Sorrel plant is a leafy green herbs with a tart, lemony flavor. A member of the Polygonaceae family, this is a low maintenance, high flavor, addition to the herb garden. It’s leaves can be used either fresh, in salads, or as flavouring in a range of culinary dishes.
Warning: the leaves of sorrel contain potentially high levels of oxalic acid. Toxic in high levels, oxalic acid in the leaves is harmless in small quantities unless you are extremely sensitive to it. The leaves of the plant are also poisonous to animals. Especially if large amounts are consumed.
Some plant varieties, such as creeping wood sorrel, are considered to be wild plants or weeds. Despite their attractiveness, these types of sorrel are rarely cultivated. The high levels of oxalic acid can be harmful to animals that eat the leaves.
Sorrel Plant Varieties
There are only a few named plant varieties. While your choice may seem limited there is still plenty of variety between the different plants.
Garden Sorrel is also known as sheep sorrel. One of the most common varieties, it is considered a weed by some gardeners. Growing up to 3ft in height, the Sorrel variety’s long, leathery leaves are best used when young and tender.
French Sorrel, or buckler- leaved French sorrel is another common variety. French sorrel produces small, shield-shaped green leaves with a subtle citrus flavor. French sorrel is a popular culinary ingredient. A smaller variety, French sorrel reaches about 6 inches in height. French sorrel thrives in poor soil.
Leaf Sorrel produces both smooth and crinkled plant leaves. A common herb, its upright stems can reach 2ft. This variety produces purple flowers if allowed to bolt.
Red-veined Sorrel has distinctive bright green, oval shaped leaves that are marked with rich red veins. Reaching 3 ft in height it is less tart variety than the French variety.
Spinach Rhubarb is a tall variety, reaching 8ft in height. As the name suggests it can be used in recipes as a spinach substitute.
While your choice may seem limited, there is still plenty of variety to be found. That helps to make this a worthwhile addition to the home.
Growing Sorrel Plant
To grow sorrel, sow the new seeds 2-3 weeks before your last frost date. Seeds can be sown continuously until late July for a regular supply of fresh leaves.
Sow the new seeds in clean trays filled with fresh general purpose compost. Water gently with a fine spray. Place the trays in a bright position until they germinate.
When you grow sorrel, small seeds can be difficult to sow thinly. Instead scatter the seeds and thin out further following germination. Select only the healthiest seedlings to grow on.
When the seedlings are large enough to handle they can be divided. Plant the healthiest seedlings into 2 inch pots and grow sorrel on those. As the seedlings grow they will need to be transplanted into increasingly larger pots. Eventually each seedling will sit in an 8-12 inch pot.
As you grow sorrel, you can continue to place the young sorrel in pots, as part of a container garden, or transplant into the garden.
You can also sow seeds straight into the ground. Work the soil over with a fork before sowing to a depth of half and inch. Try to space the seeds 2-3 inches apart. Space each row 18-24 inches apart.
When the sorrel is 6-8 weeks old the sorrel seedlings can be thinned to a spacing of 12-18 inches. Thinned out baby leaves can be used in a salad.
Herbs are often grown in containers. Many herbs tend to spread if left unmanaged. Growing in containers keeps this habit under control.
Planting Sorrel Plants
The hardy sorrel can be grown as a perennial in USDA zones 5 and warmer. In cooler climates you can grow sorrel as an annual.
Following the last frost begin hardening off young sorrel. During this period prepare the soil by digging it over and working in some organic matter. This enriches the soil, helping the sorrel to establish themselves.
Working the soil over before planting helps to break up clumps of earth. This helps to improve drainage and also enables plants to establish themselves quickly.
Sorrel does best in well draining soil that is slightly acidic. A pH between 5.5 and 6.8 is ideal. The herb does best in a full sun position but will also grow in partial shade.
Dig a hole in the soil large enough to comfortably hold the root ball. When placed in the hole the lowest leaves of the plant should be just above the soil level. Fill the hole and water well.
Placing organic mulch around the plant will discourage weeds from emerging and smothering young sorrel. It will also help the soil to preserve moisture.
Space the sorrel to a distance of 12-18 inches.
Sorrel Plant Care
Once planted garden sorrel is quick growing and low maintenance. This is partly due to the plants deep tap root. With the right care your plants will produce healthier, more flavoursome leaves.
