Is it a herb or is it a vegetable? who cares!

Tart, tangy, lemony and sour are all words used to describe this versatile green.

Sorrel (Rumex acetose) is an herbaceous perennial, related to rhubarb but is even tougher and less demanding. So is one of the easiest greens that you can grow and is a very a useful addition to your backyard production all year. It is one of those plants that you can plant, do very little to and still see reasonable production. And with a little feeding and watering you will be able to produce enough to feed you family and most of the neighbours.

Why grow it:
• Sorrel is very easy to grow.
• Sorrel is difficult to get in the shops.
• The commercially produced product is never quite as tangy and flavoursome as the home grown stuff.
• Sorrel is healthy for you containing high levels of vitamin C and other nutrients- check out this site for more details

Like spinach and silver beet it is high in oxalic acid but you would have to eat several kilos a day for it to be a problem. Also do not cook it is aluminium or iron cookware as the is potentially dangerous chemical reactions.

When I first starting growing sorrel I was advised to keep it is a pot as it is said to take over, but in the pot it would not flourish and just kept running to seed – usually a sign of stress. So into the garden bed it went and I have not had a problem with it taking over at all. This could be down to the cold winters in the highlands keeping in under control.

There are three different Sorrels available in seed catalogues and nurseries. The normal green large broad leaf variety that is very tart, the milder French sorrel with its smaller shield shaped leaves and the Red sorrel with its attractive dark green leaves and prominent red veins.

Establishing you plants:
By seed: Directly plant seeds, in spring, into a well prepared garden bed at 30 cm interval. Keep moist till germination then commence weekly applications of ½ strength Powerfeed. You should be picking “baby” leaves within 8 weeks from germination. These plant should be big enough and strong enough to divide the following autumn.

By Division: If you know someone who has a well-established plant ask if you can dig out a section of plant and root to replant at home. This is easily done by separating the leaves to find a separate small plant (off set), usually growing on the outer edge of the main plant. Separate by inserting an old bread knife in between the main plant and the offset and cut through to the soil slicing through any material that is joining the two plants together, dig around the whole of the off set to ensure you get a decent amount of root – wrap in wet newspaper and replant as soon as possible. Remove some of the outer leaves when replanting and apply ½ strength Seasol for two to three weeks to ensure it establishes well before fertilising to get growth.

By buying young potted plants: Generally available in the herb section at nurseries and hardware shops. Prepare you garden bed before you purchase and plant out as soon as you get it home. Apply several applications of Seasol to get the plant established.

How many plants do I need?
I have both the large leafed green and the red sorrel in the garden and try to keep several plants of each in production so that I have leaf all year. I struggle to use it all when it is growing strongly in late spring and summer but this number of plants gives me enough leaf through autumn, winter and early spring when it is a welcome addition to my kitchen when production of greens can be slow.

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As I have said it is a tough little plant that will survive with just about no maintenance, but with regular watering and a liquid feed of high nitrogen fertiliser such as power feed you will produce lots of lovely tender leaves all year.
In very cold areas Sorrel will slow down and die off a bit during winter.
Even though it is a perennial I find it grows better if it is divided every few years or you can re seed to produce young plants. Old congested plants are not as productive.
Make sure you protect from snails as they love the young tender new leaves.

The new young leaves of spring and summer growth are the best for salad. I only ever add them to other leaves rather than make a whole salad from Sorrel- it is a bit flavoured to eat a lot of it by itself- but when added to milder leaves like oak leaf lettuce, it add a wonderful tang that is difficult to achieve with anything else.

The young leaves do not cook well as they tend to disintegrate, so if I want to cook the leaves I pick the older leaves.When cooking always pick miles more than you think you will need as it shrinks incredibly when cooked.

How to prepare.
Always wash well in case there are any tiny snails or slugs in the leaves. I also dry in a salad spinner to get rid of as much water as possible.
Don’t over cook.

So how do I use it.
• In mixed leaf salad, with just a dressing of with olive oil and salt and pepper.
• Shredded as part of a Coleslaw and dress with a vinaigrette rather than a mayonnaise.
• Shredded and mixed raw through butter peas.Let it sit for a few minutes to allow the leaves to wilt.
• Shredded and tossed through new potatoes with a little butter. Again let it sit.
• In quiche, omelettes, stir fry’s and soups. Lots of recipes around for all of these uses.
• As a wilted green with fish, in particular Salomon, or with poached eggs
• To stuff a whole fish
• And one of my favourites is to make a pesto from the leaves and toss it through a pasta like spaghetti.

Below are a couple of my favourite Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, of the River Cottage fame, recipes. He is a real fan of Sorrel both cultivated and foraged.
Hope I have inspired you to find and grow some Sorrel and then use it in interesting ways!

Happy Gardening,


Sorrel: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls recipes. Photograph: Colin Campbell

Creamed sorrel with poached egg on toast (V)

A simple sorrel sauce is hard to beat, and a great first recipe if you’ve not cooked with the leaf before. I love it as the base for a poached egg, but the same sauce, perhaps softened with a touch more cream, is delicious with fried or grilled fish, particularly oily ones; it’s also good with fishcakes. Or try it as a dressing for a cold chicken and potato salad. Serves two.
1 egg yolk, plus 2 eggs for poaching
100g sorrel, tough stalks removed
30g butter, plus more for the toast
2 tbsp double cream or creme fraiche
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of sugar
2 thick slices of bread
Bring a pan of water to a boil for the eggs. Meanwhile, roll up the sorrel leaves into “cigars” and shred finely.
Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat. Add the sorrel and cook gently, turning it over from time to time, for a few minutes, until wilted. Add the cream or creme fraiche, and stir in to the sorrel until the whole thing is steaming hot but not boiling. Remove from the heat.
Let the sauce cool for a minute or so, then beat in the egg yolk. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, and leave in the pan to keep warm.
As quick as you can, poach the eggs and toast the bread. Butter the toast, top with the warm sauce and finish with the eggs. Serve at once.

Sorrel pesto
This sauce works great with gnocchi or pasta, or with simply grilled or roasted fish or chicken.
2 tbsp pine nuts
1 small clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1-2 handfuls young sorrel leaves (about 45g in weight)
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, stalks removed
Sea salt
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
30g hard goat’s cheese, grated
In a small frying pan over a medium heat, lightly toast the pine nuts until they’re just beginning to turn golden, then tip out into a food processor. Add the garlic, sorrel, parsley and a pinch of salt to the pine nuts, then pulse a few times until roughly chopped and combined. Slowly pour in the olive oil, pulsing as you go, until the pesto is the consistency you like.
Spoon the pesto mixture into a bowl and stir in the goat’s cheese. The pesto will keep, sealed in a jar with a slick of olive oil over the top, for about a week.