Heidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and gardener in Lake County, Illinois, with a background in human resources. She has written about gardening for various online venues and enjoys The Herb Companion’s valuable resources.
Sorrel has many common names, including cuckoo’s meat, sour grabs, sour weed and sour suds. It gets its reputation as a sour green from its high concentration in acid oxalate of potash and tartaric and tannic acids, as well as vitamin C. It has been grown since medieval times as a kitchen herb and medicinal plant. There are several varieties of sorrel, but two of the most common are garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and French sorrel (Rumex scutatus). The two are commonly confused but they are different, as garden sorrel is a much larger plant and French sorrel only grows to about 2 feet tall. They both produce large green leaves that have a lemony lettuce flavor.
Sorrel produces pink to purple flowers on tall stalks. It is native to Europe and Asia, and is used widely in French cuisines and kitchen gardens.
Sorrel is a leafy green perennial herb with long roots. It’s easy to propagate by dividing the roots or by sowing seeds in light, rich warm soil in the spring. The plants grow in clumps, forming mounds from a central base. Clipping leaves for salads and cooking throughout the growing season encourages a bushy plant. When the plant produces flower stalks in mid-summer, the whole plant should be cut back to encourage tender new growth for cooking. Garden sorrel prefers moist, damp soils, while French sorrel prefers dry soil in a sunny location.
Sorrel has antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-cancer properties. It is an ingredient in Essiac tea, an anti-cancer tea formulated by the Ojibwa Indians. It interferes with cancer cell production, as its acids kill free radicals that create cancerous conditions, and its antibacterial properties kill E. coli and other harmful germs.
Water from boiled sorrel used to wash chicken pox sores, boils, shingles-afflicted skin, poison ivy rashes, blisters, acne and other skin sores. It eases the pain, relieves itches and speeds up the healing process. Drinking sorrel water flavored with a bit of honey brings down a fever and helps clear sinus infections. The roots and seeds, when steeped in water, make a good astringent for cleaning oily and acne-prone skin.
Young leaves are best for culinary uses since older leaves can be bitter and tough. Sorrel is an excellent salad green that adds a lemony lettuce taste to mixed salads, soups and stews. The large, juicy leaves are also boiled like spinach for a hot side dish of tasty greens topped with butter and salt.
Sorrel is the main ingredient in the French recipe for soupe aux herbes. Like the beloved Mexican pozole, soupe aux herbes has many local variations, some made with kitchen garden ingredients and some made with wild ingredients, many made with butter and chicken, veal or beef stock.
A delicious green sauce used with cold meat dishes is made with sorrel by beating the leaves to a pulp with a mortar and pestle or food processor and adding vinegar and sugar.
Sorrel’s roots tinge water red when boiled or mashed, creating a natural food coloring for cookies, cakes and candies.
• "Journal of Medicinal Food"; Determination of Antimicrobial Activity of Sorrel (Hibiscus Sabdariffa) on Esherichia Coli O157:h7 Isolated from Food, Veterinary, and Clinical Samples; M. Fullerton, et al.; May 2011