Sheep Sorrel

Rumex acetosella


Uses: Culinary/Medicinal

Duration: Perennial (hardy in zones 4-8)

When to Sow: Spring/Late Summer/Early Fall

Ease of Germination: Easy


Traditionally used for fevers, inflammation, diarrhea, excessive menstruation and cancer. One of the four ingredients of the Essiac® anti-cancer remedy. Although leaves are small and time-consuming to gather, they are delicious to eat.

Wood Sorrel (Kihikihi)   The following information is taken verbatim from the Grieve’s “A Modern Herbal”, 1931 [uncopyrighted]. These volumes are shown below for ordering.
Botanical Name
System Affected
mouth –general immune system;




Mouth; fevers,diarrhea, excessive menstruation and cancer
Germany, France
Chief ingredient in Essiac Tea

Sorrel, Garden or Common

Botanical: Rumex acetosa (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Polygonaceae

---Synonyms---Green Sauce. Sour Sabs. Sour Grabs. Sour Suds. Sour Sauce. Cuckoo Sorrow. Cuckoo's Meate. Gowke-Meat.
---Part Used---Leaves.

Of the two kinds of Sorrel cultivated for use as vegetables or salads, Rumex acetosa, the Garden Sorrel, is an indigenous English plant, common, too in the greater part of Europe, in almost all soils and situations. It grows abundantly in meadows, a slender plant about 2 feet high, with juicy stems and leaves, and whorled spikes of reddish-green flowers, which give colour, during the months of June and July, to the grassy spots in which it grows.

It is generally found in pastures where the soil contains iron.

The leaves are oblong, the lower ones 3 to 6 inches in length, slightly arrow-shaped at the base, with very long petioles. The upper ones are sessile. They frequently become a beautiful crimson.

As the flowers increase in size, they become a purplish colour. The stamens and pistils are on different plants. The seeds, when ripe, are brown and shining. The perennial roots run deeply into the ground.

Sorrel is well known for the grateful acidity of its herbage, which is most marked when the plant is in full season, though in early spring it is almost tasteless.

The plant is also called 'Cuckoo's-meate' from an old belief that the bird cleared its voice by its agency. In Scotland it is 'gowkemeat.'

Domestic animals are fond of this and other species of Sorrel. The leaves contain a considerable quantity of binoxalate of potash, which gives them their acid flavour and medicinal and dietetic properties. They have been employed from the most distant time as a salad. In France, Sorrel is put into ragouts, fricassées and soups, forming the chief constituent of the favourite Soupe aux herbes.

In the time of Henry VIII, this plant was held in great repute in England, for table use, but after the introduction of French Sorrel, with large succulent leaves, it gradually lost its position as a salad and a potherb, and for many years it has ceased to be cultivated.

John Evelyn thought that Sorrel imparted 'so grateful a quickness to the salad that it should never be left out.' He wrote in 1720:

'Sorrel sharpens the appetite, assuages heat, cools the liver and strengthens the heart; is an antiscorbutic, resisting putrefaction and in the making of sallets imparts a grateful quickness to the rest as supplying the want of oranges and lemons. Together with salt, it gives both the name and the relish to sallets from the sapidity, which renders not plants and herbs only, but men themselves pleasant and agreeable.

Culpepper tells us:

'Sorrel is prevalent in all hot diseases, to cool any inflammation and heat of blood in agues pestilential or choleric, or sickness or fainting, arising from heat, and to refresh the overspent spirits with the violence of furious or fiery fits of agues: to quench thirst, and procure an appetite in fainting or decaying stomachs: For it resists the putrefaction of the blood, kills worms, and is a cordial to the heart, which the seed doth more effectually, being more drying and binding.... Both roots and seeds, as well as the herb, are held powerful to resist the poison of the scorpion. . . . The leaves, wrapt in a colewort leaf and roasted in the embers, and applied to a large imposthume, botch boil, or plague-sore, doth both ripen and break it. The distilled water of the herb is of much good use for all the purposes aforesaid.'

In this country, the leaves are now rarely eaten, unless by children and rustics, to allay thirst, though in Ireland they are still largely consumed by the peasantry with fish and milk. Our country people used to beat the herb to a mash and take it mixed with vinegar and sugar, as a green sauce with cold meat, hence one of its popular names: Greensauce.

Because of their acidity, the leaves, treated as spinach, make a capital dressing with stewed lamb, veal or sweetbread. A few of the leaves may also with advantage be added to turnips and spinach. When boiled by itself, without water, it serves as an excellent accompaniment to roast goose or pork, instead of apple sauce.