Sorrel is a leafy green plant, use alternately as an herb and a vegetable. It has a distinctive sour, lemony flavor. It’s from the knotweed family, or Polygonaceae, the same botanical family as buckwheat and rhubarb. It also goes by the name “dock”.
Sorrel makes a good alternative to spinach as the leaves have a more tangy, slightly citrusy taste. A perennial plant, the leaves of sorrel can be harvested over a long period through to midwinter.
The two most commonly grown types are known as French and common sorrel. Compared with common sorrel, the French version is less bitter and grows taller with smaller, more rounded leaves.
Other species of sorrel include:
- sheep sorrel
- arctic dock
- patience dock
- broad-leaved sorrel
- red-veined sorrel
Certain plants and foods share a similar name but are unrelated. For example, wood sorrel is a type of edible weed found throughout North America. In Jamaica, the term sorrel refers to roselle, a type of hibiscus plant.
One cup of raw sorrel contains:
- Calories: 29
- Protein: 2.5 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Carbs: 4 grams
- Fiber: 4 grams
- Vitamin C: 71% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Magnesium: 33% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 30% of the DV
- Manganese: 20% of the DV
- Copper: 19% of the DV
- Iron: 18% of the DV
- Potassium: 11% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 10% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 10% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 7% of the DV
Sorrel is especially high in vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin that fights inflammation and plays a key role in immune function. It’s also high in fiber, which can promote regularity, increase feelings of fullness, and help stabilize blood sugar levels. Additionally, it’s loaded with magnesium, a mineral that’s essential for bone and heart health.
Sorrel is a great source of antioxidants, which are beneficial compounds that protect your cells from damage by neutralizing harmful free radicals. Antioxidants may help prevent many chronic conditions, including heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
In particular, studies show that sorrel is rich in the following antioxidants:
- phenolic acids
One test-tube study compared the antioxidant properties of 10 plant extracts and found that red sorrel exhibited the highest antioxidant activity.
Another test-tube study showed that Rumex hastatus, a specific species of sorrel, scavenged harmful free radicals. This indicates that it might be useful in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
For instance, a test-tube study showed that several species of sorrel killed breast, cervical, and skin cancer cells.
Animal research suggests that sorrel may improve several aspects of heart health. In one study in rats, sorrel extract was shown to modify certain pathways involved in platelet aggregation which is the process in which platelets in your blood clump together to decrease blood clot formation.
Other animal studies have also found that sorrel extract could help dilate blood vessels to prevent high blood pressure.
Sorrel is rich in fiber and antioxidants, both of which promote heart health.
How to Buy
- Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is the one most readily available at markets and nurseries for planting. It is a deep-rooted perennial that will last for years and years if it finds a spot it likes. It has a sharp flavor and somewhat large, arrow-shaped leaves.
- French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) is also cultivated, so you’ll see it at markets sometimes. It has a milder flavor than does common sorrel, with smaller and more rounded leaves.
- Red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) has deep red veins running through its leaves. It has a very mild, almost un-sorrel-like flavor with very little of the tartness usually associated with this plant.
- Sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella) grows wild in much of the United States. It is about as sour as common sorrel, but with smaller leaves. It is foraged rather than cultivated.
How to Store
If you’re going to use it within a day or two, keep sorrel loosely wrapped in a cotton tea towel in the fridge. For longer storage, rinse it clean, pat it dry, and roll the leaves up in paper towels before putting them in the towel. The paper towels will sop up any excess liquid, keeping the leaves at once dry but in a damp-enough environment.
If you find yourself with more sorrel than you can use, cook the leaves in a bit of vegan butter until they wilt and fall apart. The final result will be like a sorrel puree. Freeze this purée to add to soups or stews.
How to Cook
Sorrel falls straight between herbs and greens. Use it as a leafy herb, like parsley or basil or mint, chopping it up to use in marinades and dressings or stirring it into soups or casseroles for a bit of fresh flavor. Or, use it as a green, ripping the tender leaves into salads and stir-fries.
If you run across a recipe with sorrel in it and you want to find a substitute, you could add some lemon juice or lemon zest to mustard greens, arugula, rhubarb, or spinach.