Growing Sorrel

Growing Sorrel

Types of Sorrel

Sorrel is technically from the buckwheat family, it’s a perennial herbaceous plant with long, narrow, arrow-shaped basal leaves that gets about 14” to 18” tall.  Two types are common garden (Rumex acetosa) and French (Rumex scutatus) sorrel, with the French sorrel having the better flavor. The French sorrel leaves are shield shaped. Then there are the close cousins of sorrel that are red vein Rumex sanguineus, which give a beautiful color to salads.  The leaves are dark green with deep red stems and veins.  I normally don’t do scientific names but this way you can see what type of seed is being sold before you purchase.

Sorrel is known for it’s citrus-like, tangy flavor; others say it’s more of a sour flavor. The taste is attributed to the high levels of oxalic acid, therefore eat it in small quantities due to the potential toxicity. Mix in with regular lettuce, to give it a tangy flavor.

Growth Habit

The plants of common garden sorrel are very hardy, adapted to a zone 3, and will survive a frost in late fall without covering.  The more popular European French sorrel can only survive to zone 6.  Due to its milder flavor, it became the favorite long ago.

Sorrel spreads after one year of initial planting.

Also, in spring, the plants are up very early allowing you to enjoy some nice greens.  Sorrel should be eaten when the leaves are young. It’s recomended to continuously harvest the outer leaves for best flavor. Once the leaves get bigger, they are tough with thick veins.  You would have to devein before eating, and the flavor would be stronger.

The roots spread. Therefore, plant in an area where you can contain it with ease, otherwise it will take over the bed.  In the wild it’s considered invasive, so it’s best to plant it in a container.  If you have poor soil, it will grow and thrive anyway.

They produce two separate female and male flowers on separate plants during the summer months. The stalk of the flowers are tall and the seeds can be easily removed to avoid spreading it throughout your garden. You can cut the flower stalks before forming seeds.

Growing Conditions

Sorrel prefers moist wet soil that is sandy or even lots of gravel; therefore, it’s found along the flood plains, meadows, pastures and along the side of the road in the wild. You can forage on these leaves all year around, as they will tolerate a good amount of frost.

Sorrel has two good seasons in a given year.  In early spring, the leaves come up and are delicate with a soft tangy flavor. During the summer months, usually June and July, they flower and the leaves get large and the flavor becomes too strong for eating. I recommend cutting back the leaves and flower stalks.  In the fall, the leaves will have a milder flavor and should be harvested while the leaves are small. Once the cold weather comes, the leaves begin to turn maroon around the edges.