What is Sorrel?

The name sorrel is derived from the Germanic word sur, and the old French word surele, both meaning sour. It is an ancient herb used by Egyptians and Europeans to impart acidity to foods. Today, it is a popular flavoring for whitefish, soups, and salads in French cooking. Another sorrel called Jamaican sorrel is from the Hibiscus family and used in beverages and preserves of Mexico and the Caribbean.

Origin and Varieties

Native to Europe and west Asia, sorrel is now cultivated in France, Egypt, and parts of Europe and the United States.


Sorrel has large, light to dark green, oblong-shaped, spinachlike leaves. It comes as fresh or frozen and chopped or whole. Its taste ranges from a refreshing, sharply acidic, or astringent spinachlike taste with bitter notes to a milder, lemony taste. The younger leaves are less acidic. The French variety has slight citruslike notes. The dried leaf loses its citrusylike flavor.

Cooking with Sorrel

Romans and Egyptians used sorrel in ancient times to offset rich, heavy foods. It is used typically in French and Egyptian foods, such as soups, sandwiches, salads, poached salmon, stewed or braised meats, and poached eggs.

It goes well with fish, onions, pepper, potatoes, meats, pork, veal, eggs, salads, cream-based sauces, and goat cheese. It is pureed to flavor goose, fish, or soups or for use in condiments for meats. It is also used in teas.

Tough meats can be wrapped in sorrel leaves to tenderize them before cooking. It is cooked for a minimum time to preserve its fresh flavor. To prevent sorrel from blackening and developing a metallic taste, only stainless steel knives and noniron pots are used. It is a natural acidifier and can be a substitute for fresh lemon in salads, stews, and sauces.

Spice Blends: green sauce blend, potato soup blend, and meat marinade.

Health Benefits of Sorrel

The Romans and Greeks used this herb to aid digestion and temper the effects of rich foods, to treat liver problems and for throat and mouth ulcers. It is traditionally used to treat scurvy and chronic skin conditions, and to lower fevers. The fresh leaf and flower are high in vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium.

Common Names

garden sorrel, wild sorrel, French sorrel, sourgrass, and little vinegar. It is also called oseille (French), sauerampfer (German), hamtzitz (Hebrew), acetosa (Italian), and acedera (Spanish).

Scientific Name

Garden sorrel: Rumex acetosa (6 inches, broad, arrow-shaped leaf)

French sorrel: R. scutatus (buckler leaf)

Sheep sorrel: R. acetosella (smaller than garden sorrel but arrow shaped)

Family: Polygonaceae

Photo by Marco Verch (CC BY 2.0)