By Bonnie L. Grant
The sorrel herb is a tangy, lemony flavored plant. The youngest leaves have a slightly more acidic taste but you can use mature leaves steamed or sautéed like spinach. Sorrel is also called sour dock and is a perennial herb that grows wild in many parts of the world. The herb is widely used in French cuisine but not as well known in the U.S. Learn how to grow sorrel and add a citrus touch to your culinary herb garden.
There are many varieties of sorrel plant but the most commonly used in cooking is French sorrel (Rumex scutatus). Sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella) is native to North America and is not palatable to humans but produces nutritious fodder for animals.
Leaf sorrel is cultivated as a garden herb and grows 2 feet high with upright stems. The leaves are smooth to crinkled and are from 3 to 6 inches long. When sorrel herb bolts, it produces an attractive whorled purple flower.
Sow seeds for sorrel plant in spring when the soil has warmed up. Prepare a well drained bed with well tilled soil. Seeds should be 6 inches apart and just under the surface of the soil. Keep the bed moderately moist until germination and then thin the plants when they reach 2 inches high.
Sorrel will not need a lot of supplemental care but the bed does need to be kept weeded and the plants should receive at least 1 inch of water per week.
How to Grow Sorrel
Garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and French sorrel are the two cultivated varieties of the herb. Garden sorrel needs damp soils and temperate conditions. French sorrel performs best when it is grown in dry, open areas with inhospitable soils. The plants have very deep and persistent tap roots and grow well with little attention. Planting sorrel from seed or dividing the roots are the two most common ways to propagate the herb.
Sorrel will usually bolt when temperatures begin to soar, usually in June or July. When this happens, you can allow the flower to bloom and enjoy it, but this slows the production of leaves. If you want to encourage larger and more leaf production, cut the flower stalk off and the plant will give you a few more harvests. You can even cut the plant to the ground and it will produce a full new crop of foliage
Harvesting Sorrel Herb
Sorrel can be used from late spring until fall with management. Harvest only what you need from the plant. It is much like lettuce and greens, where you can cut the outer leaves and the plant will continue to produce foliage. You can begin to harvest when the plants are 4 to 6 inches tall.
The smallest leaves are best in salads and add an acidic tang. The larger leaves are more mellow. The herb is a traditional accompaniment to eggs and melts into creamy soups and sauces.