Sorrel – characteristics, cultivation and use

A sorrel plant on a meadow
A sorrel plant on a meadow

Like dandelion and ashweed, sorrel is one of the herbs that are abundant in nature and are widely used as wild herbs. Sorrel, with its pleasant sour taste, is an interesting herb that blends well with herbs in many dishes. It is a popular herb used as a salad spice. As it contains a lot of vitamin C, it refreshes and helps against spring tiredness. Also, as a tea you can prepare the dried herb and drink to strengthen digestion. However, it is important that you do not use too much of the plant, because the plenty of oxalic acid and alkali salts contained are toxic in large doses.

Profile of sorrel:

Scientific name: Rumex acetosa

Plant family: knotweed family (Polygonaceae)

Other names: common sorrel, garden sorrel

Sowing time / Planting time: March – April

Flowering period: May – September

Harvest time: May – August

Useful plant parts: leaves, buds, shoots

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: nutrient-rich, humus-rich and slightly moist soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: gastrointestinal complaints, anemia, itching

Use as aromatic herb: quark, herb butter, wild herb salads, as a vegetable

Plant characteristics and classification of sorrel

Origin and occurrence of the sorrel

The common sorrel is native to Central and Western Europe. Due to its persistent way of life and partly invasive spreading it is to be found as neophyte also in many other countries and continents such as the USA, South Europe, and the Middle East.

Since sorrel is a perennial plant, it can be found on many nutrient-rich meadows, wild meadows and roadsides. Since the seeds can survive for a long time, the plant is able to colonize large areas within a short space of time.

Plant order of sorrel

Common sorrel – belongs to the knotweed family (Polygonaceae). The plant is related to important crops such as pieplant or buckwheat, but also to exotic herbs such as Vietnamese cilantro. The genus includes more than 120 species that are found almost all in the northern hemisphere. All plants contain oxalic acid. In addition to the well-known common sorrel (Rumex acetosa), the species curley dock (Rumex crispus) as well as the sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella) are very common here.

Gradually also known is the blood dock (Rumex sanguineus), which, as a kitchen herb, is preferred especially because of its milder taste.

Look and characteristics of the sorrel


Sorrel is a perennial, hardy, and herbaceous plant that has high nutritional needs. The common sorrel can reach heights of growth up to one meter (40 in). On average, however, it is usually smaller and reaches heights around 25 to 50 cm (10 to 20 in). The plant has a brown to brown-black rhizome. The plant has a rhizome, which is directly connected to the stem axis and acts as a hibernating organ.


The smooth and elongated leaves are colored dark green to reddish depending on the content of oxalic acid. The more oxalic acid is contained, the more reddish they are. Striking is the eye-catching veining that sometimes resembles a herringbone pattern. In the young stage, sorrel grows as a rosette with rather elongated and thick leaves from the ground. Later, the pointed tapered leaves sit singly on the almost square stalk.


Heyday of the common sorrel is usually between mid-May to early September. The plant produces rather inconspicuous flowers, which usually look reddish to rust-colored. The flowers grow in a panicle, which is referred to here as pseudo whorl.


During fruit ripening, small black to brown nut fruits with small wings are formed. Each plant forms a rather high number of seeds.

inflorescence of sorrel
inflorescence of sorrel

Sorrel – cultivation and care


Sorrel is a relatively undemanding plant. It grows and thrives best in partially shaded to sunny spots.


The soil should be moist, nutritious and well humic. Inasmuch as sorrel is planted as a kitchen herb, it is advisable to choose a partially shaded location, as the plant and the leaves remain smaller.


The sowing of the seeds should take place between March (in the cold frame or balcony) and April (outdoors). It is also quite possible to cultivate the plants on the windowsill or in the indoor greenhouse, in order to replant them in the field or on the balcony around April. The plant needs sufficient heat with temperatures around 15 ° C / 59 ° F. The seeds are only superficially pressed on the ground, because sorrel needs light to germ.


For pre-cultivation a relatively low-nutrient soil is recommended. In contrast, the planting soil should not be too porous, like loamy and nutritious. In the field, the soil should therefore be pre-fertilized. It is advisable to use compost or a previous green manure. When potting soil is used, fertilization is not required as most commercially available soils are pre-fertilized.

If sorrel become part of the herb garden, it is recommended to combine the plant with herbs such as dandelion, nettle or borage.


Propagation may also take place by division of older plants. Since sorrel tends to spread uncontrollably, the plants should be kept in pots in their home garden. Especially the long roots (up to 150 cm / 5 ft) are responsible for the fact, that the plant grows on various new places in the garden. Other plants are sometimes affected and displaced. A fight by chopping the root is not possible, instead countless new roots are formed.


At the time of harvest, the leaves should be used fresh. Drying and freezing without water is not or only partially recommended as a preservative method. However, a preservation by pickle in oil is possible.

Sorrel and its use

Sorrel was already valued in antiquity. In ancient Greece, Egypt and the Romans, it was eaten as a nutrient against vitamin and mineral deficiencies, but was also used to reduce fever

Sorrel in the kitchen

Sorrel is becoming more and more fashionable. Especially in natural food shops there are more products to buy at the season. Alternatively, you can collect it yourself. The deadline of the last harvest day is the 24th of June. From this date, the concentration of oxalic acid, which gives the herb the bitter taste, increases and makes the herb unpleasant in the taste and irritates the stomach. Therefore, sorrel should be eaten afterwards only occasionally and in small quantities.

