Home » Gardening » Herbs and spices » The Vegetable Patch » Sorrel, a unique taste

Sorrel, a unique taste


Sorrel is an herb from which leaves are eaten. Their acidic taste is quite distinctive.

Sorrel facts summary

Name – Rumex acetosa
Family – Polygonaceae (buckwheat)
Type – condiment

 – 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm)
Exposure – full sun, part sun, shade

Soil: cool, rich  –  Harvest: early summer → early spring (nearly year-round)

Easy to grow, it has the capacity to self-reproduce. You’ll also find it appealing for its many medicinal properties.

Sowing and planting sorrel

Sorrel must be sown in a cool spot where the sun isn’t too strong, it is a plant that will feel at ease in a partially shaded place.

Sorrel can also very well be sown in a pot for a terrace or balcony.

Sowing sorrel correctly

Before sowing sorrel, keep in mind that this plant is very invasive because it propagates very fast.

  • Sowing sorrelSorrel is sown right at the end of winter with a cover, or in spring directly in the ground.
  • Mark the rows at least 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm) apart.
  • Sow in seed holes every 10 inches (25 cm) and cover with a thin layer of soil.
  • Keep the soil slightly moist.
  • Thin as they sprout, so as to only keep the most vigorous plants.
  • Remember to keep watering regularly.

How to plant sorrel

growing sorrelIf purchased in a container or nursery pot, the sorrel will need to be planted in spring or fall. Exposure is not a major consideration, because it will do fine both in the sun and in the shade.

Best select cool and rather rich soil and if possible avoid excessively chalky soil.

  • The plant will grow back in place year after year.

Propagating sorrel

Dividing the sorrel clump is the simplest and most practiced manner for propagating your sorrel.

Propagate your sorrel equally well in spring or in fall.

  • Propagating sorrelDig out the sorrel clump, including as much of the surrounding root system as you can.
  • Divide the clump into two or three parts with a sharp utensil or spade.
  • You can split the clump into as many parts as you wish, as long as at least one leaf remains to be planted.
  • Plant the mini-clumps that bear at least one leaf.
  • Water regularly.

Plan to thus split the clumps of sorrel plants that have been in place for 3-4 years, this will regenerate the plant base which tends to weaken with time.

Another option is to let some of the plants go to seed. Then, sow the seeds in spring as detailed above.

Growing and caring for sorrel

Easy to grow and care for, sorrel can be helped with a few good practices to increase the harvest and extend the lifespan of each clump as long as possible.

The first rule is to always keep the sorrel from bolting, or bearing seed.

  • When flowers appear, remove the stalks that bear them, so that the plant diverts all its energy to leaf growth.
  • Hoe and cultivate often around the sorrel to avoid weeds.
  • Water in case strong of heat wave and/or extended drought.
  • In winter, spread compost or manure to amend the soil for the following year.

Growing sorrel in pots

In pots, sorrel will be even more vulnerable to lack of water, and will need to be watered on a regular schedule, as soon as the surface soil is dry.

Repotting every year is suggested to ensure the plant’s nutrient needs are replenished.

Diseases and parasites that attack sorrel

Slug symptoms on sorrelPretty hardy and disease-resistant, sorrel isn’t a fragile plant, but it may occasionally be invaded by aphids or devoured by slugs.

Harvesting sorrel

Harvest the sorrel leaves as you need them, first picking the most developed leaves.

Avoid picking leaves that have not yet reached 4 inches (10 centimeters) in size.

The 1st year, wait for at least 3 months after sowing to collect the first leaves.

Sorrel will keep for up to 3 days after picking if you store it in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator.

Sorrel is also perfect for freezing, and can thus be savored all winter long.

Notable sorrel varieties

‘Large de Belleville’ – large leaves

‘Blonde de Lyon’ – slow to bolt

‘Sanguine’ – bright red leaves.

Garden patience, Rumex patienta is less acidic.

Sheep’s sorrel, Rumex acetosella, can be found in dry and sandy areas across Europe. Other related species grow in mountain areas, such as French sorrel, Rumex scutatus and maiden sorrel, Rumex alpestris. They can all be used in the same manner as field sorrel.

Toxicity of sorrel

Since sorrel contains elevated amounts of oxalic acid salts (same as rhubarb), certain patients must refrain from eating this plant. Persons suffering from gout, arthritis, rheumatism and persons often subject to stones must remove it from their diet.

Acidic sorrel is off limits to patients who suffer from ulcers or stomach hyperacidity. However, know that young leaves are much less acidic, and can thus be eaten in moderate amounts from time to time.

All there is to know about sorrel

Sorrel harvestedNative to Europe and Asia, sorrel is both rich in vitamin C and particularly flavorful. Sorrel can be cultivated easily in most temperate climates.

Medicinal properties related to treating rheumatism, to enhance digestion have been attributed to it.

There are 4 major sorrel families:

  • Common sorrel: this is the most common variety and produces the largest leaves.
  • Garden patience or monk’s rhubarb: leaves similar to those of spinach by their shape and size.
  • French sorrel: very green and growing to form a nice round bush, it is one of the most striking varieties.
  • Wood sorrel: it bears green leaves with purple-red stems.

Read also: all our articles and pages dedicated to sorrel.

Smart tip about sorrel

Cutting the stalks that go to seed is recommended to avoid having the plant spread too far.

Images: 123RF: Alla Rudenko, CC BY 2.0: Jules Clancy, mazaletel; depositphotos: Fuzull Hanum; Pixabay: Beverly Buckley, Dieter Freese, Joël Schurter
A comment ?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *