is harmless but large amounts can be toxic. Rumex spp. and Oxalis spp. can be toxic, but only if large quantities are consumed. Also, Rumex spp. can be toxic to livestock in large quantities.

So, what is true sheepshire?  I don't really know. In the references I found it sounded as if they were describing either Oxalis sp. or Rumex sp.  It seems to be a term that refers to sour-tasting weeds that you chew in the spring.

Here are photos from our Image Gallery:

Rumex hastatulus



Oxalis dillenii

Oxalis grandis

Oxalis priceae

Oxalis stricta



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