Wood Sorrel Oxalidales - Order

Oxalidales is a small order containing seven families, two of which provide at least some edible species. Most of these are well known in the Indo-Pacific region, and a few in South America, only Wood Sorrel being of worldwide distribution.

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Oxalis Family   -   [Oxalidaceae]
Oxalidaceae is a small but widely distributed family of generally sour plants. Most common are the Wood Sorrels, found worldwide and sometimes troublesome weeds.

Bilimbi   -   [Tree Cucumber; Averrhoa bilimbi]
Fruits whole, cut

This Southeast Asian tree related to the Carambola is now grown in the tropics around the world, but not in the United States because the winters are too cold even in Florida. The fruit is yellow when ripe and five sided like the Carambola but not to such an extreme degree. It may be from 1-1/2 to 4 inches long, ovoid or nearly cylindrical. The photo specimen on the left was 2.8 inches long, 1.1 inches diameter and weighed 1 ounce. These were shipped frozen from the Philippines and were photographed still frozen because they collapse when thawed.

The fruit is at least as sour as a lemon. It's too tart to eat raw but is used to make jams and beverages. In Costa Rica it's used to make relishes eaten with rice and beans. In Indonesia it's dried, smoked and sold as flavoring Asam Sunti, used for the sour flavor in recipes in that region. It's used fresh for the same purpose in Malaysia. Bilimbi can be found in the frozen foods section of markets serving a Southeast Asian population, particularly Filipino.

Star Fruit / Carambola   -   [Coromandel Gooseberry, Kamranga; Averrhoa carambola]

This tree, native to Southeast Asia, has been widely planted in tropical and subtropical parts of the world. There are two commonly sold varieties, tart and sweet, which are difficult to tell apart by sight but the sweet ones tend to have thicker ribs. The main use of Carambola in the U.S. is as a decorative addition to fruit salads and similar dishes. Carambola is more cold tolerant than Bilimbi so is grown commercially in South Florida and in Hawaii. The photo specimen was typical of what we get here in Southern California, 6-3/4 inches long, 4 inches across and weighed 14-3/4 ounces. It was very juicy and tart-sweet, a bit more tart than a tart apple but not at all unpleasant. Details and Cooking.

Oca   -   [New Zealand Yam, Oxalis tuberosa]
Oca tubers

This native of the Andean highlands of South America has been introduced to other parts of the world as an alternative to the potato. Outside its home range it has been most successful in New Zealand where a pink variety is grown. Unlike the potato, the leaves and young shoots of the Oca can be eaten as well as the tubers. Oca tubers can be eaten raw, lightly cooked or fully cooked and their response to cooking, from crunchy to soft, is similar to carrots. After harvest, tubers are often left in the sun for a while which reduces the oxalic acid content of the skin and sweetens them. This plant does well in harsh climates and with poor soil, but will only set tubers in temperate areas where there is a sufficient difference in day length from season to season.   Photo licensed under GNU Free Documentation License v1.2 or later.

Wood Sorrel   -   [Oxalis, Oxalis stricta and other Oxallis species]
Fronds with flower

A common weed found in moist sunny areas of the garden, oxalis has almost exactly the same taste as the unrelated Sorrel. It can be used to spice up salads but should not be used in large quantity because of the high oxalic acid content. It should also not be eaten too often, because oxalic acid can interfere with calcium absorption. There are some 900 species found over most of the world, but the photo specimen is O. stricta, the common North American weed. Another species, Redwood Sorrel (O. oregana) native to northern California, Washington, Oregon and into British Columbia has larger leaves, larger white or violet flowers and is a little less tart. Many species with large and decorative flowers are sold in plant nurseries for garden use. Common Wood Sorrel (O. acetosella) is found in most of Europe and Scurvy Grass Sorrel, a South American species (O. enneaphylla), was formerly used by sailors to ward off the vitamin deficiency disease scurvy.

