Garden Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

New season garden sorrel. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I have more books on the subject of herbs and spices than on any other. I love growing my own herbs and experimenting with new flavours. It’s lovely to see that my herb garden is coming back to life again, now that the days are getting lighter and the sun is slowly warming up.

One of the best culinary friends from the herb garden is garden sorrel. A hardy perennial – I’ve noticed that even in the depths of a Scottish winter, there are always a few leaves poking their way through the earth – it is easy to grow and is very versatile. Related to spinach and the wild, leafy plant, Dock, garden sorrel is a real favourite with cooks and chefs alike.

Freshly picked sorrel leaves. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Spring is the time to start picking a few leaves here and there – the more you pick, the more the plant will regenerate, and you’ll have a succession of young leaves right through until autumn. At this time of year, the new leaves are juicy and fresh tasting. Larger leaves have more of the classic, astringent lemony flavour associated with the herb. As the season progresses, tougher, red flowering stems will form with clusters of tiny red flowers at the end, and a few of the leaves will become very large. Whilst the flowering stem should be cut down,  the large leaves, which are too coarse to eat, make perfect wrappings for tenderising meat and flavouring fish during cooking.

Very_young_tender_leaves_ and_more_mature_sorrel_leaves
Baby sorrel and larger sorrel leaves. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

If you fancy growing your own, buy some seed now and get sowing. You may also find potted clumps at the garden centre. Garden sorrel likes rich, moist soil, and the sun or semi-shade. And that’s about it; it will look after itself. If you want a supply for winter, either cover the clump with a cloche, or split the roots in autumn and pot some up – I usually keep a pot in my unheated greenhouse over the winter months to tide me over until the next spring.

New season sorrel in my herb garden. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Garden sorrel serving suggestions and tips

  • Sorrel is best picked as required. Treat like spinach if you do need to store it: place in a plastic bag and keep in the fridge for a couple of days maximum. It can be frozen successfully, but loses its flavour if dried.
  • Because of the acid content, sorrel is affected by cast iron cookware and will discolour. Use a stainless steel knife blade for cutting, and only shred just before using to avoid discolouration and flavour loss.

    Garden sorrel preparation. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  • Young garden sorrel leaves are delicious mixed with other green salad leaves and soft-leaved herbs; they add a tangy lemony flavour to the plate, and reduce the need for vinegar or lemon juice in a salad dressing.
  • Used by the Greeks and Romans as an aid to digestion, garden sorrel is the perfect accompaniment to rich foods such as soft cheese (especially goat’s and sheep’s cheeses), oily fish, lamb and pork.

    Patties of minced pork and pancetta mixed with salt, pepper, garlic, freshly chopped chives and shredded garden sorrel. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  • Garden sorrel is commonly used in egg dishes. Try adding to pancake batter, or a quiche filling; stir into scrambled eggs, or add as an ingredient to an omelette fines herbes. Pep up an egg mayonnaise sandwich filling by adding a few fresh leaves – much zingier than mustard and cress!
  • Add some chopped leaves to soft butter or margarine along with some black pepper and a little salt. Melt over hot grilled fish, barbecued chicken or steaks. See my recipe for chive butter if you fancy making some  Homegrown courgettes with chive butter (gluten-free)
  • As well as all the culinary uses, sorrel leaves are rich in potassium and the vitamins A, B1 and C.

    Broad, arrow-shaped leaf of garden sorrel. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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