Sorrel: An Ancient Pot Herbwith a Lemony Zing

Common garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

Common garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is an attractive, long-lived perennial herb that’s unfussy about soil conditions, untroubled by pests or disease and doesn’t spread. It’s always the first edible plant to appear in my garden each spring, and for the first week or two I eat its spinach-like leaves as quickly as they appear.

Throughout the month of May and early June, the plants continue producing fresh, tender leaves. By mid-June the leaves start to get a little tough and invariably there’s something more appealing coming on in the vegetable garden. The sorrel patch gets ignored for the rest of the summer, which seems to suit it just fine.

Over the years I’ve given away lots of plants from my tidy 2’ x 2’ patch, yet it always seems to stay about the same size. There’s a different type of sorrel (I know it as sheep’s sorrel) that’s a weed in my flower garden. The one that’s in my herb garden has larger, broader, more succulent leaves and it doesn’t seem to spread or self sow.

All that good behavior and flavor, too? Yes indeed. Sorrel leaves have a lemony tang that’s almost as sour as rhubarb. I tear up the fresh young leaves and toss them into salads. The raw leaves are also great tucked into sandwiches or sliced into thin ribbons and then stirred into tabbouleh.

Sorrel retains its flavor well when cooked. I love it in scrambled eggs. Just chop finely, sauté in a little butter and pour in the beaten eggs. It’s delicious added to creamy soups and is a perfect companion for baked or steamed salmon. I also like to mix in a little sorrel when cooking spinach or chard.

Sorrel’s lemony bite comes from the oxalic acid in its leaves, which also turns the leaves a dull olive green when cooked. I’ve read that too much oxalic acid can aggravate rheumatic or kidney conditions, so if you’re concerned about that you might want to consult your doctor. But in most cases, you’ll never be eating more than a handful of leaves at a sitting. High in vitamins A and C, garden sorrel is a healthful, flavorful spring tonic that deserves to be more widely grown and enjoyed.

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