Using Sorrel Herbs – How To Prepare Sorrel Plants

Using Sorrel Herbs – How To Prepare Sorrel Plants

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By: Amy Grant

Sorrel is a lesser used herb that at one timewas a tremendously popular cooking ingredient. It is once again finding itsplace amongst foodies, and with good reason. Sorrel has a flavor that lemonyand grassy, and lends itself beautifully to many dishes. Interested in cookingwith sorrel? Read on to learn how to prepare sorrel and what to do with sorrel.

About Using Sorrel Herbs

In Europe, cooking with sorrel (Rumex scutatus) was commonplace during the Middle Ages. The type ofsorrel that Europeans initially grew was R. acetosa until a milder formwas developed in Italy and France. This milder herb, French sorrel, became thechosen form by the 17th century.

Sorrel plant uses were entirely culinary and the herb wasused in soups, stews, salads and sauces until it faded from favor. While sorrelwas used in cooking, it imbued a healthy by-product. Sorrel is rich in vitamin C. Ingesting sorrel prevented peoplefrom getting scurvy, a serious and sometimes deadly disease.

Today, cooking with sorrel is enjoying a resurgence inpopularity.

How to Prepare Sorrel

Sorrel is a leafy green herb that is available fresh in thespring. It is available at farmers’ markets or more often from your ownbackyard.

Once you have your sorrel leaves, use them within a day ortwo. Keep sorrel lightly wrapped in plastic in the fridge. To use sorrel,either chop it up to add to dishes, tear the leaves to include in salads, orcook the leaves down and then puree and freeze for use later.

What to Do with Sorrel

Sorrel plant uses are many and varied. Sorrel can be treatedas both a green and herb. It pairs beautifully with sweet or fatty dishes.

Try adding sorrel to your salad for a tangy twist or pair itwith goat cheese on crostini. Add it to quiche, omelets or scrambled eggs orsauté it with greens like chard or spinach. Sorrel enlivens dull ingredients suchas potatoes, grains, or legumes like lentils.

Fish benefits greatly from the green citrusy flavor orsorrel. Make a sauce from the herb or stuff an entire fish with it. Atraditional use for sorrel is to pair it with cream, sour cream or yogurt foruse as a condiment with smoked or oily fish such as salmon or mackerel.

Soups, such as sorrel leek soup, benefit greatly from theherb as does stuffing or casseroles. In lieu of basil or arugula, try making sorrel pesto.

There are so many sorrel plant usesin the kitchen it really would benefit the cook to plant his or her own. Sorrelis easy to grow and it is a reliable perennial that will return year afteryear.

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Your Garden on Toast

Makes as many servings as you want


English muffin or bagel
Cream cheese
A few leaves of True French sorrel
Thinly sliced cucumbers
Thinly sliced carrots
Thinly sliced red bell peppers
Fresh cracked black pepper
And whatever else you want (sometimes I’ll add a fried egg or smoked salmon)

This is what I call a freestyle recipe. You can go wild with it and use whatever’s in season in your garden or still lingering in your crisper drawer.

First, toast up your English muffin or bagel. Slather on some cream cheese. Layer your True French sorrel, veggies and other goodies on top, and finish with a few turns of cracked black pepper. Eat it open-faced or make it a muffin-wich (bagel-wich?) for breakfast on the go!

About Author

Linda Ly

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is. Read more »

French Sorrel, or Buckler Leaf Sorrel (Rumex scutatus)

This attractive sorrel native to Europe grows close to the ground, almost like a vine, hardly more than 6 inches tall. It is this species that is used to make classic French sorrel soup. It also was used extensively in medieval cookery both in sauces and as a garnish for elaborate court dishes. Its flavor is mild, more like green grapes than common sorrel. The leaves are shaped like small shields, and it’s a delightful plant for the herb garden.

Herb to Know: Sorrel

French Sorrel
Genus: Rumex scutatus
• Zones 6-10

Garden Sorrel
Genus: R. acetosa
• Zones 3-9

Once a common ingredient in soups, stews, salads and sauces, sorrel vanished from use for hundreds of years. Now this delightful, leafy green is finding its way back into gardens and kitchens, where its tantalizing flavor and good nutrition can be enjoyed each spring.

