Favourite Herbs: Sorrel

Sorrel

Rumex acetosa

Hardy perennial

Height 30 cm to 1.5 m; spread 25 to 45 cm.

Distinguished by pale-green stems and thick, long-stalked leaves.

Try these!

Rumex acetosa (common sorrel):

Rumex scutatus (true French sorrel):

Planting

Seed sorrel directly into the garden as soon as the ground is workable or, to get a jump on the season, set out young plants purchased from a garden centre.

How much: Two or three plants.

When: Around the date of average last spring frost.

Where: Full sun. Prefers moist, well-drained soil. Space plants 60 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Sorrel is very easy to grow! Once established, water during periods of dry weather. Remove flower spikes as soon as they appear to encourage leaf production. Divide and replant sorrel every 3 to 4 years, or when the plants get crowded. Early spring is the best time to do this, just as the plants are emerging. Sorrel requires little fertilizer.

Harvesting

Once sorrel is established, you can harvest leaves right through to autumn: sorrel is quite frost tolerant. To keep the leaves mild and tender, remove any flowers before they open. The leaves get very bitter after the plant has flowered.

For best flavour: Harvest young, tender, juicy leaves: older leaves can have a sharp, sometimes bitter, flavour.

Leaves: Clip leaf stalks where they attach to the main plant; discard any tough stems.

Flowers: Edible, but not normally eaten.

Preserving the Harvest

Dried sorrel has little flavour. Use it fresh or freeze it.

Tips

  • Pick a few leaves from each plant as soon as they are big enough to use. For one thing, small leaves taste much better than big leaves; for another, removing leaves regularly encourages the plant to produce bushier growth and many more small, tender leaves
  • Sorrel contains oxalic acid, which should be avoided by individuals with gout, rheumatism, and kidney problems.
  • Sorrel requires minimal care and attention beyond watering. I like to give my plants a good shot of 20-20-20 after I cut them back severely. This creates a fresh flush of tender, young leaves.

To Note:

  • Sorrel is high in vitamins A and C.
  • In Lapland, the juice of sorrel is used in place of rennet to curdle milk.
  • The name sorrel comes from an old Teutonic word meaning, "sour."
  • In Scotland, sorrel is known as "Gowkemeat."
  • The sorrel plant is also called “Cuckoo's meate" from the old belief that the bird cleared its voice by eating sorrel.
  • Farmers harvesting their crops on a hot day would often take a few leaves of sorrel to chew to quench their thirst.
  • Sorrel was eaten in Egypt and by the Romans, who liked sorrel because it offset the effects of eating too much rich food.
  • The sorrel plant was held in high repute in the court of Henry VIII—until the introduction of French sorrel.