Bermuda Sorrel   -   [Bermuda buttercup, African wood-sorrel, Buttercup oxalis, Cape sorrel, English weed, Goat's-foot, Sourgrass, Soursob, Soursop (English); Suring (Afrikaans); Oxalis pes-caprae]
Flowering Plant

Native to South Africa, this plant has become a noxious weed in many regions of the world, including coastal California and especially Australia. In moderate quantities the foliage is palatable, safe to eat, and in South Africa used in traditional soups. It is usually harmless to grazing livestock, but in Australia it grows so profusely it can be hazardous to them. The root tubers are also edible, raw or cooked, and if eaten raw in sufficient quantity have been used to expel tapeworm, and perhaps some other worms.   Photo by MathKnight distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Elaeocarpus Family   -   [Elaeocarpus]
Elaeocarpus is a family South Asian and Southeast Asian fruit bearing trees. there are probably other edible species, but I have insufficient information to write any of them up.

Japanese Blueberry   -   [Shan du ying (China); Horutonoki, Mogashi (Japan); Dampalsu (Korea); Com trau, Côm cánh trui, côm rung, côm gao, côm lá to, côm tang, xuong cá (Vietnam); Elaeocarpus sylvestris]
Fruit on Branch

This tree is found in much of China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam in woodlands at elevations of between 1000 to 6500 feet and can grow to around 50 feet tall. The small fruits of this tree are edible. Oil is pressed from the seeds but is not used for cooking. The wood rots easily and is used for growing Shiitake mushrooms. The leaves contain a substance that has been found potentially useful for treating radiation induced injury.   Photo by KENPEI distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Ceylon Olive   -   [Veralu (Sinhala); Veralikkai(Tamil); Kaarakka, Kaara (Malayalam); Jolphai (Assamese); Chorphon (Manipur); Elaeocarpus serratus]
Bowl of Fruit

Native to Sri Lanka, this tree is found on the Indian Subcontinent as far north as Nepal and Assam, and through much of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia. The fruits, which are up to 1 inch long, are high in starch and sugar, but low in protein. They are ripe when they fall from the tree, but must be gathered soon. Pickled in various ways, they are a popular street food in Sri Lanka, but eaten plain they can cause constipation, and thus may be used as a treatment for diarrhea. In Florida they have been found quite good sliced and cooked in tomato sauce dishes. The seed kernels are reported to taste similar to Brazil Nuts, but are difficult to shell.   Photo by Gregorvitch distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Makoknum   -   [Makoknum, Makok (Thai); Spanish Plum; Elaeocarpus hygrophilus]
Cluster of Fruit

Native to Southeast Asia, this tree can grow to 80 feet high and bears clusters of green fruit. These fruit are eaten in Thailand, Vietnam and probably Burma where it is very common. While the Internet abounds with photographs of this fruit, I've found nothing on how it is eaten. Note that both the Thai name Makok and "Spanish Plum" are also used for the completely unrelated Spondias dulcis, the Ambarella or Tahitian Apple. This leads me to suspect these fruits are used similarly to the much better known Ambarella.   Photo © d0001 .

Maqui   -   [Maqui, Maque (Spanish); Chilean Wineberry; Aristotelia chilensis]
Cluster of Fruit

Native to the rainforest of central Chile and extending a little into Argentina, this small tree, growing to about 20 feet, bears black berries about 0.20 inch diameter. the tree is cultivated in Chile on a very small scale, and a little in Spain as well, but most berries are gathered in the wild. They taste similar to blackberries and are eaten fresh, dried or made into jams or beverages. They are now being used as a dietary supplement, being high in antioxidants.   Photo by Morrana distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Health & Nutrition

Members of the Oxalis family are made tart by oxalic acid, a substance that inhibits absorption of some minerals by the body, particularly calcium. Oxalic acid is said to contribute to formation of kidney stones and gout but is only one of many contributing factors and probably not a very strong one. Because these vegetables are generally consumed infrequently and in small quantity, the oxalic acid content should not be a significant problem.

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