French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) may not be one of the herbs found down the spice aisle at your local supermarket, but it has a long history of use. It gives a citrus-like flavor to many types of dishes. This perennial can be used fresh or in cooking. It may also grow like a weed in the right conditions. The French sorrel herb plant might be just the thing to complete your kitchen herb garden.
What is French Sorrel?
French sorrel herbs are members of the Buckwheat family. Most gardeners grow French sorrel to use fresh in a variety of recipes. It is used in a similar manner to spinach but has a highly acidic taste that can overwhelm other flavors. It is also high in oxalic acid and, therefore, used sparingly by those that are bothered by the compound.
The part of the plant used in cooking are the long, lance-shaped leaves. They are bright green and 6 to 12 inches (15-31 cm.) long. The French sorrel herb produces a rosette of the shiny leaves which radiate out from the center. Young leaves are slightly wrinkled and will have less acidity and bitterness than larger, older leaves.
If you don’t intervene, the plant will produce a flower stalk with small green flowers that age to reddish brown. You can use this type of sorrel herb plant in soups, stews, salads, or even make a delicious pesto from the leaves.
How to Grow French Sorrel
Nurseries near you may offer the plant for purchase or you could try and start it from seed. Direct sow in early spring in a prepared bed with full sun. Incorporate plenty of organic matter. Cover seed with an inch (2.5 cm.) of moist soil.
Germination is rapid, within a week. Thin the seedlings to at least 10 inches (25 cm.) apart. Spread mulch around the root zones of plants and keep them moderately moist.
You can cut leaves at any time and more will grow. The small leaves of these herbs are the most tender and have the best flavor.
Caring for French Sorrel
Few pests or disease problems plague this herb but it does occasionally happen. Use slug bait or copper tape to repel slugs and snails. Leaf miners, aphids, and flea beetles may cause some damage. Several larval insects will possibly attack leaves. Pyrethrins or neem oil will help contain any infestations.
Divide this perennial every three to four years. Older plants tend to have bitter leaves but sowing every three years with new plants will keep a continuous supply of this tasty herb. Cut off flower stalks as they form to prevent the plant from bolting and reducing leaf production.