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How to Grow and Care for Sorrel in Your Garden

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jul 14, 2020 • 3 min read

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Ron Finley Teaches Gardening

Sorrel is a delicate leafy green in the buckwheat family that makes for a bright, tangy addition to any herb or vegetable garden.

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Ron Finley Teaches GardeningRon Finley Teaches Gardening

Community activist and self-taught gardener Ron Finley shows you how to garden in any space, nurture your plants, and grow your own food.

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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.

  1. Choose a site: Sorrel plants prefer full sun, so choose a spot in your garden that receives at least six hours of daylight.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
Ron Finley Teaches Gardening
Ron Finley Teaches Gardening
Ron Finley Teaches Gardening
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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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Precaution When Eating Sorrel Leaves

Sorrel leaves, just like the leafy parts of its relative, rhubarb, contain levels of oxalic acid that can be harmful if ingested in large quantities.

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Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass All-Access Pass and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.

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