Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Sheep's Sorrel. (Robert H. Mohlenbrock, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1992. Western wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. West Region, Sacramento.)
Season: Spring, Summer & Early Fall
Urban, Rural or Both: Both
Sheep's Sorrel (Rumex acetosella). Also known as: Field Sorrel, Red Sorrel, Sour Weed. This is not common where I live as the soils around me are neutral to quite alkaline and it prefers acidic soils. When I have found it, I will add a very little to food for flavor. This is a plant that should only be used in very small amounts as a flavoring, as it is high in oxalic acid. If used in small amounts as a flavoring, it does add a nice zest to the food taste. Young, finely chopped leaves are good in a salad, or put on top of a cooked meal.
This plant likes the same conditions as Blueberries, so if you know where there are Blueberries, you probably have this around somewhere in a spot where there is sufficient light.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
Not hard to grow if you have acidic soils. Just gather seed and spread where you want them, rake them in and tamp the ground. Not a great looking plant, or nutritious, and high in oxalic acid, so not something you'd want a lot of. Also, if you do grow it in the right conditions, it will spread rapidly by the roots. If after trying it, you want to grow some as an herb (it is unique and tasty), the best way might be to transplant one into a pot with acidic soil - it will colonize the whole pot. Make sure you cut off the seed heads before the seeds are mature if you don't want it to spread everywhere. You can make acidic soil by mixing in a lot of Pine or Spruce needles to the soil. And/or buy some gardening sulphur from a garden store and mix into the soil. Follow the instructions on the container for how much to mix in. Also, you can usually buy acidic soil from most garden centers.
For more detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Sheep's Sorrel page.
- Plant Size: Up to 1 meter (40 inches), but usually 10-40 cm (4 to 16 inches)
- Duration: Perennial
- Leaf Shape:Variable, Hastate (triangular with lobes sticking out on the bottom of the leaf by stem). If you turn a leaf that has the lobes on the base (not all do) on its side, it is shaped like a child's drawing of a goldfish.
- Leaf Phyllotaxis (Leaf Arrangement) on branch: Rosette of long stemmed basal leaves (leaves at the base). Leaves on stem leaves alternate
- Leaf Size: basal leaf (leaves from base of plant) are around 7.5 cm (3 inches) long and 2.5 cm (1 inch) wide including their stem which accounts for about half the length. Leaves from the flowering stalks are much smaller - usually 2.5 cm (1 inch) long or less.
- Leaf Margin: Entire (smooth, no sawtooth). Lobes at base of leaf are rounded.
- Leaf Notes: Not counting the lobes at the base, the leaf is widest about 2/3 towards the tip of the leaf.
- Flowers: On the stalk, near the top in clusters along the stem, very small. Male plants have light yellow flowers (can have greenish hue), while female plants have reddish-maroon flowers.
- Fruit: Small, reddish-tan achene
- Habitat: Likes open areas with full sun. Grasslands, meadows, disturbed lands, damp but not wet soil near rivers, dry disturbed land. Likes acidic soils, but not common in calcium rich soils (calcareous) such as where there is limestone bedrock close to the surface.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
Sheep's Sorrel drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 653)
Sheep's Sorrel inflorescence. Note that the color can range from what you see here to redish in other pictures on this page. (Sheri Hagwood, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)
Sheep's Sorrel drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. Wetland flora: Field office illustrated guide to plant species. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service)
Sheep's Sorrel. Note the range of shapes and colors the plant can take. (Patrick J. Alexander, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)
Sheep's Sorrel leaf. Note the unique shape of the leaf base. (Patrick J. Alexander, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)
Sheep's Sorrel flowers up close. (Patrick J. Alexander, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)
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