Sorrels and their relatives, docks, are members of the Rumex family, found mainly in temperate climates all over the world. Although many Rumex species are considered weeds throughout the United States, sorrels have long been cultivated as culinary herbs, valued for their lemony flavor.

Europeans grew and used garden sorrel (R. acetosa)—a perennial with long, arrow-shaped leaves—until the milder-flavored, round-leaved variety (R. scutatus), now known as French sorrel, was developed in Italy and France in the Middle Ages. French sorrel became popular in England toward the end of the 16th century, and by the 17th century, it was the preferred form.

Sorrel in the Kitchen

The tart, lemony flavor of both French and garden sorrels is due to the presence of oxalic acid. People with arthritis or kidney stones should eat only small quantities, as oxalic acid can aggravate these conditions. The herb tastes best in early spring, and becomes increasingly bitter as the season progresses. Use the tender, young leaves in salads, and the larger leaves for soups, stews and sauces. Sorrel also complements goat cheese, eggs and poultry.

Sorrel has long been known to be both edible and medicinal. Before packaged convenience foods and competent medical treatment became widely available, the woman of the house needed to know everything about caring for her family. Most cookbooks prior to 1900 contained not only cooking recipes, but also directions for growing plants and making medicines. Sorrel frequently appears in these early cookbooks, especially those of the Medieval era, when the church declared that no meat could be eaten on “fasting days”—about one-third of the year—so soups of sorrel and other greens and egg dishes were popular. For an authentic recipe, see “A Fasting-Day Soup,” at right.

Sorrel: Herb for Health

Rich in vitamin C, sorrel was valued for centuries for its ability to prevent scurvy, a serious, even life-threatening problem when fresh fruits and vegetables were not available. The English physician Culpeper (1826) recommended sorrel “to cool any inflammation and heat of blood,” “to refresh overspent spirits,” “to quench thirst, and to procure an appetite.” Sheep sorrel (R. acetosella) is an ingredient in Essiac, an herbal mixture promoted as a cancer remedy in the early 20th century the plant can be poisonous to livestock.

Sorrel in the Garden

Sorrel was central to many culinary recipes and then seemed to vanish altogether. Why? It must be used immediately after harvest, so it rarely appears in markets. For a reliable supply, you must grow your own, but it’s very easy to do.

In spring after danger of frost, sow seeds directly in the garden in full sun or partial shade. Or, sow in fall, two weeks before the first frost date. Seeds germinate in about 10 days. When seedlings are 2 inches tall, thin them to 18 inches apart. Harvest the young leaves often don’t allow plants to flower and set seed, as this will slow the growth of additional leaves. Garden sorrel is frost-hardy French sorrel overwinters in Zones 6 and warmer. In my Zone 6 garden, I frequently find it growing in winter, surrounded by light snow.

A Fasting-Day Soup

Take spinach, sorrel, chervil and lettuce, and chop them a little then brown some butter, and put in your herbs, keep them stirring that they don’t burn then, having boiling water over the fire, put to it a very little pepper, and some salt, a whole onion stuck with cloves, a French roll cut in slices and dried very hard, some Pistachia kernels, blanched and shred fine, and let all boil together then beat up the yolks of eight eggs with a little white wine and the juice of a lemon mix it with your broth, toast a whole French roll, and put it in the middle of your dish, pouring your soup over it garnish your dish with ten or twelve poach’d eggs and scalded spinach.

—From The Compleat Housewife or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion by Eliza Smith (1758)

Did You Know

What we know as wood sorrel is not a member of the Rumex family at all, but an Oxalis. Wood sorrel, an attractive woodland wildflower, belongs in the flower garden, not in culinary or medicinal preparations.

Mercy Ingraham, a retired nurse, is an open-hearth cooking instructor who lives, gardens and cooks in eastern Pennsylvania.

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