If you’ve never heard of sorrel before, don’t feel badly. It’s not nearly as commonplace as many other greens. If you lived in the European Middle Ages, though, this green herb would likely be used to add a sour yet tasty punch of flavor to your latest meal.
However, this was before Europe knew about citrus fruits. Sadly, sorrel lost its culinary attraction to the lemon back then, but in recent years it has been making a culinary comeback.
Present day, not only is it added to salads, soups and sauces, but it’s also an essential ingredient in anticancer tonics like Essiac tea. Also impressive — sorrel is a nightshade vegetable commonly used as a natural herbal treatment for infections and inflammation of the sinuses and respiratory tract. So what is it, and why should you consider adding it to your routine? Let’s explore.
What Is Sorrel?
Sorrel is a perennial, edible herb from the same family as buckwheat and rhubarb. It’s often cultivated as a garden herb or leaf vegetable, but some varieties also grow wild.
This herb has a bright and tart flavor that adds an interesting and super healthy punch of flavor to any dish. It’s also available in supplement and tincture form for a variety of health ailments.
Sorrel is the name for a variety of hardy perennial herbs belonging to the Polygonaceae, or buckwheat, family that are widely distributed in temperate regions around the world. The leaves are the part of the plant typically eaten, and they look similar to spinach leaves. The raw leaves are described as having a flavor similar to lemon, kiwi or sour wild strawberries.
There are several varieties of sorrel, including:
- Broad-leaf/common/garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is the type most readily available at markets and nurseries for planting. It’s a deep-rooted perennial that lasts for years and years if it finds a spot it likes. It has a sharp flavor and somewhat large, arrow-shaped leaves.
- French sorrel or buckler-leaf sorrel (Rumex scutatus) is also cultivated, but it has a milder flavor than common sorrel with smaller, more rounded leaves.
- Sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella), also sometimes called red sorrel, is about as sour as the common kind but with smaller leaves. It’s typically foraged rather than cultivated and grows wild in the U.S.
- Red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) is a variety with deep red veins running through its leaves. Some say it’s the least tart variety.
Keep in mind that these leafy greens should not be confused with Jamaican sorrel, or hibiscus blossoms. Although they share the same name, the Jamaican sorrel flower is used to make a fragrant sorrel drink that is often served during the holiday season. The wood sorrel is another unrelated plant with a similar name that has several distinct species, including redwood sorrel yellow wood sorrel.
This herb’s leaves are chock-full of healthy nutrients. Just one cup (133 grams) of sorrel contains:
- Calories: 29
- Total Carbohydrates: 4.3 g
- Fiber: 3.9 g
- Sugar: 0 g
- Total Fat: 0.9 g
- Saturated Fat: g
- Polyunsaturated Fat: g
- Monounsaturated Fat: g
- Trans Fat: g
- Protein: 2.7 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 0 mg (0% DV*)
- Vitamin C: 63.8 g (71% DV)
- Magnesium: 137 mg (33% DV)
- Vitamin A: 266 mcg (30% DV)
- Manganese: 0.5 mg (20% DV)
- Copper: 0.2 mg (19% DV)
- Iron: 3.2 mg (18% DV)
- Potassium: 519 mg (11% DV)
- Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg (10% DV)
- Riboflavin: 0.1 mg (10% DV)
- Phosphorus: 84 mg (7% DV)
- Calcium: 59 mg (5% DV)
*Daily Value: Percentages are based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day.
1. Reduces Mucus
Sorrel has a drying effect on the body, which makes its consumption an excellent natural way to reduce mucus production. The reason why it’s so good at reducing mucus is because it contains tannins, which you might be familiar with if you’re a tea drinker.
Tannins are astringent, polyphenolic compounds that can be found in some plants. If you have any issue that involves an overproduction of mucus, such as the common cold, then sorrel can help reduce that mucus and get you feeling better even faster!
2. Helps Fight Cancer
The variety of sorrel known as sheep sorrel is one of four ingredients in the herbal cancer treatment, Essiac tea. Sheep sorrel has been known about for over a hundred years as a cancer-fighting herb and is believed to be “the main cancer-killing herb” in Essiac.
3. Improves Sinus Infections
Sorrel is commonly used to help reduce inflammation and pain that accompanies sinusitis, more commonly referred to as a sinus infection. As a high-antioxidant herb, especially its high vitamin C content, it’s awesome at reducing swelling and providing pain relief, which are both key when it comes to sinus infections.
4. Soothes Canker Sores
Fresh sorrel leaves can actually be used as a natural remedy to soothe canker sores. Simply take a fresh leaf and hold it against your canker sore for about a minute. You can repeat as needed. This is such a quick, easy and natural way to relieve canker sores.
5. Equalizes Blood Pressure
Sorrel’s significant potassium content is nothing less than outstanding when it comes to human health. Potassium is an essential mineral that we should consume on a daily basis. It’s not only a vasodilator, but it’s also key to maintaining fluid balance throughout the entire body.
By consuming potassium-rich foods like this beneficial herb, you can reduce stress on your heart and entire cardiovascular system by relaxing the arteries and blood vessels. This results in lower blood pressure, which decreases the chances of dangerous health complications like blood clots and heart disease.
