Edible Wild Plants: Sheep Sorrel (Rumex Acetosella)

Sheep Sorrel (Rumex Acetosella)Sheep Sorrel (Rumex Acetosella) is a popular nibble with children and is familiar to most trampers as a practical thirst-quencher. It is a readily available and attractive base for a puree, a small amount of tender growth, after boiling, being mashed through a strainer, and added to a rice stock, milk or other stock, thickened with flour and butter, and seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. A small amount of the fresh leaves makes an unusual seasoning for fish, rice, or potatoes, or mixed with other salads.

The acidity is due to the presence of potassium oxalate, which, if eaten in excess, may be detrimental. Ordinary small nibblings of the fresh plant are quite safe and, as everyone knows, refreshing. When boiled the sorrels seem to be harmless.

Children love sheep sorrel. Somehow, thousands of children across the country have learned to eat sheep sorrel without being instructed by any adult. And once they learn, they pass it on to each other. It spreads like wildfire. Parents, unless they, too, knew sheep sorrel as a child, gasp in horror to see their green-tongued children merrily grazing on “sour grass” in the front yard. Fear not. Examine the plant: if it looks like sheep sorrel, and it tastes like sheep sorrel, and the kids say they’ve always eaten it, then it is sheep sorrel, and you ought to join the fun.

Sheep Sorrel Edible Wild Treat For KidsMany parents are afraid to let their children gather wild edibles with them, for fear that they will misidentify plants and poison themselves. I have found, however, that once properly shown an edible plant, children over eight seem to have an incredible aptitude for recognizing the plant again. This makes perfect sense, for children must have regularly accompanied their mothers in the harvesting of plants over the long history of human beings. I don’t know what age is too young, but I was actively foraging on my own at six years old.

Last summer I led a wild food collecting trip for a boy’s camp in Northern Wisconsin. In less than an hour I showed nine kids, ranging from ten to twelve years of age, about thirty species of wild edibles. Sheep sorrel, gooseberries, and sumac berries were a real hit. I returned two weeks later to lead a much larger group, including most of those on the first trip, plus all of their friends. I was delighted to discover that not only did every participant from the last expedition remember several plants, but the veterans had already taught the new kids how to identify several species, and they had made sumac-ade and gathered sheep sorrel and some berries on their own time. One boy in particular remembered every single plant I had showed on the last trip, and recited the identifying characteristics perfectly.

Sheep Sorrel Along River“Sheep sorrel. Succulent leaves that look like an arrowhead. Reddish-brown flowers on the mature plant. The leaves have tiny sparkles when you hold ’em up to the sun.” The old kids actually warned the new kids of dangers. “You can eat the tips of grape vines, but not five-leaved ivy. Look over here! This is five-leaved ivy. You can’t eat the berries, either. It looks way different.” These kids weren’t experts; they just paid attention. And I bet they’ll never forget sheep sorrel. I sometimes wonder if we actually lose our aptitude for identifying plants as we age.

Edible Parts

  • Leaves
  • Seeds
  • Roots

Uses

Leaves – raw or cooked. A delicious lemon-like flavor, most people consider them too strong to use in quantity, but they are excellent as a flavoring in mixed salads.

The leaves should only be used in small quantities due to the oxalic acid content. The leaves can be used as thickeners in soups etc, they can also be dried for later use.

Root – cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and made into noodles.

Seed – raw or cooked. Easy to harvest, but the seed is rather small and fiddly to use. A drink similar to lemonade (but without the fizz) is made by boiling up the leaves.

Beautiful Wild Edible Sheep Sorrel
Medicinal Uses

Sheep’s sorrel is a detoxifying herb, the fresh juice of the leaves having a pronounced diuretic effect.

Like other members of the genus, it is mildly laxative and holds out potential as a long term treatment for chronic disease, in particular that of the gastrointestinal tract. The plant is also part of a North American formula called essiac which is a popular treatment for cancer. Its effectiveness has never been reliably proven or disproven since controlled studies have not been carried out. The other herbs included in the formula are Arctium lappa, Ulmus rubra and Rheum palmatum.

All of the [Essiac tea] herbs normalize body systems by purifying the blood, promote cell repair, and are effective in assimilation/elimination. When used in conjunction with traditional treatment (i.e. physician), the herbs can stimulate self-healing capabilities and assist the body to rid itself of cancer.

From Herbs for Healing Cancer

The whole plant, used in the fresh state, is diaphoretic, diuretic and refrigerant.

A tea made from the leaves is used in the treatment of fevers, inflammation and scurvy.

The leaf juice is useful in the treatment of urinary and kidney diseases.

It also contains an antibacterial compound, rumicin, that is effective against bacteria such as Escherichia, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus. It also helps fight off viral infections. Sheep sorrel has also been used as a vermifuge — that is, it gets rid of intestinal worms.

Sheep sorrel has been called one of the strongest antioxidant herbs that we can use. This helps to get rid of free radicals in the body, and help to boost the immune system to fight off the damaging effects of free radicals.

A leaf poultice of sheep sorrel can be applied to tumors and cysts. Topical application of the tea or tincture can also clear skin problems such as eczema.

The silicon in sheep sorrel benefits the nervous system.

A tea made from the roots is astringent and is used in the treatment of diarrhea and excessive menstrual bleeding.

Sheep Sorrel Soup Recipe
Sorrel Soup Recipe

Ingredients

  • Handful of Sorrel
  • 4 Cups of Milk
  • 1 Small Onion
  • 2 Teaspoonfuls of Butter
  • 2 tablespoonfuls of Flour

Directions

Wash sorrel and put in saucepan with a little water (not covered). Cook slowly for about 1/2 hour. Put 4 cups of milk with small white onion (whole) in double boiler. Add 2 teaspoonfuls of butter and 2 tablespoonfuls of flour (thoroughly blended to avoid lumps) to the hot milk.

Let stand, and add Sorrel and strain. Season.

Where Does Sheep Sorrel (Rumex Acetosella) Grow?

Sheep Sorrel (Rumex Acetosella) Growing Area

How To Identify Sheep Sorrel (Rumex Acetosella)

Sheep Sorrel Leaves
Leaves

Hairless. Stalk of basal leaves usu. longer than blade. Blade narrowly elliptic to linear, and usu. hastate. Basal lobes lanceolate to linear. Stem leaves alternate.

Sheep Sorrel Fruit
Fruit

A brown, roundish, three-edged, glossy nut, ca. 1 mm across.

Sheep Sorrel Flowers
Flower

Regular, small, unisexual. Male flower: Perianth-segments 6, with membranous margins, often red, under 2 mm long. Stamens 6. Female flower: Perianth consists of 2 whorls of 3. Segments of outer whorl small, green, and erect. Inner whorl forms the fruit-enclosing valves whose segments are elliptic and thin, greenish or red, with entire margins, and lacking pimples. Valves and fruit of equal length. Pistil formed from 3 fused carpels, styles 3. Inflorescence a raceme.

Sheep Sorrel Stem
Stems

Flowering stems are erect, reaching18 inches in height, branching in the upper portions only.  Stems are ridged and often maroon-tinted.

Sheep Sorrel Videos

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