Sour Grass is Yellow Oxalis in the Yard

The yellow flowering oxalis is a very common plant in our location here among the trees. It seems to prefer areas of moisture and shade. You can find it in lawns, gardens, waste places, fields, roadsides and open woodlands.

As kids we called the yellow-flowering oxalis “sour grass”. The seed pods are edible and taste a bit sour. I wonder if this is one of those things that big brother had me try first! Actually, it was probably just one of those things that people know about their own landscape, like what plants are edible and which aren’t. Some of this knowledge is passed on orally from generation to generation, but if it’s not in your experience, how would you know? Good thing you stopped by! πŸ™‚

Oxalis herbs are also referred to as Wood Sorrels. The wood sorrels are marked by clover-like leaves in threes with each leaflet being heart-shaped. Yellow Wood Sorrel, Oxalis europaea, is an introduced species here in Pennsylvania and it’s native to Europe. There is also a pink flowering species, called Violet Wood Sorrel, Oxalis violacea, that I have not seen growing wild in our area of Pennsylvania.

Small yellow oxalis came up through cracks between flagstones.
Small yellow oxalis came up through cracks between flagstones. Never mind the dandelion in the background.

Leaves are light green to maroon. When the plant has maroon leaves it makes the yellow blossoms really stand out.

Wood sorrel flowers have five petals and ten stamens and measure about a half-inch across. Oxalis flowers and leaves close up in the evening and re-open in the sunlight. Cloudy days will keep many Oxalis plants from opening their flowers at all.

54 thoughts on “Sour Grass is Yellow Oxalis in the Yard”

  1. Hi there, Janice.
    Never heard the name ‘sheep showers’, but it’s kinda cool and hard to say three times fast! I wonder, do sheep eat it?

  2. I forget who told us as kids about “sour grass” but we used to love it and tell everyone we knew to try it. I recently got a comment from one of my young cousins at the time all grown up recalling when sister and I had made her eat grass. I figured the name told to us must have been just a fluke till I found several sites.

  3. That’s so funny, Jenny! I wonder where you grew up. I was in the Midwest and can picture a scene just like you describe. Not exactly an after-school snack, but we loved it too.

    Thanks for dropping a note! Stop by again!

  4. Hello! I was born in MI, and moved all around. I have eaten odd things from different yards (some I’m not sure about). But this one is actually new to me (as an edible). I think I have ID’ed some in my back yard, it looks just like most of the pics I see and by description seems the same. Is there any one truly unique feature I can look at to be sure it’s okay before I go trying to make a salad out of it?

  5. Hi Jason,

    It’s great that you want to be sure of your plant identification before sampling. Many people have gotten sick , or worse, by eating the wrong things, so you can’t be too careful.

    Sourgrass can be identified by the long-stemmed leaves with three heart-shaped leaflets joined at their bases, five-petaled flowers, and elongated, candle-like seed pods. If your specimen matches that description, you’re good to go. It should taste sour.

  6. We have a lot of these growing in our yard. I’ve always kinda wondered if they were safe to eat.

  7. Hey vijack,

    I wonder where you live or there abouts? If you care to write back and let us know your approx. vicinity, thanks!

    We definitely have lots of them coming up in the grass, in the garden, in the flower beds, in the woods,…. Seems like they can grow just about anywhere! Might just have to try some on a salad this weekend. Have you tasted the sour grass yet?

  8. I loved sour grass when I was a kid. Lived in Georgia and it was all in our yard. It was lots better than a candy sour ball.

  9. Hi Delona,
    I know what you mean. It was fun finding them and eating the little “candlesticks” – and such a pretty yellow color too.

  10. As an eigth grader back in the 50’s in OK, my 2 buddies and I made some “strong” but smooth lemon/lime flavored wine from sheep shower. Good but we over did it on the sugar. I seem to remember being told to beware of the plant that grew near and looked like the sheep shower except the bottom half of it’s stem was purple. It was supposed to be toxic and was called snake shower. I thought about trying it again but was afraid of picking the wrong one.

