Giving Shamrock plants on St.Patrick’s day is a long held tradition in Ireland but what is a Shamrock and can you grow it?
What is a Shamrock
The word, “shamrock” is the English form of the Irish (Gaelic) word “seamrog,” which translates as “little clover”.
There is some confusion with white clover (Trifolium repens) but it is more likely the plant may really be Common Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella).
Referring to writings of the time that stated, the Irish wore Shamrock on St Patrick’s day and indeed ate the “bitter” plant makes experts er on the side of Wood Sorrel which unlike clover would be plentiful and blossoming in the spring with edible young leaves having a bitter lemony taste.
Sharing our climate with Ireland, just over the Irish Sea in Cumbria, we certainly would not be able to pick clover to wear for St. Patrick’s Day but would have a readily available supply of Wood Sorrel.
Wood Sorrel has long been held in high regard before the introduction of Christianity, by the pagan druids of Britain and Ireland for it’s edible and medicinal properties.
Shamrock and St Patrick
The Shamrock became linked to St. Patrick with stories that say St Patrick used the ‘Seamrog’ to teach the doctrine of the Holy Trinity (One leaf for the Father, one for the Son and one for the Holy Spirit). Later research of his writings reveal no mention of this.
Regardless of myth, legend and what has been lost over time, the three leaved plant has become synonymous with Ireland, regularly appearing in texts, embroideries and artwork to become the country’s unofficial symbol.
Can I grow Shamrock?
In most of the UK which shares a climate with Ireland, Wood Sorrel and clover are indigenous species growing readily where conditions allow. In fact many of us are regularly pulling these up as weeds.
Unlike clover, Wood Sorrel likes damp, shady conditions (again an indicator that Sorrel is the Shamrock referred to in Irish legend).
Unless you have wood sorrel growing in your garden, it is illegal to dig up the plant from the wild and it is very unwise to plant Common Wood Sorrel in the garden (unless you have the space in a woodland), because it will spread like buttercups.
However, there are a few varieties of Oxalis that grow from bulbs or corms and look very similar to their wild cousin. NEVER plant Oxalis in the garden unless you are sure which species you have as some can become incredibly invasive.
Visit the Royal Horticultural Society website for more information on Growing Oxalis and the different species.
New Zealand Yam (Oca)
This “Shamrock” can be grown in the veg patch.
The New Zealand Yam or Oca is a member of the Oxalis family and long been grown in the Andes for its nutritionally rich tubers with a tangy lemon flavour that becomes nuttier once cooked.
The red skinned tubers have a crisp pale orange or creamy coloured flesh that can be eaten raw in salads or boiled, baked, and fried – just like potatoes.
You can even add the attractive shamrock-like leaves and shoots to salads for a refreshing citrus twist. Oca makes a particularly attractive crop in the vegetable garden or even in a container on the patio.
Buy Oxalis bulbs
Van Meuwen – Oxalis versicolor