One of the very first things to appear in the garden is the perennial herb Sorrel (rumex acetosus). Rarely found in produce sections, sorrel is more frequently seen in farmers market stands. But this one is easy for you to grow yourself. This European vegetable/herb is used in cooking (as a sauce accompaniment to fish and meat, in salads as young leaves, sauteed, and in the class French sorrel soup) and has medicinal properties as well. Sorrel has an acidic apple-lemony taste to it which adds a tangy flavor to dishes.
Sorrel is high in Vitamin C and A and was used in the distant past to prevent scurvy. Like spinach and rhuabarb, sorrel is high in oxalic acid. It's important to note that oxalic acid binds calcium, zinc and iron to some degree in the gastrointestinal tract so that it possible that it can interfere with the absorption of these minerals in supplements. Also, in large amounts sorrel can theoretically increase the risk of calcium oxalate kidney stones, the most common type of kidney stone.
Sorrel is also found medicinally in certain combination products with gentian, European vervain and elder used together for the treatment of acute and chronic sinusitis and in the herbal formula Essiac, purportedly helpful for cancer. The high level of tannins have an astringent affect of mucosal tissues reducing secretions.
This is one of the easiest plants you can grow - there is little maintenance and it comes back every year. It is also a cut-and-come-again plant that can supply you with food throughout the growing season. Sorrel tastes best when harvested as young leaves. Once established it is one the earliest greens to appear and after the second year it begins to spread and can be divided every few years. It likes sun but perfers partial shade especially when the weather gets hot.
You can directly seed in early spring and thin to 12" apart or start early indoors and transplant when the threat of a hard frost is over.
Recipe: Potato, Leek and Sorrel Soup
2 Tbs Butter
3 Large or 6 Medium Leeks, white parts only, finely chopped
1.5 lbs boiling potato, quarted and thinly sliced. You may leave the skins on if potatoes are organic.
2-4 handfuls of Sorrel leaves, stems removed
Salt and Pepper
7 cups of water
Heat butter in a wide soup pan and add leek and potatoes cooking over low heat covered for 10 minutes. Add 7 cups of water and 1.5 tsp of salt and bring to boil. Reduce to a simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes become very soft to the point of breaking apart, about 35-40 minutes. In the last 10 minutes, add the sorrel to the pot. Press a few of the potatoes against the side of the pan to break them up and give the soup some body. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve. Optional: top with creme fraiche or snipped chives.
Adapted from Deborah Madison’s cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Farmer Pam, MD