Sorrel is a leafy perennial herb belonging to the Polygonacae family, more commonly known as the buckwheat family in the US. Wild sorrel plants are frequently found in moist grassland areas all over the world. Sorrel is also cultivated as leafy vegetable or culinary herb.
|Pliny the Elder describes sorrel as far back as 77 AD.|
One of the earliest recorded mentions of sorrel being used as a vegetable comes from Pliny the Elder of the early Roman empire. In Book XVIII of his encyclopedia titled Naturalis Historia, completed in 77 AD, Pliny notes that sorrel "...is the hardiest of all vegetables, for where it once seeds, there it grows forever; neither can it be killed, do what you will with the earth, particularly if it be near the water."
Indeed, sorrel will happily grow in most climate zones ranging from USDA zone 3 to zone 9. Here in my city of Asheville, with the temperate climate of zone 6/7, sorrel is one of the first edible greens to appear in the spring, and one of the last to remain growing in the fall. It also seems to prefer acidic soils. Sorrel will tolerate full sun to part shade, and will generally grow well without much human intervention. Although it prefers to be kept moist during the first year of growth, sorrel's roots quickly dive deep in the ground--four feet or more by some accounts--which allow it to access moisture and protect it from harsh winter conditions.
|Sorrel readily germinates in a winter sowing container, where it can later be transplanted to the garden.|
|In zone 7, sorrel is large enough to eat by the first week of March.|
Sorrel is also a very healthy food to consume. One cup of chopped sorrel has 4 grams of fibre, 3 grams of protein, 5000 IU (106% DV) of Vitamin A, 64 milligrams (106% DV) of Vitamin C, plus a decent amount (10% DV or higher) of iron, magnesium, potassium, and manganese. That same cup only has 30 calories, making sorrel a highly nutrient-dense vegetable. Sorrel also contains polyphenols thought to be beneficial to human health, including the well-known chemical resveratrol.
thing to keep in mind about consuming sorrel is its oxalic acid
content, which is what gives the plant its characteristicly sour
taste. For most people, consuming foods with oxalic acid poses no
health risks. However, there is some evidence that eating large
amounts of oxalic acid-containing food may increase the risk of
kidney stones, gout and rheumatoid arthritis in some people. For
that reason, it may be wise to enjoy sorrel in moderation--perhaps no
more than a few times per week. Boiling sorrel and discarding the
water before consuming also reduce its concentration of oxalic acid
by as much as a third.
|By May, the plant is bursting with huge, edible leaves.|
In closing, I think sorrel may deserve a spot in your garden, as it easy to grow, exceedingly hardy, remarkably palatable and highly nutritious. Perhaps more importantly, it is an edible perennial plant, meaning reduced work for you and an improvement in your soil's biology, since the soil won't have to be tilled and seeds planted each year. Much like Pliny the Elder, where you once set seeds of sorrel, you will likely have it forever.