Time to grow some sorrel

Sorrel – A Fantastic and Easy-to-Grow Perennial Vegetable

If you’re wanting to get started with perennial vegetables, then sorrel is a great place to start. These great vegetables can be grown in cold and warm areas, making them a great addition to most temperate gardens. Plus, they’re easy to use and grow. Let’s dive into these fantastic vegetables.

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Sorrel is one of those perennial vegetables that is easy to grow, and it’s fairly easy to find in nurseries, which isn’t always the case with perennial vegetables.

Plus, it tastes good, and it’s easy to use in cooking.

This all makes it a great perennial vegetable to get started with. But there are some basic things you should know before you get started with sorrels.

Let’s dive into what you should know before you start growing sorrel, plus some tips on how to get the most out of your new plants.

But before we do, don’t forget to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet covering 11 perennial greens, including sorrel. Sorrel is just one of many awesome perennial greens that you can grow on your wild homestead. So grab the cheat-sheet so you can learn more about these other fantastic perennial greens.

An Overview of Sorrel

Red veined sorrel grows great in semi-shade

Bloody dock is a type of sorrel that seems to be less common than French sorrel, but it grows great in similar conditions. I’m letting this one go to seed so it will hopefully spread—it’s growing along the base of one of my hedgerows.

While there are many different types of sorrel, French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) is the most common type of sorrel that I see sold in nurseries, and seeds are also fairly easy to find.

But you may find another type of sorrel called bloody dock or red veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus ssp. sanguineus) being sold as an herb or ornamental.

Another type is the garden sorrel, which is sometimes called English sorrel (Rumex acetosa). This type seems to be more cold-hardy (zone 4) than French or red veined sorrels (zone 6).

And you may have a wild type of sorrel often called sheep sorrel or red sorrel growing as a weed on your wild homestead right now.

Sheep sorrel is edible and has a very similar flavor to other sorrels. It tends to have smaller leaves, making harvesting a bit more challenging. But it also spreads and grows easily on its own making, it an easy wild food to harvest.

All these sorrels are edible and have a similar flavor that can be described as lemony and tangy or tart.

Some sources state that a small amount of sorrel can go a long way due to the strength of its flavor. I haven’t found this to be the case, but keep this in mind when deciding how much to grow.

Sorrels do have oxalic acid, which can be harmful if eaten in large quantities. But spinach, chard and other common vegetables also have oxalic acid in them. I’m not a doctor and this shouldn’t be taken as health advice, but in general, as long as you eat a mix of different types of greens you shouldn’t have any issues including sorrel in your diets.

My family and I use sorrel on a regular basis without any issues.

Sorrels are also relatively hardy plants, and depending on the specific variety, they can be grown as perennials between USDA climate zones 3 and 8. Check the specific variety you’re going to grow to make sure it will work in your area. Some don’t like the heat, and others aren’t as cold hardy.

Plant Info - Sorrels

  • First Harvest: 1st year
  • USDA Climate Zone: 3-8
  • Sunlight Requirement: Full sun to partial shade
  • Plant Size at Maturity: 2 feet high and 1 foot wide
  • Purchase: Blood Veined Sorrel Seeds and French Sorrel Seeds
  • Note: Fully edible but best if mixed with other plants and not eaten in large quantities.

Growing Sorrel in Your Garden

Cut sorrel back to rejuvenate it

Sometimes you need to cut sorrel back down to let it regrow with nice tender leaves. Here you can see 1 of my sorrel right after being cut back and the regrowth approximately 1 month later.

Sorrel can be a great addition to your kitchen garden, but there are some things to take into account before you add it to the mix.

The first is that sorrel will go to seed fairly easily. But unlike lettuce, this doesn’t mark the end of its growing season.

When sorrel starts to flower, you will see stalks growing up above the rest of the leaves. These are easy to pinch off when they’re still young and soft. If you keep up with them, you shouldn’t have any issues.

But if you do let them go, I find the best approach is to cut the stalks and the leaves back to an inch or 2 above the ground. The sorrel should regrow quickly, providing you with an abundance of young green leaves.

You can also cut back your sorrel anytime the leaves start to get old and tough. It will quickly regrow. I would avoid doing this during the middle of summer to avoid stressing the plants.

French, English and red veined sorrels can all be grown in your garden, but I wouldn’t grow sheep sorrel there.

