A Sense of Danger: Growing Sorrel

I have to admit to being slightly scared of sorrel.  As a plant it looks unassuming but then I think about all that oxalic acid and I start to feel a little concerned.

The truth is that Sorrel is slightly poisonous, in fact all plants containing oxalic acid are but it’s the quantity that makes the difference.  Spinach has very little, rhubarb leaves a lot more and sorrel sits somewhere in the middle.  It has enough to make me slightly concerned but not concerned enough to stop growing it.  Having said that I do feel slightly arthritic in my joints after eating a fair bit of it.   Now this may well be psycho-somatic as although oxalic acid has been linked to gout it hasn’t been linked to arthritis (well not that I’m aware of anyway).  From my very limited research on the subject there does seem to have been a man in Spain who died after eating sorrel soup.  Whether there was a direct link to the soup, as opposed to say being hit by a bus just after lunch, is less clear as my Spanish is limited to; the ability to decipher menus and what I have picked up from watching Dora the Explorer.  I have to say I haven’t found the ability to say ‘la segunda historia’ and thus access the second story to help save the crystal kingdom hugely useful thus far.   All that aside the fact that sorrel does contain oxalic acid does make me a bit wary about feeding it to the kids (not that they are particularly partial to large volumes of green stuff anyway….).

If you have no children or didn’t develop paranoia the moment you became a parent then perhaps this is the herb for you.  It is delicious and loaded with vitamin C after all.

How I grow Sorrel:

Sorrel (Runex acetosa) is a perennial herb so it really is a matter of sowing some seed in seed trays in early Spring (in Melbourne if not pretty much anywhere), waiting for it to germinate then planting it out when the plants become big enough.  You could sow direct but the seeds are pretty small and I do find that when you only want a couple of plants it is easier to sow in a seed tray and then transplant the biggest and best later.  The plant enjoys quite heavy feeding and you need to remove any flower heads that emerge to ensure leaf development (I also suspect it could self seed rather voraciously).

Sorrel tastes sour and slightly lemony – a bit like a leafy sumac if you are familiar with that flavour.  I generally enjoy it raw and sliced really thinly in salads, and picking a leaf whenever I go past the plant.  I do believe that blanching it in water may reduce its oxalic acid content (ie the acid is thrown out with the water) but I’m not sure.

I would be interested in other’s attitude to sorrel and its potentially poisonous qualities – a delicious source of vitamin C, or the path to kidney stones – you decide…..

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29 Responses to A Sense of Danger: Growing Sorrel

  1. L says:

    Can’t say I ever recall trying sorrel. And now that you’ve painted such an appealing picture, I think I can live with that 🙂

    Actually, I just did some brief reading (damn wikipedia SOPA blockout), and now I’m getting paranoid. I see that parsley (among many others) is loaded with the stuff. My family has a history of a few of the related health effects, so maybe I should take up a diet of mi goreng noodles to avoid such nasties ;P

    Love the Dora reference – that kid is damn annoying – why do preschoolers love it so much? But your post actually reminds me more of a line from Monsters Inc “I always wanted a pet – that could kill me!” Just substitute pet for tasty new vegetable to grow. Kinda loses the punchiness though…

    Forgive me, it’s late.

    • Liz says:

      I’d post you a leaf but I think it may be rather limp by the time it arrived. But I love Parsley…….hmmm I think I’ll ignore that part of your comment, as not eating it would be too upsetting. I do love Mosnters Inc but I am also coming round to Dora (now that Miss 5 has pretty much moved on) at least she does stuff – exploring, speaking languages etc, not like those Disney Princess who are seem to spend an inordinate amount of time either asleep, mostly dead, or doing a lot of housework – too dreary for words!

  2. Brave lady – I’m more of a wimp – don’t even dare do anything with our horseradish!

    • Liz says:

      I grow and use horseradish – oh no is there something I need to be scared of????

      • It just seems to always have a warning about how when it is cut or grated it can irritate sinuses and eyes and if it is left exposed to air or heat it becomes bitter.

        I’ll be interested to hear your experiences as we have masses of it.

