I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t had sorrel before because it’s not nearly as commonplace as many other greens, but if you lived in the European Middle Ages, this green herb would likely be used to add a sour yet tasty punch of flavor to your latest meal. However, this was before Europe knew citrus fruit. Sadly, sorrel lost its culinary attraction to the lemon back then, but in recent years it has been making a culinary comeback.
Present day, not only is it added to salads, soups and sauces, but it’s also an essential ingredient in anticancer tonics like Essiac tea! Also impressive — sorrel is a nightshade vegetable commonly used as a natural herbal treatment for infections and inflammation of the sinuses and respiratory tract. So what is it, and why should you consider adding it to your routine? Let’s explore.
Health Benefits of Sorrel
What is sorrel? It’s a perennial, edible herb from the same family as buckwheat and rhubarb. It’s often cultivated as a garden herb or leaf vegetable, but some varieties also grow wild.
This herb has a bright and tart flavor that adds an interesting and super healthy punch of flavor to any dish. It’s also available in supplement and tincture form for a variety of health ailments. That’s because it’s shown the following benefits.
1. Reduces Mucus
Sorrel has a drying effect on the body, which makes its consumption an excellent natural way to reduce mucous production. (1) The reason why it’s so good at reducing mucus is because it contains tannins, which you might be familiar with if you’re a tea drinker.
Tannins are astringent, polyphenolic compounds that can be found in some plants. If you have a any issue that involves an overproduction of mucus, such as the common cold, then sorrel can help reduce that mucus and get you feeling better even faster!
2. Helps Fight Cancer
Sorrel’s high vitamin A and C content makes it excellent for the immune system, which means it can possibly benefit cancer, among other immune-based ailments. The variety of sorrel known as sheep sorrel is one of four ingredients in the herbal cancer treatment known as Essiac tea. Sheep sorrel has been known about for over a hundred years as a cancer-fighting herb and is said to be “the main cancer-killing herb” in Essiac. (2, 3)
3. Improves Sinus Infections
Sorrel is commonly used to help reduce inflammation and pain that accompanies sinusitis, more commonly referred to as a sinus infection. As a high-antioxidant herb, especially its high vitamin C content, it’s awesome at reducing swelling and providing pain relief, which are both key when it comes to sinus infections. (4)
4. Soothes Canker Sores
Fresh sorrel leaves can actually be used as a natural remedy to soothe canker sores. Simply take a fresh leaf and hold it against your canker sore for about a minute. You can repeat as needed. This is such a quick, easy and natural way to relieve canker sores. (5)
5. Equalizes Blood Pressure
Sorrel’s significant potassium content is nothing less than outstanding when it comes to human health. Potassium is an essential mineral that we should consume on a daily basis. It’s not only a vasodilator, but it’s also key to maintaining fluid balance throughout the entire body.
By consuming potassium-rich foods like this beneficial herb, you can reduce stress on your heart and entire cardiovascular system by relaxing the arteries and blood vessels. This results in lowered blood pressure, which decreases the chances of dangerous health complications like blood clots and coronary heart disease. (6, 7)
Types of Sorrel
Sorrel is the name for a variety of hardy perennial herbs belonging to the Polygonaceae, or buckwheat, family that are widely distributed in temperate regions around the world. The leaves are the part of the plant typically eaten, and they look similar to spinach leaves. The raw leaves are described as having a flavor similar to lemon, kiwifruit or sour wild strawberries.
There are several varieties of sorrel, including:
- Broad-leaf/common/garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is the type most readily available at markets and nurseries for planting. It’s a deep-rooted perennial that lasts for years and years if it finds a spot it likes. It has a sharp flavor and somewhat large, arrow-shaped leaves.
- French or buckler-leaf sorrel (Rumex scutatus) is also cultivated, but it has a milder flavor than common sorrel with smaller, more rounded leaves.
- Sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella) is about as sour as the common kind but with smaller leaves. It’s typically foraged rather than cultivated and grows wild in the U.S.
- Red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) is a variety with deep red veins running through its leaves. Some say it’s the least tart variety.
Sheep Sorrel vs. Red Clover
You may confuse this herb with red clover — however, while they do share some characteristics, the two are different.
