Foraging and Eating Sheep Sorrel

wildcrafting sheep sorrel
Sorrel, in general, is one of my family's favorite wildcrafting foods because it has truly terrific flavor. We have two types of wood sorrel (often confused with clovers) - and just recently I realized we have sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), too!

Take one bite of sheep sorrel and you'll see what I mean about flavor: It is lemony, tangy, and refreshing. We mostly eat the raw leaves as a snack or in a salad, but you can use them any way you'd use lettuce or spinach. (One favorite culinary use is to stuff freshly-caught fish with sorrel leaves.)

Dried leaves can be made into herbal tea. Dried and ground, the leaves are used as a thickener for soups or even as a flour substitute for noodle-making. (I haven't tried that personally, but I would use the recipe for dandelion or spinach noodles, subbing out sorrel for the other greens.)

The seeds are also edible, either raw or cooked.

The roots can be used in soups or chopped up in salads, or they can be dried and made into tea.

Sheep sorrel leaves are high in vitamin C and E, beta-carotene, and other carotenoids, and are a strong antioxidant.

In addition, sheep sorrel has traditionally been used as medicine - particularly for inflammation, scurvy, sinusitis, fevers, treating intestinal parasites, and diarrhea. The plant is also a diuretic and is used topically for rashes and eczema. It has antibacterial properties, also.

Rather notoriously, sheep sorrel is an ingredient in essiac tea, a supposedly cancer-fighting tea invented in the 1970s. (No studies support its use as a cancer fighter.)

Other names for sheep sorrel include field sorrel and red sorrel.

Sheep Sorrel Recipes

Tangy Sorrel Salad 
Sorrel Soup 
Salmon with Sorrel Sauce
Steaks with Mushrooms and Sorrel Sauce
Sorrel Borcht
Sweet Sorrel Tart
Butter Braised Radishes with Sorrel
Chicken with Sorrel
Chicken Sorrel Soup 
Sorrel Pesto

Hint: You may use sheep sorrel as a substitute in recipes calling for other types of sorrel, including garden or French sorrel. Just realize that you'll have to harvest quite a bit more sheep sorrel than you would cultivated varieties, since wild sorrel has smaller leaves.

Identifying Sheep Sorrel

I first noticed sheep sorrel when weeding in early spring. Its leaves have a unique shape; if you use your imagination, they look like a sheep's head, complete with ears. The leaves are smooth (not hairy) and there is only one leaf per node. The lower leaves may lack the lamb's ear shape. Sorrel generally grows in patches, so if you find one plant, there's almost certainly more nearby.
Sheep sorrel's unique leaves.
A sheep sorrel plant at the time of seeding.
Young sheep sorrel is low growing. Courtesy of Forrest and Kim Star and Wikipedia Commons.
Another easy way to initially spot sheep sorrel is when the plant sends up seeds, later in the spring. These rosettes of seeds are reddish in color and easy to see amongst grass or other weeds. At this stage, the plant grows up to 12 inches high.

A patch of sheep sorrel, with its red seeds above the other weeds in the area.
Sheep sorrel seeds.

Sheep sorrel flowers, too. The female flowers are typically greenish and the male flowers more yellow or red. Unlike many plants, however, when sheep sorrel flowers, it's leaves are still quite tasty. This makes it a valuable wild edible available spring through fall.
Male flowers. Courtesy of Harry Rose and Wikipedia Commons.
Female flowers. Courtesy of Harry Rose and Wikipedia Commons.
Sheep sorrel is not native to North America, but was brought over from Europe and Asia. It loves acidic soil or sandy soil and tends to thrive in grasslands. The first batch I found was growing around our blueberries, which is a pretty common place to find it, since blueberries also love acidic soil.


The tart flavor of sheep sorrel is attributed to oxalic acid (which is also found in common veggies like spinach). If eaten in very large quantities, this oxalic acid can cause illness, including diarrhea, stomach pain, and abdominal cramping. If your doctor puts you on a low oxalate diet, avoid sorrels of any kind.

Do not use aluminum or cast iron cookware when preparing sorrel, as they may interact with the plant and cause a metallic flavor. 

Never eat any plant unless you are 100% certain you've identified it correctly.  

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