        • Liz says:

          I did a post on it when I harvested it which might be worth a look. I think theres a horseradish tag on the side menu. Last year I used it both grated and I processed some as well. The grated bits were absolutely fine and I suffered no ill effects. With the stuff i did in the food processor I simply let the fumes escape after opening it and then tasted it and it was good. I have to say the processed stuff didn’t keep that long but then that could have been the mustard I put in it as much as the horseradish. I kept mine in the fridge so it wasn’t exposed to heat, when peeled it does turn brown if exposed to air but in a sealed jar it was fine.

  3. I had no idea that sorrel was like that! I have never tasted it, but I was just looking at it in a seed catalog and wondering. Oh, well… I guess I will keep wondering… No sense in taking the chance when I don’t know what I am missing. lol!!!

    Lynn

  4. leduesorelle says:

    Thanks so much for the write-up on sorrel. Even though it’s slightly toxic, it’s one of the things I crave in early spring, when it’s one of the few things up. I wonder if it’s less toxic at that time. I suppose everything in moderation… I wonder if it has any companion foods that help counteract the oxalic acid?

    • Liz says:

      I grew it for the first time this year but when I tasted it for the first time the flavour was really familiar so I think it be even have been something my grandfather grew. I have to say, my melodramatic post aside, that I do really enjoy the sensation of eating it. That’s an interesting idea about companion foods – I might have a trawl through some recipes and see if there is anything that is traditionally cooked with it. I know that it is eaten in Eastern Europe a fair bit and it may be that there recipes contain potential combinations.

  5. Have to say I love sorrel and have been eating it for many, many years without any side effects. I never eat it raw finding it too tart myself but use just a few of the young leaves to make a sauce with vermouth to serve with griddled salmon. The sharpness of the sauce cuts through the oiliness of the fish and they really compliment each other. I think using the young leaves and only using a small amount in cooking-treating it more like a herb than a green vegetable-helps regarding safety.

    • Liz says:

      Oh yum – that I have to eat. A big thankyou for singing sorrels praises as I think I may have done it something of a disservice….

  6. Veggiegobbler says:

    I had no idea. But I definitely won’t be trying it ‘cos I am just the type to worry and imagine all sorts of things. By the way I potted up a chilli yesterday following your post. I found it in all places doing my monthly shop at aldi and couldn’t resist!

    • Liz says:

      That’s great about the chilli. Strangely the tomato that is doing best in my garden at the moment (not hard admitedly as they are mostly dying…sigh…) was also an Aldi purchase. Regarding the sorrel I’m starting to feel guilty about putting people off it – it does have a good side – tastes nice and loads of vitamin C. Having said that i know what you mean – I start getting paramnoid every time I see the kids nibble a leaf.

  7. kallie says:

    So glad you posted this!!!!! I have been scared to eat sorrel as well! I heard that you definately should only consume small portions. I started giving my seeds away because I was so scared to grow them, but you are right, spinach contains way more o-acid. xx

  8. Nadya says:

    I wonder if the sorrel you are talking about is the same sorrel I enjoyed gathering in the forest when I was a kid growing up in Russia? My grandmother made the most amazing sorrel pie for my birthday, I always enjoyed it. 🙂 I ate heaps of sorrel as a kid and I’m still here! I don’t think there is anything to worry about?

    I’m so excited, today I found a little sorrel plant among the fresh growing herb section at Coles, I planted it in a pot and look forward to growing it. The leaves of this plant do taste like I remember. I didn’t think I would find it in Australia.

    • Liz says:

      I think it probably is the same. i do like the idea of sorrel pie – was it a bit like spanakopita or something different? Glad to hear you survived thus far. I too have been eating it regularly without ill effects so I suspect I was just being a little melodramatic. Glad you found a plant – it is super easy to grow.

