Sheep sorrel is one of the most widely available wild edibles in the United States. Very similar to the cultivated French sorrel, this wild edible can be found in just about any lawn, garden, or park across North America.
Often considered an invasive weed, many don’t realize the usefulness of this edible green seemingly taking over their lawns.
I’ve never been much for pretty, green lawns, personally. I’d much prefer to grow food instead of pretty green grass that constantly needs mowed and treated with petroleum based chemicals to keep it looking pretty. But, many don’t realize that several of the so-called weeds growing in their gardens are useful and edible.
I always find it fascinating that sheep sorrel ranks up there with most wild edible berries and fruits as a favorite. Children tend to love it and will pick it up and begin eating it without an adult ever telling them to try it or what it is. The leaves have a delicious, tart citrusy flavor that makes them hard to pass up.
Since sheep sorrel is so similar to cultivated French sorrel (which many choose to grow in their herb gardens and even purchase for market) it can be utilized in any culinary dish calling for sorrel.
Sheep Sorrel Identification
Most commonly considered a noxious weed, sheep sorrel is incredibly easy to identify, even for beginners.
It’s latin name is Rumex acetosella. Which means it is a member of the dock family. Most docks grow large and become bitter, but sheep sorrel stays quite small and has a good flavor.
It does look similar to some broad head dock leaves that many people see growing in their lawns, but it has some distinguishing factors. One being that it stays small and continues to taste good. Another the distinguishing arrowhead shaped leaves it possesses.
It grows in patches due to a creeping root system in clumps of rosettes comprised of arrowhead shaped leaves about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long.
Each rosette also forms a red, upright flower stem in the spring which can grow anywhere from 4 to 10 inches in height but almost never over a foot.
Though this plant is widely available from coast to coast throughout all of North America, it is not native to this continent. It is believed it was brought here by early settlers Europe where it is a native plant (along with Asia) as it was prized as a highly beneficial herb.
Sheep sorrel likes acidic soil and if you find a patch of wild blueberries, or have soil suited for such, you’re likely to find some. It likes sun, though it can be found in shady spots, but it is typically found in sparsely vegetated areas and loves areas like old fields, steep slopes, beaches and banks. But it can be found virtually everywhere.
Uses of Sheep Sorrel
Sheep sorrel can be utilized in any recipe calling for French sorrel.
While all parts are technically edible, the flowers tend to be a bit bitter and the stalks can be too stringy. However, most wild sorrel is not ever large enough to have ribs, so you don’t have to worry about removing those as it stays quite small and tender.
This plant is also used to make Essiac tea, which you can read more about here.
If you cook with sheep sorrel, be prepared to gather a lot. Like most greens, it shrinks a great deal when it is cooked so if you have what looks like a lot… it’s probably not much once it cooks down.
Of course, you don’t have to cook it. It is fine on its own as something to nibble on or tossed into fresh salads. It can even be used in place of some, or all of, the vinegar we often toss into fresh salads.
Its flavor is tart and citrusy and can be a bit surprising but pairs very well with seafood. It can be used in dishes like salmon in sorrel sauce (and note that the sauce can be made up and frozen for later use in multiple dishes).
Sorrel soup is also a delicious dish and incredibly simple to make.
It can be dried and saved for later like you would dry any other herb. The leaves can be boiled in water and made into a lemonade-tasting beverage. And can brighten up dull, often flavorless rice dishes.
The culinary uses, and even medicinal uses, of this herb are many, you’ll be surprised, but it should be used sparingly for anyone prone to kidney stones as it contains oxalic acid.
Harvesting Sheep Sorrel
It’s best to harvest in the spring while the leaves are still small, young and tender and the flowers haven’t bloomed. But, sheep sorrel can actually be harvested any time.
The root of sheep sorrel is almost impossible to harvest because it’s thin, but it can be harvested in the fall with a little care. The roots can be dug up in the fall, dried out, pounded into a powder and utilized to make noodles or just to add a bit of flavor to a dish (some of the tart flavor will remain).
You can also pull the tiny seeds from the flowers and eat them, but they are quite small, though incredibly easy to cultivate.
While it’s considered a noxious weed to many, if not most, sheep sorrel is an incredibly useful wild edible that should be more known for its culinary uses instead of being considered a weed.
It’s definitely one of our favorite weeds to forage for and use, especially my kids.
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