By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Also known as red sorrel, you may be curious about using sheep’s sorrel in the garden rather than eradicating this common weed. So, is sheep’s sorrel edible and what uses does it have? Read on to learn more about sheep’s sorrel herbal use and decide if this “weed” is right for you.
Full of vitamins and nutrients, sheep’s sorrel is used to treat bacterial infections such as Salmonella, E-coli, and Staph. According to info about sheep’s sorrel as food, it tastes great as well.
Native to Asia and much of Europe, this plant has naturalized in the U.S. and is widely available in many forests and even lawns. Sources say the plant contains oxalic acid, giving it a tart or tangy taste, similar to rhubarb. The leaves are edible, as are the roots. Use them as an unusual addition to salads, or stir-fry the roots along with peppers and onions for numerous dishes.
Among the most prominent of sheep’s sorrel herbal use is in the cancer treatment concocted by Native Americans, called Essiac. This remedy is found in capsule form, teas, and tonics. As to whether Essiac really works, there is no clinical evidence due to a lack of trials.
The Romans used Rumex types as lollipops. The French concocted a popular soup from the plant. And it seems to be popular for healing too – as the stings of nettle, bees, and ants can be treated with leaves of the Rumex. These plants contain an alkali that neutralizes the acidic bite, removing the pain.
When using sheep’s sorrel herbally or for food, there are many varieties from which to choose. Of the 200 varieties, taller ones such as R. hastatulus are called dock, while shorter varieties are referred to as sorrels (meaning sour). It appears, though, that the common names are used interchangeably. Rumex hastatulus is said to be the tastiest and easiest to identify. It is called heart-wing sorrel, sometimes referred to as dock. Curly dock (R. crispus) is one of the more popular types.
Foraging for dock and sorrel was popular during the Great Depression, but not so much these days. However, it is good to recognize this range of edible plants in case you ever need to forage for food, which may be as close as one’s own backyard.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before using or ingesting ANY herb or plant for medicinal purposes or otherwise, please consult a physician, medical herbalist or other suitable professional for advice.
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Sorrel has been around for thousands of years, found both in edible dishes and herbal preparations, but generally under-used as a food in the United States. There are many kinds of sorrel two are known as French sorrel although one is really common sorrel and they are distinctly different.
Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is sometimes known as French Sorrel, but the true French sorrel is Rumex scutatus, often called Buckler sorrel. True French sorrel has smaller, arrow-shaped leaves (somewhat like the sheep sorrel found in weedy yards) that grow close to the ground less than a foot tall and is milder tasting than common sorrel. It is used to make the delightful classic French sorrel soup. Both are easy to grow, and both are culinary. (Sheep sorrel is also edible.)
Common sorrel is what I have in my garden. It has a tart, lemony flavor and can be used with mild salad greens to add bite. The leaves are large, broad and almost fleshy (like some lettuce) it thrives on being ignored and is pest-free so far in my garden. I do take care to cut the flower stalks before they mature, lest it become invasive. Sorrel is a perennial, and holds up well to winters here in the southern Appalachian mountains.
Sorrel is definitely a spring vegetable mine is already gone to seed in early June, along with most of my lettuce and spinach. Sorrel should be harvested young for the most tender leaves and best taste.
|Sorrel flowering ||Sorrell flower seeds|
People prone to kidney stones should avoid sorrel as it is high in oxalic acid. (It is a close relative of rhubarb but with far less oxalic acid.) The acid in the leaves will react with cast iron, giving off a metallic taste sorrel cooked in aluminum cookware can draw out enough aluminum ions to be toxic. Stainless steel pots and utensils are advised. Sorrel tea should also be avoided for the oxalic acid, and because it can have diuretic properties.
The leaves of sorrel are rich in potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C. At one time sorrel was used to fight scurvy because of the high vitamin C content. Cooked sorrel is often puréed as a base for fish sauces and poached egg dishes. I have seen sorrel added to a basic cream of potato soup with good results, or used in place of half the spinach in a dish. Raw, sorrel is generally used in salads.
Sorrel is a nice balancing side dish for rich fatty meats and oily fish. It does not dry very well but can be puréed and frozen for later use in soups and sauces. The Joy of Cookingcookbook has a nice recipe for cream of sorrel soup.
In addition to common sorrel (Rumex acetosus) and French sorrel (Rumex scutatus), there are many others including Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella), Blood Sorrel (Rumex sanguineus), Indian Sorrel or Bladder Dock (Rumex vesicarius), and Patience Dock (Rumex patientia).
“Red-veined Sorrel [Rumex sanguineus] is a new variety bred particularly for salads with deep red veins contrasting with the bright green leaves to make an attractive plant. Common sorrel, often considered an herb, grew wild as a weed in Europe. The taste is sharp and tart.” Lois Tilton
I hope you will consider expanding your repertoire of greens in the garden and try some sorrel!
Sorrel Sauce (suggested for fish or fowl)
2 medium shallots, minced
1 tablespoon butter
About 20 finely chopped sorrel leaves, stem and tough veins removed
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 2/3 cup heavy cream
In a medium saucepan over moderately-low heat, melt the butter and sweat the shallots until soft, about 8 minutes. Add chopped sorrel leaves and "melt" (the leaves will quickly cook down and become extremely tender). Add white wine, bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by about a quarter. Add cream, bring to a simmer and cook until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
The sauce can be made ahead and reheated.
The Slow Cook
Some sorrel plant and seed suppliers:
Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus)
Scientific Name – Rumex acetosa
Native – Europe and North Asia
Sorrel is a perennial herb, also known as sheep sorrel, spinach dock, sour grabs and grass because of its sharp, tart and sour taste (1). The herb is often confused with spinach and hibiscus. Sorrel has spade-shaped leaves and reddish-green flowers that turn purple after full bloom, which denotes their acidic nature. Its seeds are brown in color.
Remember the special Essiac tea? Sorrel leaf is one of the key ingredients in this beverage.
Plants will grow best in full sun, although a little partial shade will keep them going longer into summer.
Choose a spot with good drainage. Sorrel likes a slightly acidic soil pH somewhere in the range of 5.5 to 6.8. Since sorrel is grown for its leaves, a soil rich in organic matter will give you lots of leafy, green growth.
Give your sorrel plants regular water at least 1 inch per week. Mulching will help conserve moisture and keep the leaves clean.
Sorrel plants are reliably perennial in USDA hardiness zones 5 and higher, but they are commonly grown as annuals in zones 3 through 7, starting with new plants each spring. Older plants can become tough and less flavorful. Established plants can handle a light frost.
Sorrel is happiest when started in a rich soil, but you should amend the soil each year with more organic matter and possibly side-dress with compost or granular fertilizer applied mid-season.