  9. Maianthemum says:

    I’ve never much bothered with French Sorrel, but I’ve eaten Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana) throughout my life with no ill effects. That’s the species native to the redwood forest of Northern California. It’s just so prolific here; it covers the forest floor in many places. The flavor is great, and it’s so high in vitamin C! I don’t mind the sour flavor & since, unlike French sorrel, Redwood sorrel has beautiful purple-backed heart-shaped leaves, so I love it in salads, and I have to agree with ‘green dragonette’ that salmon with sorrel sauce is amazing! It’s one of my go-to recipes for impressing company. 🙂 Neither I nor anyone else I know has had adverse effects from oxalic acid. As a matter of fact, among the Karuk, Hupa, and Wiyott people native to the redwood forest it is used not only as a healthful additon to diet but is also prepared as a medicinal herb to treat, among other things, arthritis. I think you’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re letting yourself be scared away from such a charming, delicious & healthy food based on Internet sources of questionable validity. I’m not denying that oxalic acid can be problematic in very large quantities, but I’d talk to a good botanist, ethnobotanist, or nutritionalist before I’d believe that any species of Oxalis spp. had such dangerous levels, given that people around the world have been eating sorrel for hundreds and thousands of years. Give it a try!

    • Liz says:

      You are absolutely right of course. I think my paranoia says more about me than any actual dangers of consuming these leaves. I am growing the French sorrel and really enjoying it in salads. I did attempt a sauce with it but it was too bitter for my tastes. Perhaps I should have used younger leaves. I will continue experimenting with it. Thanks for your thoughts – very helpful in terms of setting my mind at reast and I have to say I found the arthritis thing very interesting – how completely opposing theories about the same plant can develop is always interesting.

  10. Daniel says:

    Growing up in a Ukrainian family, I ate a lot of sorrel (and still do) – my grandmother makes the most amazing soup (green borsch) that is one of the highlights in my memories of her. I think as long as the sorrel is cooked, the oxalic acid is not so much of a problem. We use the sorrel in soup and my grandmother eats it with fish. I don’t put it in salad though because I find the taste of raw sorrel a bit much. Also with the green borsch, sour cream is added – I found out recently that oxalic acid reacts with calcium and casein and the sourness is toned down a bit (and presumably the oxalic acid content due to the aforementioned reaction and being cooked).

    But long story short, sorrel is one of my absolute favourites in soup or as a replacement/addition to spinach in cooked dishes 🙂

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Daniel – that soup sounds wonderful. I had to pull out my plants as I’ve put in a chook shed where they were sited. I’m growing on some seedlings at the moment so I should be in a position to experiment with some more dishes soon. I’m really looking forward to trying to trying a green borsch – i’d love a recipe if you have one?

  11. Tamir says:

    From all that I read about Sorrel I conclude the following:
    1. Consuming pills and tinctures of Sorrel could be dangerous if exceeding prescribed portions
    2. Such pills/tinctures should be from reputable source so you can trust the stated quantity of Oxalic Acid
    3. Eating the leaves – raw or cooked – when not in excess should not be a problem.
    What is excess? that’s tough to define… I read somewhere that 3.5 oz (100 gram) is considered a portion.
    4. Do not cook it in Cast Iron or Aluminum pots. Use glass, Stainless Still, or Teflon or other coated pots and pans.
    5. If cooked, pre-cook the leaves separately and throw that first water.
    6. If your kids or pets eat whatever they find growing than perhaps you should grow it in an isolated place (roof-top, fenced-off area?)
    … waiting for my Sorrel to grow (in Israel)

    • Liz says:

      Great info – thankyou! I recently planted a new batch after the first one had to be moved – its ready to eat now and after your thoughts I am comfortable with eating a fair amount of it – thanks again.

  12. siggis says:

    Ive been eating sorrel on and off when I come across it for years and am now growing it in my herb garden after finding some seedlings at Bunnings. I use it mainly in salads but am looking forward to trying a few recipes. I have done a bit of research on it and my biggest concern is that it is on the NSW weed list, known to spread easily and quickly in temperate climates. For those of us who grow it, we need to be responsible and remove seeds before they have a chance to spread.

  13. Bill says:

    My girlfreind from Poland and her family have been eating all their life the kids eat it right off the plant ,its very good it’s popular as stated from above other country’s people have been eating there whole life soups are very good or fresh ,we put poison in our body’s all the time such as OTC medician I would be more worried about that than sorrel wich has lots of good to it

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