By Iwona Yike - WRHS Active Member
Sorrel is a leafy plant popular in European cuisine. The word sorrel comes from the Old French – surele – meaning – sour.
Within the buckwheat (Polygonaceae) family, the genus Rumex includes over 200 species of edible and medicinal herbs, although some are considered weeds. They are native to Europe, parts of Asia and Africa but can now be found throughout the world including the US.
Among the most common species cultivated in the garden are Rumex acetosa (Large leaf sorrel) and Rumex sanguineus (Red veined sorrel), both available as young plants from specialty herb farms such as Mulberry Creek Farm in Huron, OH. Seeds can be purchased online but some come from abroad and may not be USDA certified.
Sorrel is a hardy perennial, easy to grow. The plants are resistant to frost, pests and diseases. They thrive in full sun in slightly acidic clay soil but do very well in other types of moist soil, except for light, sandy soils. Leaves can be harvested from spring through fall.
Nutritional benefits of this plant have been known for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians and Greeks used it to promote digestive health. Its broad, bright green, pointed leaves have a tangy, sour taste due to the presence of oxalic acid. They are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C, B2, B6, folic acid and beta-carotene as well as in minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese and silica. Sorrel is also a good source of fiber and tannins.
Even though it contains so many desirable nutrients, sorrel should be consumed in moderation because oxalic acid binds calcium forming insoluble compounds that are found in kidney stones. It may also decrease the absorption of calcium from other foods. People suffering from kidney diseases, different forms of arthritis and osteoporosis should avoid eating sorrel. It is worth noting that concerns about oxalic acid are not limited to the consumption of this vegetable. Eating spinach, rhubarb, beets, Swiss chard, beans or even drinking a lot of black tea may cause similar problems. Adding certain dairy products such as milk, sour cream, goat cheese or eggs is recommended when preparing oxalate-rich foods in order to neutralize the acid and limit its adverse effects.
Sorrel is often used in French and Egyptian dishes including soups, sandwiches and salads. Sauces made from the leaves can complement fish, meat and egg dishes. Cooking with sorrel is extremely popular in Central and Eastern Europe. The traditional Polish-style sorrel soup with its fresh, tangy taste and a beautiful green color can be called a quintessence of spring. It is also known as green borscht and almost every family has their own version of the recipe.
Traditional Polish sorrel soup with eggs
- 6 cups of vegetable stock (chicken stock is optional, home made are the best)
- 3-4 cups tightly packed young sorrel leaves, washed, dried and coarsely chopped*
- 1/3 cups chopped onion
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 tbsp. all purpose flour
- 3 hard-boiled eggs
- salt and pepper
* the exact amount may vary depending on the sourness of the leaves and personal preferences; reserve some of the fresh leaves for garnish
- slowly melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat
- add onions and cook for for about 5 min or until softened
- add sorrel and a pinch of salt (preserves color)
- stir for about 5 minutes over low heat, then increase the heat to medium and stir for another 3-5 minutes
- bring the vegetable stock to boil and add to spinach, mix well, simmer for 10 minutes
- combine sour cream with flour in a small bowl and slowly add about 1 cup of hot soup to that bowl, stirring constantly to prevent sour cream from curdling
- transfer sour cream mix to the saucepan with soup, stir well
- allow to cool a little and transfer to a blender, blend for 15 sec or until the soup appears smooth
- season with salt and pepper to taste
- serve warm, pouring the soup into bowls over halved or quartered boiled eggs
- garnish with some fresh sorrel leaves
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