Sorrel is an under-appreciated garden plant and one of the easiest to grow, providing an abundance of greens for up to 8 or 10 years from a single planting. A perennial down to USDA Zone 4, sorrel will provide fresh greens from the first hints of spring to near the close of fall. It can also be cultivated as an annual to get a crop of only the youngest, most tender leaves.
Garden Sorrel, also called Common Sorrel, Cuckoo’s Sorrow, Spinach Dock, Broad-Leaf Sorrel, or Green Sauce, is descended from wild sorrel found in the grassland habitats of Europe and northern Asia. Leaves are thin, light green, arrow-shaped, and will grow up to 8″ long. They add a delicious lemony taste to dishes, with young leaves being the mildest in flavor, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Small flowers are reddish to purple in color and emerge on spikes during the summer months.
Seed Depth: 1/4″
Space Between Plants: 8–18″
Space Between Rows: 24″
Germination Soil Temperature: 50–75°F
Days for Germination: 2–15
Sow Indoors: 4–6 weeks before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: 1–2 weeks before average last frost date.
Vegetative: Mature plants can be propagated by division, with best results in the spring.
Grows best in mild climates with moderate summer heat; however, it is a very adaptable plant. Established plants will survive heavy frosts, with tops dying back in winter and re-sprouting in the spring. They like high levels of moisture and humidity.
Natural: Full sun. Prefers partial shade in warm weather.
Artificial: Grows well under a variety of artificial lamps, including metal halide and fluorescent bulbs.
Soil: Prefers well-drained sandy, loamy, or clay soils with a high amount of organic matter. A pH of between 5.5 and 6.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished. It grows wild in a pasture or grassland environment where soils contain iron.
Soilless: Germinate seeds in a soilless mix.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems, including NFT and slab.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. Although fairly adaptable, sorrel prefers a moist climate and will need extra water in extreme heat or drought. Aim for 1″ of water per week for young plants. Once it is well-established, the deep root system will allow less frequent watering.
Nutrients: Requires low levels of nutrients. When grown as a perennial, sorrel’s deep roots will seek out all the nutrition it needs. Annual crops will benefit from some compost or balanced organic fertilizer mixed into the soil before planting to provide nitrogen. An annual feed of compost tea is recommended.
Pruning: If you don’t want sorrel to seed itself, cut back flowering stalks in midsummer. This will also have the benefit of stimulating new growth of young, tender leaves.
Mulching: Use a thick layer of mulch over the winter to protect the roots from frost.
Disease(s): Disease is uncommon for sorrel plants.
Companions: Grows well with strawberries and blueberries. As a perennial, some gardeners prefer to grow it separately from their annual crops to allow it some space to spread. Avoid growing with tall plants like corn or trellised pole beans.
Harvest: Harvest individual young leaves until the plant becomes established enough to withstand taking more. This is done by simply snapping off or clipping the leaves at the crown of the plant. Leaves are tastier and more tender when they are smaller, so harvest from your sorrel quite often. You can cut the whole plant back before its winter dormancy.
Storage: Fresh leaves will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. Store dried leaves in a cool dark cabinet in an airtight container.
Other Uses: Throw seeds into a spring meadow to attract beautiful butterflies. The roots of the plant can also be used to make natural dyes. Also, juice from the stems and leaves can remove stains and also polish silver.
Preserve: You can liquefy leaves in a blender and freeze in ice cube trays. Transfer these cubes to plastic bags or containers and use within 3–4 months. The leaves can also be dried and ground into a powder for later use as an herb, to make noodles, or mixed with flour to make breads. For extended storage of entire leaves, wash, dry, and freeze for later use.
Prepare: Use young, tender leaves raw in salads. Sorrel’s leaves are high in oxalic acid, which brings on a rather tart flavor. Cooking will reduce this, allowing a soft rich lemony deliciousness to arise instead. French cuisine uses sorrel in sauces.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin(s) A, C, B9, iron, calcium, and magnesium.
Medicinal: Its high vitamin C makes it an agent in remediating effects of scurvy. It has also been employed as a diuretic, and the root powder has been used in a concoction to cure jaundice.
Warnings: Consuming excessive amounts can cause issues in people with arthritis, gout, or kidney stones. This is due to sorrel’s oxalic acid content, which can aggravate these conditions.