  11. Hi Gary,

    Making wine from a simple yard weed sounds like fun! Have you tried making it since you were a kid?

    I don’t know about ‘snake shower’, but I suspect you were told a wive’s tale. Most of the oxalis or wood sorrels can have violet hues or purple stems and leaves. I’ll have to post a photo to show this, but the oxalis that grow here early in the season and those receiving a lot of shade will start out as purple or maroon-leaved plants.

    Thanks for telling us about your experiences with sheep shower.

  12. Hey Carol,
    I smile about this plant a lot. I guess it’s about remembering discovering it as a kid. Thanks for sharing the knowledge with the youngins!

  13. As a kid in Washington state we called this stuff Sheep Shower, I ate it all the time while playing out in the woods

  14. Hey Branden,
    I wonder if that name ‘Sheep Shower’ is more common in the western states? We tend to call it Sour Grass in the East.
    Fun memories, huh?

  15. Thanks for the coverage. I remember this as named “sour grass”, the big deal was it wasn’t a REAL clover (and there never were any four-leaved ones). Interesting that kids like something sour to chew on, it isn’t all abour sugar.

  16. Hi Maxwood,
    Great observation that there were no four-leaves of this strange “clover”. Yes, tastes may change as we get older, but sour is sometimes as good as sweet. Tasty!

  17. I have been seeing it here in Colorado Springs which I didn’t think it grew here so I am afraid to try it. My grandma from Missouri use to make a pie with it. It would take her whole bucket of it! Probably alot of sugar, too. I also wonder if she cut the stems off. I wish I had lived closed to her when she was alive so I could have had some.

  18. Hey Jennifer,
    It’s cool that your Gran made a pie from the yellow oxalis! Yeah, it probably took a lot of sugar. Maybe just chopping the stems would have been enough.

    I checked the map page of the USDA plant profile for sour grass. It is known to be in Colorado so you’re safe to try it. Have a nibble and smile!

  19. One of the books I read lately said when they were a child, the local kids called them “squishees”. I think it’s funny though how so many people have ate this wild, especially as a child and how that information passes strictly from child to child in most situations. Just so funny!

  20. I laugh at that too, Amber. Kids showing other kids that the little seed pods are edible and quite sour. I never heard them called squishees before. I guess everybody didn’t have a big brother or friend to show them about oxalis because a few weeks ago I was able to show 2 adults this plant and they had never eaten them. Only one was adventurous enough to try it. Leave it to children!

  21. I remember as a little girl my brothers showed me this sour grass and we would eat a lot of it and actually gotten full from it ? now with kids of my own I taught them the same thing as well as their friends. There is a lot of them growing here in Toledo Ohio ?

  22. Loved this post. We have tons of this growing in our front yard. Our children, nieces and nephews call them “Lemon Flowers”. My 2.5 yr old loves them. My husband and I can’t remember what we called them. Just remember chewing on them. Very nostalgic

  23. they seem to resemble butter cups with the same reflection on the chin. need to identify by the leaves. I like to use the stem cooked with other wild greens to enhance the flavor

  24. Neat about the buttery reflection on the chin, Bill. I don’t remember doing that with sour grass, but as kids we would hold up a dandelion under someone’s chin and if it reflected the bright yellow that meant they liked butter. πŸ™‚

    Cool to know about cooking with the stems. Do you have to pick very many?
    That’s an important bit there about identifying by the leaves…buttercups are not to be eaten!

  25. My granpa told me about this when i was really young we always had about a half acre garden and i loved sour stuff. When i was in elementary school i would head right towards the slide at recess it grew under there and I would eat it. I gave some to my 4 year old last year he is 5 now. He asked me about it a couple days ago wanting some i can see him at school sitting under the big slide lol.

  26. Brian,
    It’s great that you remember the sour grass as a kid. Is that what you called it?
    That’s so funny picturing your boy under the slide! LOL!
    Thanks for sharing!