- Helps naturally treat cancer
- Enhances the flow of urine
- Treats fevers and inflammation
- Remedies kidney and urinary tract diseases
- Remedies intestinal parasites
- Helps variety of digestive problems
- Has a cooling effect on the liver
- Contains tannins, which reduce mucous production
- Helps prevent cancer
- Relieves indigestion
- Reduces high cholesterol
- Treats coughs
- Remedies asthma & bronchitis
- Treats sexually transmitted diseases
- Contains isoflavones that are changed in the body to phytoestrogens, which are similar to the hormone estrogen
Sorrel Nutrition Facts
This herb’s leaves are chock-full of healthy nutrients. Just one cup (133 grams) of sorrel contains: (8)
- 30 calories
- 0.9 gram fat
- 4.3 grams carbohydrates
- 2.7 grams protein
- 3.9 grams fiber
- 5,300 IU vitamin A (106 percent DV)
- 63.6 grams vitamin C (106 percent DV)
- 136 milligrams magnesium (34 percent DV)
- 3 milligrams iron (17 percent DV)
- 519 milligrams potassium (14 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram vitamin B6 (10 percent DV)
- 50 milligrams calcium (5 percent DV)
Sorrel History & Use Around the World
Historically, sorrel has been used as a salad green, spring tonic, diarrhea remedy, weak diuretic and soothing agent for irritated nasal passages. Sorrel has been used with other herbs to treat bronchitis and sinus conditions in Germany since the 1930s.
During the Middle Ages, prior to citrus fruit’s European introduction, it was used to supply a sour flavor to various dishes. It’s had and continues to have an interesting culinary place in the lives and history of people all over the world:
- In Romania, wild or garden sorrel is used to make sour soups, in open sandwiches, stewed with spinach, and added fresh to lettuce and spinach in salads.
- In Russia and Ukraine, it’s used to make a soup called green borscht.
- In Croatia and Bulgaria, it’s used for soups or with mashed potatoes, or as part of a traditional dish containing eel and other green herbs.
- In rural Greece, this herb is used with spinach, leeks and chard in spanakopita.
- In the Flemish part of Belgium, the preserved pureed variety is mixed with mashed potatoes and eaten with sausages, meatballs or fried bacon as a traditional winter dish.
- In Vietnam, it’s added to lettuce and in salads for Bánh Xēo.
- In Brazil and Portugal, it’s typically eaten raw in salads or used to make soups.
- In India, the leaves are used in soups and curries.
- In Albania, the leaves are simmered and served cold marinated in olive oil.
How to Find & Use Sorrel
Unfortunately, sorrel isn’t easily or commonly found at your local supermarket. Your best bet is to look for it in spring and summer at farmers markets and specialty stores. It starts showing up in the spring and gets progressively more bitter as the growing season goes on.
Sorrel is somewhat in between an herb and a green. As a leafy herb, it can be chopped up and added to dressings, marinades and soups. When it comes to figuring out the best use for your particular bunch, know that short leaves are best raw and larger leaves are better for cooking. Younger leaves tend to be more tender and don’t hold up well in cooking so they’re best in uncooked dishes. The larger leaves can be used in stir-fries and other cooked dishes. You can even include this herb among other cooked greens like kale and spinach for a lemony accent.
Many cooks classically pair sorrel with cream, sour cream or yogurt, which flavors the rich, creamy base but also cuts the sourness of the sorrel. If the bitterness is too strong for you, then blanching the leaves helps minimize the bitterness. It’s also delicious with rich, oily fish like salmon.
When it comes to storing sorrel properly, there are two options. If you’re going to use it within a day or two, then you can simply keep it loosely wrapped in plastic in the fridge. For longer storage, rinse the it clean, pat it dry and roll the leaves up in paper towels before putting them in the plastic wrap in the fridge.
If you’re looking to purchase sorrel in supplement form, you can find it as a tincture, in a capsule and as a tea. It can also be found as a main ingredient in a supplement that contains a mixture of herbs, like Essiac tea.
Sorrel has many medicinal and culinary uses. You can make your own homemade Essiac tea using sheep sorrel. You can also add it in with other leafy green recipes for extra kick of flavor. It would make a tasty addition to my Sautéed Kale Salad.
You could also try making a soup with sorrel as one of the main ingredients. This Sorrel, Pea and Leek Soup is not only delicious, but loaded with healthy nutrients.
It’s important not to overdo it on sorrel since it contains oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is present in many fruits and vegetables like spinach and rhubarb, but it’s potentially toxic in large doses. Too much oxalic acid in the body can cause kidney stones — thus, large amounts of sorrel by mouth might increase the risk of developing kidney stones. If you have ever had kidney stones or any other kidney issues, talk to your doctor before consuming this nightshade.
It’s not recommended in large amounts for children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. There is a report of death after consuming a large amount (specifically 500 grams), but you would have to eat cups and cups to have that amount. When it comes to supplementation, just make sure you take the lower and proper dose and consult a health professional if you feel unsure.
Final Thoughts on Sorrel
I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t had sorrel before because it’s not nearly as commonplace as many other greens. It’s definitely a green that’s worth trying and incorporating into your diet for its health benefits, not to mention its interesting taste.
It’s excellent for boosting the immune system (which makes it a natural remedy for anything immune-related) with its high vitamin A and C content. This nightshade vegetable is also high in a lot of other important nutrients like magnesium and potassium. I hope you’ll try some of my recipe suggestions and hop on the sorrel bandwagon with me! After all, it’s been shown to reduce mucus, help fight cancer, improve sinus infections, soothe canker sores and equalize blood pressure, among other uses and benefits.
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