Common sorrel has been cultivated for centuries. The leaves may be puréed in soups and sauces or added to salads and shav; they have a flavor that is similar to kiwifruit or sour wild strawberries. The plant’s sharp taste is due to ascorbic acid. Sorrel is a green leaf vegetable native to Europe. It is also called common sorrelor spinach dock, and is actually considered less a vegetable and more an herb in some cultures. In appearance sorrel greatly resembles spinach and in taste sorrel can range from comparable to the kiwifruit in young leaves, to a more acidic tasting older leaf. As sorrel ages it tends to grow more acidic due to the presence of oxalic acid, which actually gets stronger and tastes more prominent.
Although known as a prime ingredient for salads and vegetable dishes, sorrel is an herb of true beauty and medicinal power. What exactly is sorrel, and how is it used in today’s kitchens and gardens?
What to look for:
Sorrel may be a little challenging to find in your local grocery store, and shipping it may also be problematic. It will only keep for about three days in the refrigerator. The best place to look for sorrel is in specialty food stores, where it may be available fresh, or in pureed or canned varieties. For sorrel fans, fresh sorrel is most preferable, though the pureed version may add a nice flavor to creamy soups. Sorrel grows easily from seed planted in early spring. Plant 1/4 inch deep, cover with light soil or sand and keep moist until it germinates, which will be about a week or so. Thin when the seedlings are 2 inches high, spacing the remaining plants about 4 inches apart. You can begin harvesting the leaves when they are 4-6 inches high. Use what you need, but do not let the plant go to seed! You can cut it all the way down, and it will grow back quickly. Sorrel can also be grown in containers or indoors. Sow in the fall for harvesting in the winter. It can be placed in full or partial sun, but if it gets very hot in your zone partial sun may be better. If you live in a mild climate, sorrel will stay green all winter, but will not grow as quickly. Again, be sure to cut it back.
How Mother Nature loves it:
The finest plants are propagated from seed, sown in March, though it may be sown in any of the spring months. Sow moderately thin, in drills 6 inches apart, and thin out when the plants are 1 or 2 inches high. When the stalks run up in July, they should be cut back. The roots will then put out new leaves, which will be tender and better for kitchen use than the older leaves, so that by cutting down the shoots of some plants at different times, there will always be a supply of young leaves.
How to use it:
Medicinally, sorrel is refrigerant and diuretic, and is used as a cooling drink and as a treatment for coetaneous tumors, scurvy, and hemorrhaging; and as a remedy for the itch, ringworm, jaundice, sore throat, as well as for gravel and stone in the kidneys.
In the kitchen, sorrel is commonly known as a prime ingredient in soups, salads and vegetable dishes. It also makes for excellent dressing and side dishes, and is used as a part of ragouts, fricassees and soups. Young sorrel may be harvested to use in salads, soups or stews. If you are planning on using sorrel in salads, it’s a good idea to stick with small tender leaves that have the fruitier and less acidic taste. Young sorrel leaves are also excellent when lightly cooked, similar to the taste of cooked chard or spinach. For soups and stews, older sorrel can be used because it adds tang and flavor to the dish.
Of the two kinds of Sorrel cultivated for use as vegetables or salads, Rumex acetosa, the Garden Sorrel, is an indigenous English plant, common, too in the greater part of Europe, in almost all soils and situations. It grows abundantly in meadows, a slender plant about 2 feet high, with juicy stems and leaves, and whorled spikes of reddish-green flowers, which give colour, during the months of June and July, to the grassy spots in which it grows.
When adding sorrel cut back on the amount of lemon and vinegar in the recipe. It’s a good herb for those on salt free diets because it adds seasoning without salt.
These are simple sorrel recipes that can be adapted to your tastes. Remember that you can add sorrel to any fresh salad, or combine with spinach in any of your favorite recipes!