Selecting Sorrel

Common sorrel or garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa), often simply called sorrel, is a perennial herb that is cultivated as a garden herb or leaf vegetable (pot herb). Other names for sorrel include Belleville sorrel, spinach dock, sour dock, and narrow-leaved dock. “Dock” refers to any plant with big leaves. The name “sorrel” can be confused with the hibiscus calyces or Hibiscus Tea, which are also called sorrel.

Some sources claim that the name “sorrel” comes from the French word surele, which means sour. Others claim that “sorrel” actually comes from a Germanic word also meaning sour. Either way it’s clear that the plant is known for its sourness. Sorrel has a pronounced acidic tang, a rich green color, and a pleasing leaf form.

Sorrel is a member of the Polygonaceae family, along with rhubarb and buckwheat. It is a slender plant about two feet tall, with roots that run deep into the ground, as well as juicy stems and edible, oblong leaves. The lower leaves are 2.5 to 6 inches in length, slightly arrow-shaped at the base, with very long stems. The upper leaves frequently become crimson. Sorrel has whorled spikes of reddish-green flowers, which bloom in summer, becoming purplish. The flowers mature into reddish-brown seeds (wild buckwheat) which stay on the stalk for months, providing food for birds in winter.

Common sorrel has been cultivated for centuries. Sorrel was a popular herb among the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.

A favorite European pot-herb, it became a mainstay in salads, soups, and sauces. One of its greatest virtues was its early appearance in March or April, supplying a fresh jolt of greenery after the long winter.

Sorrel soup was a fixture of English cuisine at the beginning of the colonial era, and settlers were happy to find a range of indigenous sorrels used by Native American people.

Sorrel was gathered from the wild until the late 1600s, when French gardeners decided to bring it under cultivation to improve the flavor and texture of the leaves. The oldest cultivated sorrel still extant is Belleville, which was domesticated in France during the 1730s. Sorrel De Belleville is a small cultivar with pale-green leaves up to 3 inches long. Cultivated sorrel establishes a territory in the garden and becomes a fixture, often supplying the first patch of greenery every season.

Thomas Jefferson reported seeing sorrel in Washington D.C. markets, and in 1809 he made a failed attempt to grow it in his garden.

Sorrel contains phytochemicals that are very effective in treating and preventing a wide variety of diseases including cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. Sorrel can:

  • Fight free radicals: Sorrel contains protocatechuic acid that helps eliminate harmful free radicals from your body.
  • Reduce your blood pressure: Drinking tea made from sorrel reduces blood pressure, especially in patients suffering from type-2 diabetes. Drinking 2-3 cups of sorrel tea every day helps in lowering the blood pressure considerably. Researchers believe that the anthocyanins found in the sorrel plant are responsible for effectively reducing high blood pressure. Sorrel also contains effective diuretic properties that help in increasing the production of urine.
  • Prevent strokes: Bioflavonoids keep blood flowing freely, which helps prevent strokes.
  • Prevent cancer: The flavonoids found in the sorrel plant are good deterrents against particular types of cancers. These flavonoids help in destroying cancer cells in your body and prevent further spread of this disease. They are also helpful in strengthening your immune system. Sheep sorrel in particular is a good natural cure for cancer. It contains oxalic acid and chlorophyll that are both effective in fighting cancer. Therefore, many people regularly eat sorrel leaves as a preventive measure against cancer.
  • Improve your hair and skin: Sorrel is widely used in commercial hair care products to treat dry and damaged hair. Experts believe that sorrel can also help control balding when applied regularly to bald patches. Therefore, it is also considered a good cure for mild hair loss. Sorrel is an excellent source of bioflavonoids, which support collagen production, helping your skin feel good and look good. Bioflavonoids increase capillary strength, which reduces bruising. Sorrel also contains powerful antioxidants that help prevent premature aging.
  • Prevent disease: Sorrel has powerful detoxifying properties that help in the elimination of harmful toxins from your body that can cause a number of diseases and infections. Sorrel also contains effective anti-bacterial properties that help prevent as well as treat a number of infections and related diseases. Bioflavonoids help your immune system build a protective barrier against infections.
  • Help cure illnesses: Sorrel leaves may help cure gonorrhea, urinary tract infections, scurvy, chronic catarrh, and hemorrhages. Sorrel leaves are dried and used for the treatment of ringworm, itchy skin, and seasonal fevers. Sorrel tea is a natural cure for kidney stones and jaundice. Sorrel leaf juice is applied topically for the treatment of ulcers, boils, and malignant tumors. Sorrel is also effective in curing scurvy and inflammatory diseases.
  • Relieve constipation: Sorrel is a natural laxative.
  • Reduce lactation: Sorrel is a good herb to use when weaning, to reduce milk flow. Conversely, women who are currently breastfeeding an infant should avoid it.
  • Lower cholesterol and triglyceridesSorrel contains powerful antioxidant properties that help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your body.

Although sorrel has a number of health benefits, it is also important to understand its risks on health. The plant’s sharp taste is due to oxalic acid, which is a poison. In small quantities sorrel is harmless; in large quantities it can be fatal. Some of its other side effects may include kidney stones, stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, skin rash, skin irritation, muscle spasms, dizziness, and liver disease.