  27. I ate these as a kid. The kids called it snake grass . I grew up in Southaven Mississippi. My grandmother said she used to have tea parties with them when she was a little girl in Kentucky. She did not know the name of it.

  28. Hey Karen!
    So, snake grass is another name for this child’s favorite snack! Tea parties in Kentucky – I know I did that as a kid, but don’t remember the sour grass being a part of it. Neat memories though!

  29. Yeah, Dusti! Say that three times fast… sheep sour, sheep shower, seep sourer. The name in itself would be funny to kids!

  30. California has an abundance of Sour grass as well.Yellow is my favorite,but the violet is quite tasty too.By the way ; it is OK to swallow-won’t hurt you.the only problem I know of is it strips tooth enamel-big deal. SKIP from CA.

  31. Hey Skip!

    Glad to know the violet ones are good to eat too. We just have the yellow ones locally, but I don’t know if they might occur in other places here in PA. Can’t imagine eating enough oxalis to bother my teeth. It’s more like a nibble for me at least. I’m sure my daily coffee intake affects teeth much more. πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for sharing your observations!

  32. My dad first showed me this plant to eat when I was a child. He was born in South Carolina in 1936, and called it sheep sour too. My little sister and I loved it, and especially enjoyed the “little banana pods.”

  33. Hi Carmen!

    ‘Sheep sour’ seems to be a very common name for the ubiquitous sour grass. I do wonder if kids like the sour taste more than adults, but I have to admit enjoying a taste as an adult. Maybe just having fond memories of being a kid!

    Thanks for letting us know that it grows in South Carolina. Stop by again!

  34. We live in Northern San Diego County which is mostly Citrus & Avocados dotted with horse ranches and towns.
    I grew up eating ‘sour grass’ which seem to enjoy growing next to the groves. I remember as a kid that we would pluck a few long stems and munch them for their tart juice. We’d spit out the residue.
    On a hot day….They’re actually quite refreshing.
    I have several areas on my property where these annuals thrive.
    The plant clusters are very ornamental and make a beautiful ground cover…deep clover green with brilliant yellow flowers!

  35. Hi Chad,

    I, too, like the ground cover effect of the clover-like leaves and bright yellow flowers. I don’t think we always ate the sour grass but instead crushed it in our teeth for the zing!

    Your area of the country sounds very beautiful. I wonder what birds or other pollinators visit the avocado groves? When I hear of citrus groves it reminds me of a time I was at a lemon grove near Fresno that was simply buzzing with hummingbirds zooming around from lemon blossom to blossom. Just fascinating to watch!

  36. We (my siblings and a few neighborhood kids) called it “Cowboy Tobacco”. We never actually ate it, only chewed it until the flavor was gone then spit it out. I believe it was my grandmother that taught me about it. Her backyard was a smorgasbord of edible plants. Mint, dandelions, blackberries, mulberries, wild cherries, wild onions, honeysuckle and more.

  37. Cowboy Tobacco! That’s the coolest name yet for this backyard tasty treat!
    Thanks for sharing all your edible plants with us, Mechele.

  38. As children near Chickasha, we stopped and ate sheep sour that grew by the roadside to alleviate carsickness. It worked well, and we enjoyed the taste.

  39. Hey Lantell,

    That’s really cool. Which grownup lead y’all to this remedy? A mom or grandpa? I wonder if other people in Oklahoma knew about it.

    We ate sheep sour by the roadside to stop carsickness, how neat!

    Thanks for your interesting comment.

  40. Hello all I grew up in the sf bay area California sour grass grows every where here way mega big time my baby sister and I learned about sour grass back in the 70s we experimented with freezing it and eating it that way I want to try making a liquor with it

  41. Hey Charles,

    I never froze it, only ate it in the yard outside. What did you think about the frozen sour grass?

    If you’ve got lots of sour grass, like way mega big time – LOL!, then of course you should try making some liquor. Please let us know if it tastes like the famous Italian Limoncello – you could be on to something! Thanks for sharing your lovely idea. πŸ™‚

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