A feature that allows one to evaluate the oxalic acid content without tasting the plant is the coloring of the leaves. If the leaves are consistently green, the content is not as high as when the leaves start to turn red or are already completely red in color. Accordingly, only the green, young leaves should be collected.

The taste of sorrel can be described as sour and fresh, which is why it suits especially well in combination with lettuce. Alternatively, the herb can be prepared like spinach or can be found in recipes with herb butter, herb quark or the well-known sorrel soup. For the soup, the herb is usually pureed and refined with other herbs such as parsley or chervil. By the way, the herb is also part of the famous Frankfurt sauce.

Sorrel should always be used fresh. The aroma or taste is almost completely lost during drying. People who complain of kidney problems should eat only limited of it, since the contained oxalic acid may promote the formation of kidney stones.

Flower buds and young shoots are also suitable for cooking and as a spicy addition.

Sorrel is not suitable for drying. To use it in winter, it must be frozen in water or placed in oil. Iron-containing pots should be avoided when cooking with sorrel, otherwise it will easily take on a metallic taste.

The seeds can be dried and used in winter as germ seed or for tea preparation.

some sorrel plants on a meadow
some sorrel plants on a meadow

Sorrel as a medicinal herb

In times when vitamin-rich food was in short supply, sorrel was eaten to cure scurvy. Its vitamin C content is significantly above that of many other herbs. In addition to vitamin C, the plant also contains sufficient vitamins B1, B2, B6 and E.

The other ingredients are also beneficial to prevent anemia and have a blood-purifying and water-stimulating effect. Of importance are also the bitter substances and the tannins, which activate the production of digestive juices and make hearty foods easier digestible. In the past, sorrel was therefore also used to treat gastrointestinal complaints.

In old herbal books, the plant was used for constipation or ear and tooth pain. There it was recommended to boil the plant in wine. The roots were also used for itching.

Sorrel was also described by Pastor Kneipp as a useful remedy.

For a small spring cure, sorrel is well suited, it has a diuretic, purifies the blood and can neutralize toxins. In addition, it contains many vitamins and minerals, which can help us against spring fatigue.

Furthermore, the herb should strengthen eyesight, heart and kidneys. It has a stimulating effect on the blood circulation, the digestive system and the immune system. Sorrel improves intestinal health and prevents bloating, diarrhea and constipation.

Externally, grated leaves or plant sap can be applied to wounds and insect bites.

If you are on the move and thirsty is plaguing, you can use the thirst quenching effect of sorrel and chew a few leaves. Important: After the walk, drink some water!

Preparation of a sorrel tincture

A tincture helps with colds, it promotes mucus, draining and slightly laxative, so the excretion of germs and toxins is supported.

For the preparation of the tincture you need a screw jar with a lid, which you fill in half with chopped sorrel leaves. Pour at least 40% alcohol until all leaves have been covered, leave in a cool place for three weeks, strain and fill in a dark dropper. Take 30 drops three times a day for a maximum of one week.

Preparation of a sorrel tea

Tea with sorrel has an antioxidant effect and can be drunk as a spring cure.

Time needed: 5 minutes

This is how to prepare a sorrel tea by yourself

  1. put a tablespoon of fresh leaves in a tea strainer ina mug

  2. dash with 60-80 ° C (140-176 ° F) hot water

  3. leave to draw for 5 minutes

  4. drink one to three cups day

The treatment should be in progress for a maximum of one week.

Sorrel mask for sunburn

With quark and freshly minced sorrel, you can easily make a cooling and healing paste for sun-burned skin. Stir the quark with sorrel and leave to stand for about five minutes at room temperature, mix well again and spread over the affected areas. Allow drying and carefully remove with a damp cloth. For further treatment use St. John’s wort oil or ashweed.

Sorrel in the household

In the past, the juice was used as a stain remover and served as a polish for silver.

Sorrel can today be used for these ailments and diseases

  • anemia
  • boil
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • female disorders
  • fever
  • indigestion
  • liver weakness
  • pimples
  • rashes
  • scurvy
  • stomach upset
  • swelling
  • ulcers
  • wound
  • worms

Medicinal properties

  • astringent
  • blood purifier
  • diuretic
  • hematopoietic

Note: Sorrel should not be used as a medicinal herb for people with known kidney disease. Likewise, the containing potassium hydrogen oxalate cause pregnancy spasms, which is why it should be used sparingly. In addition, people with iron deficiency should eat sorrel about two hours ahead of time to iron-containing meals, since the oxalic acid hinders the absorption of iron from plant and animal food. Should sorrel be used in larger quantities, consultation with a doctor is highly recommended.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buying sorrel – What to pay attention to?

Sorrel is quite often found in many organic supermarkets, natural food stores and weekly markets. On the other hand, pots of whole plants are rarely sold. When buying sorrel leaves, make sure the leaves are fresh and green. Red spots or leaves indicate an increased oxalic acid content, which can be accompanied by symptoms of intoxication if consumed in large amounts.

Plants can be found in special garden markets and online. The price varies between 2 and 5 EUR/$.

Sorrel seeds can also be purchased in special garden markets and online. The price per package is from 0.79 to 2 EUR/$.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.