Common sorrel, or rumex acetosa, is a native species of wildflower found in the British Isles. A herbaceous perennial, it grows abundantly in all types of grassland, including hedgerows, meadows, cliffs, and roadsides.
Common sorrel grows as a single stem around a metre in height, from a shorter stem underground. Its leaves, which are bright green and flat, have two distinctive tips at the base that point downwards, distinguishing it from other docks. It has small, pale pink flowers that are unisexual, both male and female, although only one may be present per plant. These wild flowers grow in circles around the stem.
How to grow sorrel
The seeds are best sown in the spring months. They should be planted using a Meadowmat, or by placing the seeds six inches apart. By the summer the stalks will be tall and should be cut back to encourage the root to grow new leaves. Newer leaves are more tender and preferable for use with cooking or medicines. Common sorrel can be increased by splitting the roots and planting them about a foot apart and watering regularly.
Traditional uses for sorrel
Cultivated for centuries as a food plant, it is now mainly found and used by foragers and herbal medicine practitioners. Its leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid, giving the plant its distinctive acidic flavour that makes it great for flavouring soups or salads, or as an accompaniment for fish. Its leaves have cooling properties, making it a popular remedy for fever and other illnesses. It also has diuretic properties, which make it great for flushing out toxins and combating bloating. Its high vitamin C content, along with substantial amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, B2 and B9, make it an effective treatment for scurvy.
Common sorrel has been credited with many other health benefits, including improving eyesight, increasing bone strength, fortifying the immune system, increasing circulation and energy levels, lowering blood pressure, and even preventing cancer. The root and seeds have astringent properties, and have been used to stem bleeding. The sap can be used a stain remover.
Common sorrel is sometimes ingested by wild and domesticated animals, which enjoy its acidic taste. Too much common sorrel can be dangerous to both humans and animals, due to its high levels of oxalic acid. However, the amount required to cause ill effect is fairly high, more than a bunch of leaves, which is unlikely to be consumed as a small amount is usually sufficient for flavouring and medicinal purposes.