Sheep Sorrel vs. Red Clover
You may confuse this herb with red clover — however, while they do share some characteristics, the two are different.
- Helps naturally treat cancer
- Enhances the flow of urine
- Treats fevers and inflammation
- Remedies kidney and urinary tract diseases
- Remedies intestinal parasites
- Helps variety of digestive problems
- Has a cooling effect on the liver
- Contains tannins, which reduce mucus production
- Helps prevent cancer
- Relieves indigestion
- Reduces high cholesterol
- Treats coughs
- Remedies asthma & bronchitis
- Treats symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases
- Contains isoflavones that are changed in the body to phytoestrogens, which are similar to the hormone estrogen
Historically, the sorrel plant has been used as a salad green, spring tonic, diarrhea remedy, weak diuretic and soothing agent for irritated nasal passages. Sorrel has been used with other herbs to treat bronchitis and sinus conditions in Germany since the 1930s.
During the Middle Ages, prior to citrus fruit’s European introduction, it was used to supply a sour flavor to various dishes. It’s had and continues to have an interesting culinary place in the lives and history of people all over the world:
- In Romania, wild or garden sorrel is used to make sour soups, in open sandwiches, stewed with spinach, and added fresh to lettuce and spinach in salads.
- In Russia and Ukraine, it’s used to make a soup called green borscht.
- In Croatia and Bulgaria, it’s used for soups or with mashed potatoes, or as part of a traditional dish containing eel and other green herbs.
- In rural Greece, this herb is used with spinach, leeks and chard in spanakopita.
- In the Flemish part of Belgium, the preserved pureed variety is mixed with mashed potatoes and eaten with sausages, meatballs or fried bacon as a traditional winter dish.
- In Vietnam, it’s added to lettuce and in salads for Bánh Xēo.
- In Brazil and Portugal, it’s typically eaten raw in salads or used to make soups.
- In India, the leaves are used in soups and curries.
- In Albania, the leaves are simmered and served cold marinated in olive oil.
How to Use
Sorrel has many medicinal and culinary uses. You can make your own homemade Essiac tea using sheep sorrel or swap it in for other leafy green recipes for an extra kick of flavor. It also works well paired with ingredients like peas and leeks and can be used to make a soothing bowl of soup.
Unfortunately, sorrel isn’t easily or commonly found at your local supermarket. Your best bet is to look for it in spring and summer at farmers markets and specialty stores. It starts showing up in the spring and gets progressively more bitter as the growing season goes on.
Sorrel is somewhat in between an herb and a green. As a leafy herb, it can be chopped up and added to dressings, marinades and soups. When it comes to figuring out the best use for your particular bunch, know that short leaves are best raw and larger leaves are better for cooking.
Younger leaves tend to be more tender and don’t hold up well in cooking so they’re best in uncooked dishes. The larger leaves can be used in stir-fries and other cooked dishes. You can even include this herb among other cooked greens like kale and spinach for a lemony accent. These greens also work as a simple sorrel substitute in salads and side dishes.
Many cooks classically pair sorrel with cream, sour cream or yogurt, which flavors the rich, creamy base but also cuts the sourness of the sorrel. If the bitterness is too strong for you, then blanching the leaves helps minimize the bitterness. It’s also delicious with rich, oily fish like salmon.
When it comes to storing sorrel properly, there are two options. If you’re going to use it within a day or two, then you can simply keep it loosely wrapped in plastic in the fridge. For longer storage, rinse the it clean, pat it dry and roll the leaves up in paper towels before putting them in the plastic wrap in the fridge.
If you’re looking to purchase sorrel in supplement form, you can find it as a tincture, in a capsule and as a tea. It can also be found as a main ingredient in a supplement that contains a mixture of herbs, like Essiac tea.
Risks and Side Effects
It’s important not to overdo it on sorrel since it contains oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is present in many fruits and vegetables like spinach and rhubarb, but it’s potentially toxic in large doses.
Too much oxalic acid in the body can cause kidney stones — thus, large amounts of sorrel by mouth might increase the risk of developing kidney stones. If you have ever had kidney stones or any other kidney issues, talk to your doctor before consuming this nightshade.
It’s not recommended in large amounts for children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. There is a report of death after consuming a large amount (specifically 500 grams), but you would have to eat cups and cups to have that amount.
When it comes to supplementation, just make sure you take the lower and proper dose and consult a health professional if you feel unsure.
- What is sorrel? Even though it’s not as common as other greens, sorrel is a nutritious leafy green that has been associated with a number of powerful health benefits.
- Although it’s often cultivated as a garden herb or vegetable, some varieties of wild sorrel also grow in certain areas as well.
- Each serving is loaded with fiber, along with vitamin C, magnesium and vitamin A.
- Some of the top sorrel benefits include enhanced immune function, decreased mucus production, improved blood pressure levels and relief from conditions like sinus infections and canker sores.
- Try incorporating this delicious leafy green into soups, salads, smoothies and dips to give your favorite recipes a delicious and nutritious twist.