Like all leafy green vegetables, sorrel has a high water content (93%), and is therefore low in calories.
It is also an excellent source of three vitamins: vitamin C, vitamin A (2-3 milligrams per 100 grams, as much as spinach and watercress), and folate. Sorrel is a good source of magnesium, manganeseironpotassium, copperphosphorus, and calcium.

Nutrients in 100 Grams of Cooked Sorrel

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin A 4,000 IU 80%
vitamin C 26 mg 43.3%
folate 94 µg 23.5%
magnesium 89 mg 22.3%
manganese 0.349 mg 17.5%
iron 2.1 mg 11.7%
potassium 321 mg 9.2%
copper 0.131 mg 6.6%
phosphorus 63 mg 6.3%
vitamin B6 0.122 mg 6.1%
riboflavin 0.1 mg 5.9%
calcium 44 mg 4.4%
protein 1.8 g 3.6%
fiber 0.7 g 2.8%
thiamine 0.04 mg 2.7%
niacin 0.5 mg 2.5%
zinc 0.2 mg 1.3%
selenium 0.9 µg 1.3%
Calories 24 1.2%
carbohydrates 2.9 g 1%
fat 0.6 g 0.9%
pantothenic acid 0.041 mg 0.4%
sodium 3 mg 0.1%

Sorrel is available year-round. Chose bright green, crisp leaves. Avoid woody stems or leaves that are yellow or wilted.

Store sorrel in a container in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

Sorrel goes well with celery, chervil, tofu, mustard, olives, pepper, potatoes, spinach, stuffings, and tarragon. 

The leaves may be puréed in soups and sauces or added to salads; they have a flavor that is similar to kiwifruit or sour wild strawberries. The lemony tang of sorrel derives from oxalic acid. Its concentration can be so pronounced that you need not add additional acid to dishes including sorrel. 

In northern Nigeria, sorrel is known as yakuwa or sure (pronounced suuray) in Hausa or karassu in Kanuri. It is also used in stews usually in addition to spinach. In some Hausa communities, it is steamed and made into salad using kuli-kuli (traditional roasted peanut cakes with oil extracted), salt, pepper, onion, and tomatoes. The recipe varies according to different levels of household income. A drink called solo is made from the flowers.

In Vietnam it is called Rau Chua and is added fresh to lettuce and in salads for Bánh Xēo. In India, the leaves are used to make a type of spiced pickle, called gongura achar.

In Romania, wild or garden sorrel, known as măcriş or ştevie, is used to make sour soups, stewed with spinach, added fresh to lettuce and spinach in salads or over open sandwiches. In Hungary the plant and its leaves is known as sóska (/ʃoːʃkɔ/ or “SHO-sh-kaw”). It is called kuzu kulağı (‘lamb’s ear’) in Turkish. In Polish it is called szczaw (pronounced /ʂʈʂaf/). In Croatia and Bulgaria is used for soups or with mashed potatoes, or as part of a traditional dish containing other green herbs. In rural Greece it is used with spinach, leeks, and chard in spanakopita. In the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium it is called zurkel and canned pureed sorrel is mixed with mashed potatoes and eaten as a traditional winter dish. In Portugal, it’s called azeda (sour), and is usually chewed raw. In Albania it is called lëpjeta. The leaves are simmered and served cold marinated in olive oil, it is used in soups, and even as an ingredient for filling byrek pies (byrek me lakra). In Lithuania it is known as rūgštynė and used in soup.

In Russia and Ukraine it is called shchavel’ (щавель) and is used to make soup called shav. It is used as a soup ingredient in other countries, too (for example, .

Schav Soup
serves 6

  • 4 cups fresh sorrel
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 large potatoes, chopped
  • 6 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 3 cups soy milk, soy yogurt, or cashew cream
  1. Wash and chop sorrel leaves.
  2. Saute onion in olive oil until clear, then add greens and cook, stirring, until the bright greens turn drab green.
  3. Add potatoes, water, and salt.
  4. Bring to a boil; cook until potatoes are very soft. Cool slightly.
  5. Puree with an immersion blender or a food mill.
  6. If you want to serve it cold, put it in the refrigerator at this point.
  7. Just before serving (either hot or cold) add soy milk, soy yogurt, or cashew cream.

You can also harvest the seeds when they are mature and dark brown. If you wait too long, they can get too wet or too buggy. Harvest on a sunny day and lay the seed heads on shallow paper-lined trays to dry.

To prepare the seeds, strip them off the stalks and rub them briskly between your palms. While not sharp, the seeds and stalks are abrasive, so you may want to wear gloves if you are going to process a lot. It is nicest to do this outside in a light breeze. With a little practice, you can get the wind to take the husks away for you. Inside, you will need to use a sieve with holes too small to allow the seeds through, but big enough to pass the husks. Don’t worry if some husk is still in with the seeds. They won’t hurt you; they’re just bitter.

Seeds can be stored in glass jars until ready to use. They last about 20 years. Just before cooking, lightly toast the seeds in a cast iron skillet. This improves both the flavor and digestibility. You can grind toasted wild buckwheat and combine it with wheat flour in pancakes, muffins, and breads.

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