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Common Sorrel Varieties
You can better understand the different varieties of sorrel based on their intensity level:
- French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) is commonly grown in herb gardens throughout Europe. The bell-shaped French sorrel leaves are best eaten raw, are known for their tangy, acidic bursts of sour citrus flavor, and grow to be about six inches high and
- English sorrel (Rumex acetosa), also known as common sorrel, has broad leaves that look like a cross between arugula and spinach. Common sorrel produces a lemony flavor on a slightly milder register than French sorrel.
- Red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) has striking green leaves with electric red veins. This variety of sorrel has less of a tart kick than the others, making for a milder, more subtle addition to salads.
- Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) produces leathery leaves that work best as a flavoring agent in soups and stews, which tame its tougher texture and highlights its rhubarb-adjacent flavor.
How to Plant Sorrel
Sorrel’s growing season runs from early spring into mid-summer. In USDA hardiness zones four and above, sorrel is among the many perennial herbs that can annually self-seed.
- Choose a site: Sorrel plants prefer full sun, so choose a spot in your garden that receives at least six hours of daylight.
- Prepare the site: Like most plants, sorrel prefers a well-draining soil rich in nutrients and organic materials. Amend the soil as needed by gently working a layer of compost into the planting site. Around mid-season, re-up the layer of compost.
- Plant: While you can start sorrel seeds indoors, it’s easier to simply sow them directly into the garden or into containers, since sorrel is one of the few crops that can handle early planting—up to two weeks before the last frost date. Space seeds, transplants, or propagated cuttings about four inches apart, and ½ inch deep. Use shears to thin the strongest shoots once they’re a few inches tall to prevent spread.
How to Care for Sorrel
Sorrel plants are hardy and low-maintenance. Sorrel will continue to provide a steady crop all season with routine watering, weeding, and conservative harvests.
- Water. Water sorrel plants require about an inch of water per week. Water more as needed during particularly warm heatwaves.
- Control pests. Aphids are the biggest threat to sorrel. Practice companion planting to keep aphids at bay, or spray the pests off the leaves with a blast of water from a hose.
- Mulch. Mulching with organic matter will prevent weeds from overtaking the young leaves and sprouts, as well as regulate soil temperature and moisture retention.
- Prune. When the weather starts to heat up, sorrel plants can bolt and send up flower spikes. Snipping flower stalks as soon as they appear will redirect energy back down into the leaves and extend the yield of the plant. (If you want your sorrel plant to self-seed the following year, leave a few seed heads intact.)
How to Harvest Sorrel
Harvest sorrel after about 40 days, when the flavor of new leaves is at its freshest and most potent. To harvest sorrel, use kitchen shears or scissors to snip off the outer leaves. You can also pinch the leaves off by hand. If you want your sorrel to regrow, be sure to leave the taproot and a few seed heads intact.
Use the tender leaves as salad greens, in an herb-based sauce like salsa verde, or in a late spring sorrel soup.
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