Sorrel, a wild vegetable with medicinal properties

Sorrel is a wild vegetable that occurs everywhere in the Netherlands. The vegetable is used for, among other things, stew, but should not be eaten too often. One ounce of sorrel contains 90% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C. It is a very healthy vegetable that can also be used as a herb in some sauces or an omelette. In addition to picking it from the wild, you can also grow it yourself. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.

Botanical drawing of sorrel / Source: Carl Axel Magnus Lindman, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Contents:

  • Naming sorrel
  • History of sorrel
  • Sorrel grows everywhere in the Netherlands
  • Medicinal use of sorrel
  • Oxalic acid and kidney stones
  • When not to eat sorrel?
  • Grow your own sorrel
  • Eating tips for sorrel
  • Sorrel as a weed problem

 

Naming sorrel

The Latin name for sorrel is Rumex Acetosa . Rumex means ‘regret’ in Latin and acetosa is ‘sour’. The word regret can refer to the high oxalic acid content of this plant. If you eat it daily you will inevitably develop kidney and bladder stones and you will regret eating sorrel. Everything that stands for ‘te’ is not good. If you eat this wild vegetable once every three to four weeks, you will not regret it. In Dutch this plant is also called zurkel. It is eaten throughout Europe.

History of sorrel

Common sorrel was already eaten in ancient Egypt together with other sorrel species. In ancient Greece people also feasted on this wild vegetable. The ancient Romans served sorrel during festive meals and fatty meals. This sour vegetable helps digest fat better. In ancient times, sorrel was known in the Mediterranean for its ability to cure scurvy. Contemporary science confirms this finding as sorrel contains a lot of vitamin C. In the Middle Ages, the entire sorrel leaf was used as packaging material for, for example, butter.

Flowering sorrel / Source: Derek Harper, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-2.0)

Sorrel grows everywhere in the Netherlands

It is a perennial plant that grows wild in the Netherlands in grasslands and sometimes in open spaces in forests. When the plant is in full sun, parts of it may turn red; but you may also be dealing with another edible related plant, namely the blood sorrel, which is also edible.

The stem of sorrel is sometimes used by people for chewing. The juice is sour, fresh, tasty and thirst-quenching.

 

Medicinal use of sorrel

Sorrel contains a lot of vitamin C and iron. It is a healthy wild vegetable as long as you don’t eat too much of it. Sorrel used to be seen as a folk medicine. This vegetable has a blood purifying, diuretic and laxative effect. In the past, milk was boiled with currants and sorrel in the Netherlands until it became a porridge. This paste is said to flush the intestines. The vitamin C content is very high; therefore the plant can be used to recover after an illness.

Oxalic acid and kidney stones

There is quite a lot of oxalic acid in sorrel. These can lead to the formation of kidney and bladder stones in humans and animals if you eat too many of them. If you eat sorrel as a basic vegetable once every three to four weeks, then it is no problem. Eat a varied diet and you will get all the necessary substances without getting too much of anything.

When not to eat sorrel?

Sorrel is not recommended to be eaten by pregnant women because it can stimulate the uterus. It is recommended for people with kidney problems to be careful with the consumption of sorrel. The oxalic acid content is a reason for everyone not to use this vegetable as a basic vegetable once a week, but once every three to four weeks can do no harm.

Grow your own sorrel

You can grow sorrel in your own garden. It becomes a fairly large plant with particularly large leaves. More often, blood sorrel is grown in a vegetable garden, but sorrel is also not to be sneezed at as tasty. You could bring a plant from the wild. You can also take some seeds and put them in the ground. There is a cultivated form of sorrel, especially for the vegetable garden. Sorrel grows to half a meter high. When the plant has six leaves, you can start harvesting a leaf every now and then. The ideal distance between two sorrel plants is 20 centimeters. If you grow this plant in rows, keep 30 centimeters between the rows. Sorrel can grow in the same place for 3 to 5 years.

Eating tips for sorrel

You can prepare sorrel just like spinach. In Belgium, zurkelpatten is a favorite dish; that is a potato stew with only sorrel. In Germany, sorrel is often added to a spinach stew to make it taste a bit spicier. Sorrel soup is regularly eaten in Germany, Belgium, France, Lithuania and Poland. You can eat the leaves raw as alternative lettuce leaves for an original salad. The young leaves can be used as a herb. In the Netherlands it is part of pickled eel. In Germany it is added to a Frankfurter sauce. You can easily add young sorrel leaves to an omelet.

Sorrel as a weed problem

In agricultural areas, sorrel can be experienced as a problem because the plant continues to grow persistently. Even if only a small piece of root is left in the ground, this plant will simply grow again. The seeds that are spread over the land retain their germination capacity for a very long time. In grasslands where cattle have to graze, there can be a lot of sorrel because cattle avoid this plant. A possible solution for the farmer is to eat sorrel: simply pick off the leaves and use them in cooking. Or even more effective: offer the sorrel leaves for sale in the local greengrocer!

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