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Rumex acetosa - L.                
                 
Common Name Sorrel
Family Polygonaceae
Synonyms Acetosa hastulata Raf. Acetosa hastifolia Schur. Acetosa angustata Raf.
Known Hazards Plants can contain quite high levels of oxalic acid, which is what gives the leaves of many members of this genus an acid-lemon flavour. Perfectly alright in small quantities, the leaves should not be eaten in large amounts since the oxalic acid can lock-up other nutrients in the food, especially calcium, thus causing mineral deficiencies. The oxalic acid content will be reduced if the plant is cooked. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition[238].
Habitats Meadows, by streams and in open places in woodland[7, 17]. Often found as a weed of acid soils[1].
Range Most of Europe, including Britain, temperate Asia, N. America, Greenland.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Care
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun

Summary       

Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Rumex acetosa is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.6 m (2ft) by 0.3 m (1ft in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from Jun to August. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required) and are pollinated by Wind.The plant is not self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.


USDA hardiness zone : Coming soon


Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Rumex acetosa Sorrel


Rumex acetosa Sorrel
   
Habitats       
Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Meadow; Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Flowers;  Leaves;  Root;  Seed.
Edible Uses: Curdling agent.

Leaves - raw or cooked[2, 4, 5, 7, 13, 27]. They make a thirst-quenching on their own, or can be added to salads, used as a potherb or pureed and used in soups[183]. A delicious lemon-like flavour, liked by most people who try them, they can be rather overpowering in quantity and are more generally used as a flavouring in mixed salads[K]. The leaves can also be dried for later use[12]. The leaves can be available all through the winter, especially in mild weather or if a little protection is given to the plants[K]. The leaves should be used sparingly in the diet[9, 21], see the notes on toxicity above. Flowers - cooked as a vegetable or used as a garnish[183]. Root - cooked. It is dried, ground into a powder and made into noodles[105]. Seed - raw or cooked[172]. Ground into a powder and mixed with other flours to make bread[183]. The seed is easy to harvest, but is rather small and fiddly to use[K]. The juice of the leaves can be used as a curdling agent for milks[4, 183].
Medicinal Uses


Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Anthelmintic;  Antiscorbutic;  Astringent;  Depurative;  Diuretic;  Febrifuge;  Homeopathy;  Laxative;  Refrigerant;  Stomachic.

The fresh or dried leaves are astringent, diuretic, laxative and refrigerant[4, 7, 14, 21, 238]. They are used to make a cooling drink in the treatment of fevers and are especially useful in the treatment of scurvy[4]. The leaf juice, mixed with fumitory, has been used as a cure for itchy skin and ringworm[4]. An infusion of the root is astringent, diuretic and haemostatic[4, 7, 14, 21, 218]. It has been used in the treatment of jaundice, gravel and kidney stones[4]. Both the roots and the seeds have been used to stem haemorrhages[4]. A paste of the root is applied to set dislocated bones[272]. The plant is depurative and stomachic[7, 14, 21, 218]. A homeopathic remedy is made from the plant[9]. It is used in the treatment of spasms and skin ailments[9].
Other Uses
Cleanser;  Dye;  Polish.

Dark green to brown and dark grey dyes can be obtained from the roots, they do not need a mordant[168]. A grey-blue dye is obtained from the leaves and stems[106]. An infusion of the stems is used as a polish for bamboo and wicker furniture and also for silver[53, 238]. The juice of the plant removes stains from linen[14] and also ink stains (but not ball-point ink) from white material[53, 238]. It is sometimes sold as 'essential salt of lemon'[4].
Cultivation details                                         
A very easily grown and tolerant plant, it succeeds in most soils[37], preferring a moist moderately fertile well-drained soil in a sunny position[200]. Shade tolerant[12]. Established plants are tolerant of considerable neglect, surviving even in dense weed growth[K]. Sorrel has been used since ancient times as a food and medicinal plant[244]. It is still occasionally cultivated for its edible leaves, there are some named varieties[183]. The plant stops producing leaves when it flowers in the summer, regrowing after the seed has set. Plants also usually die down in the winter. Cutting down the flowering stem will encourage the growth of fresh young leaves[4]. 'Blonde de Lyon' has large, only slightly acid leaves and is much less likely to flower than the type[200]. This means that the leaves of this cultivar are often available all through the summer and are often also produced throughout the winter, especially if the winter is mild[200, K]. A food plant for the caterpillars of many species of butterfly, it is a good plant to grow in the spring meadow[24]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
                                                                                 
Propagation                                         
Seed - sow spring in situ. Leaves can be harvested within 8 weeks from sowing. Division in spring. Division is very simple at almost any time of the year, though the plants establish more rapidly in the spring. Use a sharp spade or knife to divide the rootstock, ensuring that there is at least one growth bud on each section of root. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found it best to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame, planting them out once they are well established in the summer.
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Expert comment                                         
 
      
Author                                         
L.
                                                                                 
Botanical References                                         
17200
                                                                                 
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[5]Mabey. R. Food for Free.
Edible wild plants found in Britain. Fairly comprehensive, very few pictures and rather optimistic on the desirability of some of the plants.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[9]Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants in Europe. a drawing of each plant, quite a bit of interesting information.
[12]Loewenfeld. C. and Back. P. Britain's Wild Larder.
A handy pocket guide.
[13]Triska. Dr. Hamlyn Encyclopaedia of Plants.
Very interesting reading, giving some details of plant uses and quite a lot of folk-lore.
[14]Holtom. J. and Hylton. W. Complete Guide to Herbs.
A good herbal.
[17]Clapham, Tootin and Warburg. Flora of the British Isles.
A very comprehensive flora, the standard reference book but it has no pictures.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[24]Baines. C. Making a Wildlife Garden.
Fairly good with lots of ideas about creating wildlife areas in the garden.
[27]Vilmorin. A. The Vegetable Garden.
A reprint of a nineteenth century classic, giving details of vegetable varieties. Not really that informative though.
[37]Thompson. B. The Gardener's Assistant.
Excellent general but extensive guide to gardening practices in the 19th century. A very good section on fruits and vegetables with many little known species.
[53]De. Bray. L. The Wild Garden.
Interesting reading.
[105]Tanaka. T. Tanaka's Cyclopaedia of Edible Plants of the World.
The most comprehensive guide to edible plants I've come across. Only the briefest entry for each species, though, and some of the entries are more than a little dubious. Not for the casual reader.
[106]Coon. N. The Dictionary of Useful Plants.
Interesting reading but short on detail.
[168]Grae. I. Nature's Colors - Dyes from Plants.
A very good and readable book on dyeing.
[172]Schofield. J. J. Discovering Wild Plants - Alaska, W. Canada and the Northwest.
A nice guide to some useful plants in that area.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[218]Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China
Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses. Often includes an analysis, or at least a list of constituents. Heavy going if you are not into the subject.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[244]Phillips. R. & Foy. N. Herbs
Deals with all types of herbs including medicinal, culinary, scented and dye plants. Excellent photographs with quite good information on each plant.
[272]Manandhar. N. P. Plants and People of Nepal
Excellent book, covering over 1,500 species of useful plants from Nepal together with information on the geography and peoples of Nepal. Good descriptions of the plants with terse notes on their uses.

Readers comment                                         
 
Paulo B.
Jun 27 2011 12:00AM
The plant has quite an interesting flavor, the leaves are edible and have a lemon taste and a good texture. Still more interesting, is to cut the reddish flowering stem and suck the juice from it: it tastes not only lemony but also sweeter. Still, its not the kind of thing that you would want to eat a lot.
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