Watering and Feeding
Aim to keep your garden sorrel evenly moist. This means watering them regularly. Don’t allow the soil to dry out. To save on your water consumption, why not harvest your own rainwater? This can then be used to water your garden.
Rain barrels can be used to harvest rainwater. This can then be used to water your sorrel, helping you to save water and cut your water bills.
If planted in rich, fertile soil there is no need to fertilize the sorrel. However to give the plant an extra boost you can apply a dose of general purpose fertilizer in the middle of the growing season. Alternatively you can use your own homemade plant feed.
Pruning and Division
Prune away old and disfigured leaves as soon as you notice these leaves.
A perennial sorrel will require division every 3-4 years. Division will help the plant to stay healthy. It also encourages fresh growth and helps the sorrel leaves to keep their flavor.
The best time to divide sorrel is in the spring, before new growth emerges. Divisions can also be made in the fall.
If you don’t want to divide sorrel plant, grow it as an annual. Lifting old sorrel in the fall and sowing fresh seeds the following spring.
Sorrel is prone to bolting in warm weather. Bolting causes the sorrel to produce a flower spike. Pinching off the spike will prevent sorrel from producing any seeds, helping to prolong productivity.
Triggered by the warm weather sorrel will often bolt, or go into flower. Once the flower is spent the sorrel will resume its production of flavor filled leaves.
Sorrel grown as a perennial can be allowed to flower. By early August the flower will be spent and the seeds can be harvested. Following this fresh leaves will begin to emerge from the base of the plant. If you chose not to remove the seed head the sorrel will self-seed and begin spreading through your garden.
Harvesting Sorrel Seeds
Once the flower has bloomed it will be replaced by seed heads. Carefully cut the seed heads from the plant. The seed heads can then be opened and the seeds stored in a paper envelope in a cool, dry location. Aim to use the seeds the following year, seeds lose their viability the older they become.
Seeds are best stored in a paper envelope in a cool, dry location. Labeling the envelope with the date, as well as the name of the seeds, will help you to gauge viability.
Common Sorrel Plant Problems
This is a largely problem free addition to your garden. Most common garden pests will leave sorrel alone. Should aphids strike wash the infestation away with a blast from a hosepipe. Regularly thinning out the sorrel will help to make them less attractive to aphids.
Aphid infestations can be particularly problematic if left untreated. Wash away infestations as soon as you spot the pests.
Try not to overwater the plant. Overly damp soil can cause the root to rot or become diseased. During damp periods sorrel grown in containers can be raised off the ground onto bricks. This will help to improve drainage.
A useful garden companion, sorrel does well with a number of other herbs and vegetables. It also does well when planted alongside low growing crops such as strawberries. It also does well when planted with herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and sage.
As well as being a culinary herb, this is also a reliable companion plant. It does particularly well when planted alongside other herbs.
Plants to Avoid
Garden sorrel struggles when planted alongside tall plants such as beans or corn. Taller plants can block out light, stunting the growth of the sorrel.
Harvesting Sorrel Plants
You can harvest the leaves as soon as they are 4 inches long. If you want to wait for the leaves to fully mature this will be about 2 months after germination.
The leaves can be harvested regularly, as a cut-and-come-again crop. When harvested in this manner the sorrel will produce a regular supply of tender leaves. These young leaves will have more flavor than older leaves.
Harvesting the sorrel leaves is easy. Simply use a clean pair of scissors or secateurs to cut the leaves from the sorrel.
Cut only what you need. This crop does not keep well, losing its flavor over time.
Attractive to grow and tasty to eat, this is a great addition to any garden.
Sorrel plants are low maintenance, attractive additions to your garden. They are also useful, adding flavor to a range of dishes. Happy to grow as either an annual or perennial plant, A great addition to any kitchen or herb garden. It can also be incorporated into an attractive herb spiral or planted as part of a wider, forest garden scheme.
Elizabeth learnt to love gardening as a child in her grandparents backyard. Today, she is a trained horticulturist and has maintained a productive allotment for over 10 years. When not growing her own, Elizabeth enjoys helping other people with the plant problems. An experienced writer and editor, away from gardening Elizabeth is also a keen bird watcher, local historian and genealogist, meaning that she can often be found with her dogs exploring an overgrown graveyard.