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Red sorrel is a leafy herb that grows low to the ground with slender stems. It has bright lime-green leaves with dark maroon stems and veins that run the entirety of the leaf. Red sorrel leaves are shaped like an arrow with slightly curled edges. The herb’s color and leaf shape can vary depending on the environment and may be devoid of the maroon veins and occasionally the leaves may have lateral lobed leaves just below the primary leaf. Red sorrel has a distinct lemony flavor and acidic bite. The taste is often described as “sour.”
Red sorrel is available year-round.
Red sorrel is botanically classified as Rumex acetosella and is known by many other common names including sheep’s sorrel, field sorrel, and sour weed. Our modern word Sorrel comes from the French word sur, meaning ‘sour’. It is considered an ‘herb-vegetable’ as it stands up to cooking similarly to other vegetables. Throughout history Red sorrel has been used both for medicinal and culinary purposes.
Red sorrel is a detoxifying herb and acts as a diuretic. Juicing Red sorrel leaves and ingesting the juice can benefit the kidneys and urinary tract. Tea made from steeping the leaves can be helpful for inflammation, fevers and scurvy. Red sorrel contains high amounts of vitamin C and several B vitamins, in addition to calcium, potassium, magnesium, and a small amount of phosphorus. The bright green leaves also contain phytochemicals, flavonoids such as quercetin, that are powerful antioxidants.
When harvested young, Red sorrel leaves are best used in fresh preparations. More mature leaves can be cooked like spinach or used in stir-fries. Use sparingly, the oxalic acid in the leaves can cause stomach irritation if eaten in very large quantities. The bright, tangy flavor of Red sorrel pairs well with fish, veal, eggs and potatoes, in soup or gratin. Red sorrel can serve as a thickener for soups and stews. It can also be used in place of rennet in making cheese. Mix Red sorrel leaves with mixed greens for a citrusy addition to salads. Steep whole leaves in boiling water and add sugar or another natural sweetener for a lemon-less lemonade. Red sorrel will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week when kept unwashed and in plastic. Wash before use.
Red sorrel is an ingredient in a tea called essiac, which is used as an alternative cancer treatment in North America. The Native Americans used Red sorrel as an antidote for poison.
Red sorrel is native to Europe and was likely brought to the United States with colonists, where it now grows throughout the country. The leafy vegetable can be found growing throughout southeastern and central Europe and even Britain. It can tolerate the cooler temperatures as far north as Scandinavia and Iceland. Red sorrel is a member of the buckwheat family, like rhubarb, and is related to both the French and garden sorrel varieties. The plant propagates by both root and by seed.
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