Sorrel may be considered a weed by many, but it ’makes real nourishin’ soup,’ according to Milly in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and she was correct.
Similar in appearance to spinach, sorrel grows very easily in the Bay Area. Sorrel is far more heat tolerant than spinach and is less likely to bolt. There are actually two different types of sorrel and both are edible: common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and French sorrel (Rumex scutatus). Common sorrel has a more bitter taste than the French variety, which is more lemony, but both have been used in soups and salads for thousands of years.
Sorrel description & lifecycle
A close cousin of curled dock (R. crispus), rhubarb, and buckwheat, sorrel is a perennial herbaceous plant commonly found in the grasslands of Europe, Scandinavia, and Central Asia. It is an introduced species in North America. The plants are dioecious, which means that there are distinctly male and female plants. Flowers are reddish green. Sorrel has deep roots that can help break up compacted soil.
Garden sorrel vs. French sorrel
Common sorrel goes by several other names: garden sorrel, spinach dock, sheep’s sorrel, sour dock, red sorrel, vignette, acedera, and narrow-leaved dock. “Dock” refers to broad-leafed members of the Polygonaceae family, also known as knotweeds. Common sorrel grows tall, up to 3 feet in height, and has many branching stems. French sorrel has a more prostrate growth pattern, usually no more than 18 inches tall, and leaves tend to clump together on the upright stems. French sorrel leaves are smaller and more rounded than common sorrel leaves.
Uses of sorrel
The edible juicy stems and narrow leaves of sorrel are packed with nutrients. A single cup serving of raw sorrel provides 15% of the DV of fiber, 16% Vitamins A & C, 5% calcium, 17% iron, 14% potassium, nearly 3 grams of protein, and all for only 29 calories. Sorrel leaves taste somewhat sour. It has been described as tasting similar to unripe strawberries or kiwi. Sorrel adds a good tang to soups, salads, and otherwise too heavy casseroles, and it has been part of the human diet for a very long time. Sorrel is the primary ingredient in traditional French “soupe aux herbes”.
As folk medicine, sorrel has been used effectively as a diuretic, for treating bacterial infections, to reduce pain and inflammation, and it is currently used in the herbal cancer treatment Essiac. Sorrel contains tannins, which can help dry out congested nasal passages associated with sinusitis. On the downside, sorrel also contains oxalic acid, which can cause problems for individuals prone to gout, arthritis, rheumatism, or kidney stones.
How to grow sorrel
Sorrel is a tenacious addition to your edible landscape. Sorrel self seeds easily, is drought resistant, and wicked tough. Seeds should be planted in spring or fall. Sorrel can tolerate shade, but it prefers full sun. Sorrel leaves should be harvested while they are relatively small, for the best flavor. As with all greens, it is best to harvest in the morning, while they are at their crispest.
Sorrel pests & diseases
Many butterfly and moth species larvae feed on sorrel. Other than that, sorrel grows pretty much uncontested.
Adding sorrel to your edible landscape not only provides your family with nutrient rich greens, it also adds biodiversity and improved soil health.
I hope this information inspires you to grow more of your own food. You can ask your garden questions on my Home page.