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Common Sorrel- Rumex acetosa

Common Sorrel - Rumex acetosa

Main features

  • Grows in rosettes in grassland

  • One leaf per leaf stem

  • Leaves have sharply pointed tails

  • Tall flower stalks to 1m in summer

  • Red-pink seed pods follow flowers

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Common Sorrel - Rumex acetosa

Edible plant in moderation - novice

Other common names: Sorrel, Narrow-leaved Dock, Spinach Dock, Garden Sorrel, Sour Ducks, Vinegar Plant


Scientific name meaning: Rumex is derived from the New Latin word Rumicis, which comes for an ancient word for the dock and sorrel family. Acetosa means "sour tasting"

Season All year

Habitat - where will I find it? Most types of grassland - agricultural, gardens, woodland rides, grass verges, parkland. 

It is native to British Isles and can be found throughout Europe

Description - what does it look like? Leaves grow in rosette formation, with one leaf per leaf stem (petiole) emerging from the basal rosette. The leaves have sharply pointed "tails" at their base.

Possible lookalikes Field Bindweed (Convolvulvus arvensis) grows in the same habitat and with a similar leaf-shape to Common Sorrel. However, Field Bindweed has a trailing, rambling growth habit and has numerous leaves along a single plant stem.

A large Common Sorrel leaf could be confused with a small Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) leaf. Lords and Ladies, or Cuckoo Pint, is a serious irritant. It contains calcium oxalate, as well as other oxalates, which have sharp needle-like crystals. These penetrate the mucus membranes causing severe pain and irritation.

The leaf shape is very similar to the of Common Sorrel. However, Lords and Ladies' tails are rounded, while Common Sorrel's are pointed.

Use as a food Common Sorrel has a very sharp citrus taste, due to its oxalic acid content (see Hazards). Its leaves and flowers are used raw in salads, or can be used to replace lemon or lime in dishes requiring and acidic zing.

The root can be made into noodles, by first drying and grinding into a powder. This powder can also be combined with bread making flours.

The juice of Common Sorrel can also curdle milk.

Use in herbal medicine Common Sorrel has been used to treat scurvy, poor eyesight, bloat, ringworm, kidney stones, spasms, skin irritation, water retention, constipation and jaundice.

If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Other uses There is an interesting mix of additional uses of Common Sorrel.  It is included in the ingredients for a wood and silver polish, and can be used to remove stains on natural cloths. Dyes can be made from various parts of the plant. The roots produces greens, grey and browns, while the leaves and stems produce a blue-grey.

Hazards High levels of oxalic acid is what gives Common Sorrel its distinctive acid taste. However, this acid should not be eaten in large amounts. For healthy people, it is fine in small quantities.

Oxalic acid binds to other nutrients, particularly Calcium, making them unavailable for the body to use and causing a deficiency.

Oxalic acid in quantity will also aggravate rheumatism, kidney stones, gout and arthritis. Those suffering from hyperacidity or taking blood thinners, should also avoid Common Sorrel in quantity.

Importance to other species The leaves of Common Sorrel are eaten by various butterfly and moths species' larva, including the blood-veined moth

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!

Common Sorrel leaf detail - Rumex acetosa
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