Sorrel, whether wild or domesticated, is a delicious, lemon-flavored green that provides huge quantities of Vitamin C and Vitamin A. Learn how to identify sorrel in the wild or grow cultivated sorrel cultivars in your garden!
We love tasting each season.
Living at the base of the Appalachian Mountains on the outskirts of Greenville, SC (in Ag Zone 7b) means that we’re now getting large harvests of wild edible foods as well. Wild garlic, chickweed, cress, stinging nettle, and sorrel are all thriving in the cool temperatures of late winter.
Four types of sorrel (Rumex spp.)
A cool weather leafy green that we’ve grown to love over the years is sorrel, both wild and domesticated varieties. There are four species of sorrel that are commonly eaten:
1. Sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
Native to Europe and the Mediterranean, sheep’s sorrel grows wild throughout the US where it’s considered an invasive weed. The plant also grows wild in certain areas of our yard, and can take over a bed via underground runners or from seed if left untended.
2. Common sorrel, aka garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
Garden sorrel is the common bred sorrel variety originating from Europe and the Mediterranean. The plants are perennials that can live for decades.
This is our favorite species/variety of sorrel to grow and eat.
3. Blood sorrel (Rumex sanguineus)
Blood sorrel is a very attractive red-veined sorrel, but it’s taste isn’t nearly as good as other varieties in our opinion, though ongoing breeding work may change that claim.
Blood sorrel’s leaves are best eaten young, but are nearly inedible as the weather warms and the plant matures.
4. French sorrel (Rumex scutatus)
French sorrel is a daintier version of common sorrel that was bred in France.
Common name confusion: wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.) vs sorrel (Rumex spp.)
Another common edible wild plant is “wood sorrel.” Species of wood sorrels are not related to Rumex sorrels.
To limit confusion, wood sorrels are probably best called Oxalis. Even though Oxalis and Rumex species are not related, they do share a similar lemon-like flavor.
How do you tell Oxalis and Rumex species apart?
- Oxalis sorrel species have a leaf shape similar to clover and produce tiny edible flowers (both flowers and leaves are edible).
- Rumex sorrel species feature arrowhead-shaped leaves and produce tall thin flower stalks.
Garden sorrel: a lemon-flavored vitamin powerhouse
When you first sample sorrel, you’ll experience a bit of a shock that a leafy vegetable can somehow taste like sweet lemons.
Why do sorrel leaves taste like lemons?
Sorrel leaves’ flavor is primarily due to their oxalic acid content, which is also found in broccoli, spinach, and other common vegetables. If you eat huge quantities of oxalic acid, it can be toxic, but for a healthy person without kidney problems, there’s virtually zero health risk involved in eating sorrel or other edible plants containing oxalic acid.
How much Vitamin C is in sorrel?
Sorrel exhibits some truly amazing nutritional qualities. For instance, a single cup of chopped sorrel leaves delivers over 100% of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin C and Vitamin A.
It’s pretty easy to understand why sorrel would have been a prized plant before people could drive to the grocery store to get citrus or other vitamin-rich foods. It may have been the only thing preventing scurvy (Vitamin-C deficiency) in many people’s diets.
How do you eat sorrel?
Sorrel leaves are wonderful made into soups, salads, and sauces. We’ve also read that people used to use sorrel leaves to make lemon-free “lemon” pies when lemons were a rare and expensive commodity.
One cooking warning: as much as we love cast iron pans, you should avoid cooking sorrel in either cast iron or unlined aluminum because the reaction between the metal alloys and the oxalic acid will turn the sorrel leaves black.
On that note: cooked sorrel will not retain its bright green color. Instead, it will oxidize into more of deep-green-brown color. What it lacks in beauty when cooked, it makes up for in flavor.
Recipe: 15-Minute Sorrel Soup
This sorrel soup recipe:
- is really fast to make (about 15 minutes), and
- uses fresh young garlic chive leaves, which grow abundantly in our garden at the same time as sorrel.
One thing to mention again in case you missed it up above: sorrel does not maintain its green color and turns more of a greenish-tan-brown color once you cook it. Don’t worry: it still tastes delicious!
15-minute sorrel soup
A fast and simple sorrel soup recipe that can be made with garden sorrel or sheep sorrel. You'll love the umami-lemon flavor!
- 4 cups chopped sorrel leaves garden sorrel, French sorrel, or sheep's sorrel will all work
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 1/3 cup diced garlic chives you can use chopped yellow onions or garlic greens as a substitute
- 3 Tablespoons butter
- 2 Tablespoons organic whole wheat pastry flour or use regular whole wheat flour
- 1 Tablespoon organic chicken bouillon
- optional Sea salt to taste, but bouillon should add all the saltiness needed
Put soup pot on medium heat. Add butter. Once butter is melted, add diced garlic chives and cook for about 2-3 minutes, moving the leaves around to ensure even cooking.
As the chives are cooking, prepare 2 cups of warm water and whisk in 1 tablespoon of chicken bouillon. Add to pot along with chopped sorrel leaves. Cook for 5 minutes.
We have an immersion blender that we LOVE. At this point, you'll want to immersion blend the soup to completely break down the leaves into a smooth texture. If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer to a food processor, blend, then put back into pot on stove top.
Next, put 1/2 cup of room temperature water into mixing bowl and slowly whisk in 2 tablespoons of whole wheat organic pastry flour. This is your thickening agent. If you put the flour directly into the hot soup mixture, it will clump up, so this is why you're mixing it in room temperature water first. Pastry flour is lighter and more finely ground, providing a better texture for soup (substitute regular whole wheat flour if you don't have pastry). Once the flour is mixed into the water, slowly pour the mixture into the soup, whisking vigorously as you go to prevent clumping. Cook for another minute or so. Taste and add a pinch of sea salt or more bouillon if desired.
Remove from heat and serve! A spoonful of fermented dairy goes great on top of each serving (such as yogurt, milk kefir, labneh, or sour cream).
We hope you enjoy this sorrel recipe! Oh, if you don’t have an immersion blender yet (as is mentioned in the recipe), here’s the one we recommend. It will save you a ton of time and work in the kitchen.
And if you want to learn about more the edible “weeds” growing in your yard and how to use them, read our article 16 common edible weeds growing in your yard… with recipes!
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