Many people probably haven’t had the opportunity to try sorrel, a surprisingly spritely, bright green herb. Yet it was not so long ago that this tasty herb was a standard in kitchen gardens. The flavor of the tangy, lemony leaves should earn this easy-to-grow herb a spot in every home garden and kitchen once again. Market gardeners would be wise to persuade local markets to carry sorrel so non-gardeners can taste this under-appreciated herb.
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa, R. sanguineus and R. scutatus) — from the Old High German sur, or “sour” — is related to rhubarb and contains the same oxalic acid compounds that give rhubarb its tanginess. It is zesty enough to stand in for lemon in a variety of recipes, as we have done with this Local Tabbouleh Recipe. That zestiness also makes sorrel a great foil for rich foods, which is how the ancient Egyptians and Romans used it. Sorrel’s acidity also means it’s not suited for cooking in aluminum or iron cookware because it will interact with the metals.
Culinarily, sorrel is quite versatile. Because the plant is perennial, you can count on sorrel for early spring recipes — where it shines alongside eggs, greens and milder herbs — as well as your heartiest fall fare. Sorrel purée will enliven bland root vegetables and tame strong-flavored fish.
Try shredded sorrel raw in salads — it can even replace the dressing. “Sorrel imparts so great a quickness to the salad,” said 18th-century herbalist John Evelyn, “that it should never be left out.” Raw leaves are nice in sandwiches, used as a garnish, or layered between fillets of fish or chicken before baking. When cooked, sorrel has a variety of uses, from classic soup (find recipes at the end of this article) to sauces for fish and poultry.
Sorrel is beginning to appear at more and more markets, and it can sometimes be harvested as a wild edible. If you can’t find it near you, consider planting your own. The perennial herb is compact and tolerant of pests, cold, heat, wet weather, droughts and general neglect. Plus, it’s a good source of fiber, iron and several vitamins. A few plants are all one family needs. For information on growing sorrel, best varieties and seed sources, see our article, Zesty Sorrel.
Seed-grown sorrel is often available in the herb section of garden centers. A Canadian company, Richters Herbs, offers a non-bolting variety called ‘Profusion,’ propagated by division.