Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is any easy herb to grow which is native to Europe and Central Asia. It has been introduced to Australia, New Zealand and North America where it is a common weed in crops and pastures.
It has a number of common names, including common sorrel and garden sorrel, and as a member of the Rumex genus, it is also known as narrow-leaf dock or spinach dock.
Below are 12 facts you should know about growing sorrel.
Is sorrel edible?
Yes. But like spinach, it contains oxalic acid which, when consumed in high amounts, can lead to kidney stones. This is because while most of the oxalic acid is processed by the kidneys and excreted via our urine, some oxalic acid binds to calcium which can potentially form kidney stones.
Oxalic acid can also bind easily with iron which makes it unavailable to your body, so people with severe iron deficiencies should avoid eating raw sorrel. So instead of raw, try it cooked. The amount of oxalic acid is significantly reduced when the leaves are blanched or boiled and the water discarded, removing most of the soluble oxalic acid.
Even raw leaves are fine for most people when eaten in moderation, and the zesty, acidic-lemon taste can be a little over-powering, so most people self-regulate anyway.
The seeds can also be collected and ground into flour to mix with other types of flour.
Is sorrel perennial?
Yes. It is a hardy herb that goes dormant over winter and re-shoots in spring. In mild climates, it can grow all year round but most varieties will produce seed, at which point they become much more bitter and acidic.
Does sorrel survive winter?
Yes. Their long tap roots which burry deep into the earth allow them to survive extreme temperatures. So, while they may die back during harsh winters, they re-shoot again in spring.
Can you grow sorrel in pots?
Yes. It is best to plant them in deep pots so that their tap roots don’t start running loops around the base of the pot. Like all perennials in pots, make sure to pull them up, divide them out, trim a few roots off and re-plant them every year or two.
Just like many other pot herbs, you can extend its growing season by continuously removing any flowers to prevent it from going to seed.
Can you grow sorrel from seed?
Yes. Common and wild sorrel quickly go to seed when the leaves aren’t harvested. They produce a lot of seed which is viable for planting the following spring.
Seed from some newer varieties tends to revert back to their parental traits, losing some of their colors or gaining more acidity. For this reason, it is better to dig up and divide plants if you want to maintain cultivated traits.
What to plant with sorrel?
If you want to grow sorrel in a large pot with something else, then I would recommend anything with a shallow root system so that the amount of competition between them is minimized.
Annual flowers tend to go well with sorrel for this reason. Interestingly, research shows that Holcus lanatus, Hypochoeris radicata and Trifolium repens all suppress the growth of sorrel, so perhaps avoid planting them nearby.
How do you harvest sorrel leaves?
The emerging leaves, stems and mature old leaves should be avoided for consumption as these have the highest concentrations of oxalic acid and are the most bitter. Instead, harvest the green, healthy intermediate leaves by simply tearing them off the plant at the base of the leaf.
Is sorrel cut-and-come-again?
Yes. It is usually best to harvest a few leaves rather than the whole lot so that you target the best leaves for eating, then the plant will easily re-shoot new ones thanks to its reserves of starches stored in the roots.
In some climates, even when ALL of the leaves are removed, the plant will continue to re-shoot in spring and autumn as long as the roots are well established.
How long until you can harvest sorrel?
It usually takes between 6 – 8 weeks after planting the seed before you can start harvesting the leaves. Don’t be too greedy at this stage – just take one or two leaves until you are sure the roots have become well established.
You can extend the harvest season by always removing any flower stalks. This will keep the production concentrated on the leaves instead.
What are the main sorrel varieties?
Most varieties of R. acetosa are more acidic than French sorrel (R. scutatus), while the two North American species are not commercially cultivated. Interestingly, the varieties with variegated leaves tend to have higher oxalic acid concentrations than the green-leaved varieties.
Some varieties of common sorrel are described below:
- De Belleville sorrel has been selected for its longer season, so it doesn’t go straight to seed like wild varieties. The base of the leaf stem is red and they tend to be less acidic than common sorrel.
- Blonde de Lyon sorrel has yellow-green flowers.
- Green mountain sorrel is very acidic but is a prolific grower with long leaves and is usually the last variety to bolt to seed.
- Blistered Leaf sorrel is the least acidic and flowers later than common sorrel, making the leaves tastier for longer. Seed from this variety tend to revert back to the De Belleville traits.
- Fervent’s large sorrel is very hardy and is an early and prolific producer. Leaves are large and yellow-ish-green with red stems.
- Scarcelle blonde sorrel is similar to De Belleville but with pale yellow-ish stems. The seed tends to revert back to its original De Bellville traits.
- Profusion sorrel is a naturally occurring mutation that never goes to seed so must be dug up and divided to multiply. It has a very low acidity and practically no pests.
Is sorrel invasive?
It is considered invasive in Alaska as well as parts of China, France, Norway, Czechia, Chile, Argentina, Falkland Islands and Chad, however, few studies measure its impacts other than on crops.
Other species of sorrel, such as Rumex acetosella and Rumex crispus, are considered more invasive due to their rhizome roots which can produce extensive swathes of sorrel, especially in acidic soils.
Wild and common sorrel have separate male and female plants and are not self-pollinated which would let you think that it would be difficult to become invasive, but it has been shown that a number of different Rumex species can cross-pollinate.
Some cultivated varieties of sorrel can self-pollinate. It is also wind-pollinated and produces a large number of viable seeds, which lends itself to being invasive, but the seeds of R. acetosa are considered relatively short-lived compared to other Rumex species, usually only lasting a year or two in the soil.
How do you get rid of garden sorrel?
I use two different methods to remove plants that have deep taproots.
1) After a heavy rain, dig them up, making sure to remove the whole tap root, or:
2) dig up as much as possible and then smother the remainder with a layer of cardboard followed by a very thick layer of mulch.
So, try growing some sorrel next time you are looking for a zesty addition to the garden that is low maintenance and hardy.