(Rumex acetosa and Rumex scutatus— Family Polygonaceae)
Sorrel, French sorrel, buckler leaf
Sorrel is an annual grown for its young leaves which are used like spinach, either raw or cooked.
The word sorrel comes from the old French surele meaning ‘sour’, which describes the taste. It was popular in England until the 18th century. It was also known as Bread and Cheese, but the reasoning behind that nickname is not recorded. Likely it came about because it was commonly eaten with these items.
Since sorrel withers rapidly, it must be used quickly. It is used mainly as an addition to salads, where its tanginess is a refreshing addition to an otherwise bland entrée. It can also be cooked and added to such dishes as quiche.
Wild sorrel is the name used to cover several plants, some of which are true sorrels (Rumex species), while others are not. All, however, have oxalic acid like spinach and rhubarb. Therefore, all should be consumed in moderation since oxalic acid can interfere with calcium absorption.
is now limited to one species, Rumex acetosa. However, throughout Europe, both this and the French sorrel (R. scutatus)
are still marketed as the same.
The cultivated variety has broad lance-shaped leaves with backward-pointing basal lobes. The French is a low-growing ground cover plant with oblong, shield-shaped leaves, and producing a mass of tiny red flowers.
Sorrel was used as a treatment for fever and is said to increase the hemaglobin in the blood. However, sorrel does contain high levels of oxalic acid, which, in large doses, can cause kidney damage because it binds the calcium into an insoluble salt.
Other sorrels include the following:
embraces several Rumex species, including crispus, obtusifolius, and patienta, and is widespread throughout the world. Raw, its dark green leaves suggest a blend of acidy beets and dandelion greens, but blanched, it is transformed. The stems become tender, the leaves turn soft and slippery, and the taste is no longer bitter, making a wonderful addition to soups and purées. The broadleaf or bitter dock (R. obtusifolius) can be used in the same way, but it has more of a grassy flavour. Patience dock (Patienta species) is both wild and cultivated and similar to common dock, but milder.
Garden sorrel (Rumex rugosus)
is a perennial herb which grows wild in damp areas in Europe, Asia, and America and is also cultivated on a small scale. It is very popular in France, where it is traditionally used in their cuisine. The young leaves are used in salads. Sorrel is closely related to the rhubarb and, similarily, contains large amounts of oxalic acid. This is why the young leaves are used mainly for eating raw in salads as the older leaves can be uncomfortably hot. The cultivated form is also aromatic and astringent.
Sheep sorrel, sour grass (R. acetosella)
is a small plant made up of fine, narrow, arrowhead or shield shaped leaves. It is surprisingly sour, but fresh and clean tasting at the same time. When cooked, it turns to a drab olive colour. It can be used like other sorrels, but does have a stronger flavour.
Wood sorrel (Oxalidaceae)
has an herb member native to Mexico.
Although called a sorrel, it is not related to the Rumex species, but comes from the Oxalis family.
Each elfin leaf is composed of delicate heart-shaped lobes, suggestive of clover or shamrock, which most authorities say, is what it is. Wood sorrel makes a nice garnish; but cooking destroys its colour, shape, and texture.
Lucky clover, good luck plant (Oxalis tetraphylla)
is a relative of the wood sorrel that has been cultivated as far away as Europe as an ornamental and vegetable plant since the beginning of the 18th century. Both the turnip-shaped roots and the tangy little leaves are eaten. However, this vegetable is very rarely seen on the market.