The first 3 types of sorrel form plants take up about the same amount of space as a large broccoli plant. As long as they don’t go to seed, they won’t spread.

But sheep sorrel will spread by horizontal growing roots, making it a better plant for your hedgerows, food forests, or other perennial growing areas. You would be in a constant battle with it if you planted it in your vegetable garden.

Sorrel can be a bit sensitive to hot weather and often wilts under full summer sun. Blood veined sorrel especially prefers a semi-sheltered area that stays moist.

During the first year, your sorrels may need extra water if they’re fully exposed to the sun. But after their first year they should be able to handle the heat (though they may still wilt).

Watch them and be ready to give them extra water if they don’t stop wilting once out of direct sunlight. You can also use my basic finger test to check to soil to see if you should water—though perennials like sorrels generally need less water than traditional vegetables.

Because of this, you may want to grow your sorrel where they don’t have to deal with late afternoon sun.

Like all perennial vegetables, let your new plants get established before harvesting them heavily. Make sure to only take a few leaves during the first year, but you should have a never-ending supply of leaves after the first year with only a few plants.

Wild Tip

Make sure to keep cutting back the flower stalks during the first year. These will have leaves on them, which you can use just like any other. This is a great way to harvest leaves from your sorrel plants during their first year.

Overall, I haven’t noticed pests being a big issue with sorrels. Slugs and some other critters will nibble on them, but I haven’t noticed this resulting in enough damage to be an issue.

Sorrels really are a great, low-maintenance perennial green that can easily fit into your garden.

Using Your Harvests

Sorrel is a great addition to a mixed salad

I love to mix sorrel leaves into my salads or use them on my sandwiches. I find them to be great raw, but you can also cook with them. This picture shows a mix of over a dozen different greens I harvested the other day which includes 2 types of sorrels--red veined sorrel and French sorrel.

Once you get a few sorrel plants established, you’ll have a never ending supply of greens. But how do you use them?

Sorrel greens can be eaten raw in any food that you would use other greens. Just keep in mind their lemony, tart flavor. Don’t use too many!

But when mixed with other greens, it can add a lovely citrusy hint to the mix. Or you may not even notice them.

Sorrel can also be used in cooking. If you have a recipe that calls for greens and also has you mix in some lemon juice try just using sorrel leaves instead. Sorrels can take the place of both the greens and the lemon juice.

Leaves don’t tend to be very tough, and young leaves are especially nice and tender. But I’ve eaten large leaves raw without noticing them being tough to chew.

Sorrels really are a great perennial vegetable to start with. They’re easy to find, grow, harvest and use.

If you haven’t tried them yet, now is the time to give them a go in your garden. But don’t plant too many at first—start with just a couple and you should have all the sorrel greens you need.

I would love to hear about your experience with sorrels. Leave a comment below letting me know if you grow sorrel, and if so, how you use your harvests.

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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, a lifelong gardener, and the founder of Wild Homesteading. He manages the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he applies restoration and sustainable gardening techniques on his family’s own wild homestead. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children. In addition, to running this site Daron manages the restoration program for a local non-profit and is a husband to an amazing wife who makes this site and the homestead possible and daddy to 2 perfect kids.

  • Claire says:

    I have wood sorrel and sheep sorrel growing in patches throughout my 1/3 acre yard/garden/food Forrest in the making. The kids love them both and we all eat them raw. They are also a favorite of the chickens when foraging. Also, I’ve used wood sorrel ground into a paste for wart removal.

  • amy says:

    (PNW US, 8B) In mid-spring this year, my neighbor gave me some of the roots when digging out a sorrel plant that had taken over half a garden bed. I stuck them in the ground in my orchard and forgot about them. A couple months later, almost all of them have sprouted, and I haven’t noticed any major problems from bugs or deer. Future years will tell more conclusively, but so far I’m very impressed with its resilience and ease of propagation.

    I never bother getting invested in recipes for a plant until I determine whether it likes my site, but it’s looking like I’ll be learning to cook with sorrel a lot.

    • Daron says:

      Sorrel does seem to be a tough plant. I mostly just harvest from mine and let them do what they’re going to do. Only cutting back the seed heads as needed to get more greens. Thanks for sharing and I hope you enjoy your sorrels!

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