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How to Grow Sorrel for the Surprisingly Great Taste
With special information on growing red-veined sorrel microgreens

  • Bob Styer
  • Herbs
Common Sorrel

This herb has a small but loyal following in the US, although it’s popular in Europe.  Once you taste it, you’ll realize what you’ve been missing.  There are several delicious types of sorrel to choose from.  And finding out how to grow sorrel from seed only takes a few minutes.  It’s easy to grow and hardy enough to survive most winters, especially when you grow sorrel in pots.  We even give you all the information on drying sorrel so you can store it longer.

What is Sorrel?

This perennial herb is native to parts of Europe and Asia.  It has a zingy lemony flavor that goes well with salads.  It also pairs well with potatoes, carrots, chicken, eggs, fish, salads, and sour cream. And don’t forget delicious sorrel soup!

How about a change from spinach?  Sorrel leaves cook like spinach and look like spinach but have a different taste.  Sorrel is also called dock (not burdock, that’s a different plant).

Since it’s hard to find on the open market, growing sorrel in your vegetable garden may be your only chance to enjoy this tasty herb.

Would you like to learn about other herbs? Check out our post “The Complete Guides to Growing Culinary Herbs” for links to those articles.

Freshly picked leaves of common sorrel
Freshly picked leaves of common sorrel
Red-veined sorrel
Red-veined sorrel

Types of Sorrel

  • Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa).  Also known as garden sorrel. This is the type that’s usually cultivated, and it has a sharp flavor.  It’s a long-lasting perennial with deep roots and large arrow-shaped leaves.  If it’s grown in pots, they must be deep to allow room for the roots.
  • Red-veined Sorrel (Rumex sanguineus).  This very mild sorrel has red-veined leaves, as the name suggests.  It works well in salads. See the section on “How to Grow Red-veined Sorrel Microgreens” in this article.
  • French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus).  This type has rounded leaves and is milder than garden sorrel.
  • Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella).  This type only grows wild and isn’t cultivated.  You can find it by foraging in most of the United States, and has a flavor like common sorrel with smaller leaves.  Large doses of the raw herb can cause digestive disturbances, diarrhea, and poisoning.  These problems are due to the high oxalic acid and tannin concentrations in sheep sorrel.  Boiling the leaves will reduce the levels of these toxins.  After boiling, discard the water.
  • Jamaican Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa).  Also known as roselle. In this case, “sorrel” is a Caribbean name for a hibiscus flower and has nothing to do with common sorrel.  It’s used to make a trendy Caribbean drink.
  • Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana).  This plant is also wild and is best eaten in small quantities.  Large quantities can cause health issues due to high concentrations of oxalic acid.  It can cause diarrhea, increased urination, nausea, and digestive system irritation.  Add skin reactions and eye or kidney damage to that list.  We’re not done.  It can also cause swelling of the mouth, tongue, and throat.  Wood sorrel leaves look like clover but are heart-shaped instead of rounded.  This plant is poisonous to cats, dogs, and horses, so you’re better off leaving it alone for dietary purposes.
The leaves of wood sorrel
The leaves of wood sorrel

Preparing the Soil

Sorrel prefers full sun but will need partial shade in hotter climates.  It does best in cool growing seasons, like spring and early fall. Sorrel will bolt if the weather becomes hot and dry.  To keep it in production, grow it in moist, fertile, well-drained soil.  The soil should be a little acidic, with a pH of 5.5 – 6.8.

Mix about two inches of well-rotted manure or compost into the soil before planting.  Keep the soil moist but not soggy.  Add mulch to help preserve the moisture.

Sorrel can grow as a perennial in Zones 5 and higher, but it’s most often grown as an annual in Zones 3 – 7.  Once established, the plants can handle light frost.

Growing Sorrel From Seeds

Sow sorrel seeds ½ inch deep in containers or gardens from March to May.  The seeds are tiny, so spread them as well as possible and then thin the seedlings.  Keep the soil moist but not soaked.

Once the seedlings germinate, they’ll need thinning.   A good rule of thumb is four inches for annual growth or 12 inches for perennial.  Perennial growth causes the clumps to grow larger every year.

Sorrel can grow 12 – 18 inches tall, but the flower stalks will grow taller.

A Selection of Seeds to Help You Get Started

Seed Needs, Large Leaf Sorrel Seeds - 500 Heirloom Seeds for Planting Rumex acetosa - Non-GMO & Untreated Medicinal or Culinary Herb, Great for Salads (2 Packs)
Seed Needs, Large Leaf Sorrel Seeds - 500 Heirloom Seeds for Planting Rumex acetosa - Non-GMO & Untreated Medicinal or Culinary Herb, Great for Salads (2 Packs)
$6.99
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
400+ French Sorrel Seeds- Heirloom Lettuce Herb- by Ohio Heirloom Seeds
400+ French Sorrel Seeds- Heirloom Lettuce Herb- by Ohio Heirloom Seeds
$4.39
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
Sorrel Seeds- Blood-Veined- Heirloom Greens- 200+ Seeds
Sorrel Seeds- Blood-Veined- Heirloom Greens- 200+ Seeds
$4.49
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
Gaea's Blessing Seeds - Roselle Seeds - Non-GMO Jamaican Sorrel Seeds with Easy to Follow Planting Instructions
Gaea's Blessing Seeds - Roselle Seeds - Non-GMO Jamaican Sorrel Seeds with Easy to Follow Planting Instructions
$5.99
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
Sheep Sorrel Seeds (Rumex acetosella) Packet of 100 Seeds
Sheep Sorrel Seeds (Rumex acetosella) Packet of 100 Seeds
$8.97
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
Gardeners Basics, 15 Herb Seeds For Planting Varieties Heirloom Non-GMO 5200+ Seeds Indoors, Hydroponics, Outdoors - Basil, Catnip, Chive, Cilantro, Oregano, Parsley, Peppermint, Rosemary and More
Gardeners Basics, 15 Herb Seeds For Planting Varieties Heirloom Non-GMO 5200+ Seeds Indoors, Hydroponics, Outdoors - Basil, Catnip, Chive, Cilantro, Oregano, Parsley, Peppermint, Rosemary and More
$17.95
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18

Growing Sorrel in Pots

Due to its long tap root, sorrel will need a deep pot for container gardening.  Select pots with drainage holes that are 8 – 12 inches wide and deep.

Fill the pots with potting mix.  You can also use potting soil, which needs amendment for better drainage.  Mix three parts of potting soil with one part each of compost and perliteVermiculite is a good substitute for perlite.

Since sorrel seeds are so small, spread them in the pot as well as you can.  Cover them with 1/2 inch of soil and keep the soil moist.  When the seedlings sprout, thin them so they’re three inches apart.

Caring for Sorrel Plants

If you’re growing sorrel as an annual, extend leaf production by cutting off any flower spikes.  The flower spikes will start growing around June.  Growing sorrel as an annual also prevents root clumps from forming.

When grown as a perennial, there isn’t any reason to always cut off the flower spikes.  The plants will self-seed if allowed to flower and form seed heads.

After a few years, the plants will spread out and form clumps two feet wide.  Divide the root clump every four or five years.  If not, the plants will be of lower quality and less productive.  Root clumps should be 24 inches apart.

Pruning Sorrel

Remove any unhealthy leaves.  As you harvest leaves, the plant will produce bushier growth.

Cut off the flower stalks unless you want to save the seeds or let the plants reseed.

How to Grow Red-veined Sorrel Microgreens

An assortment of microgreens.

These are a real treat with their subtle yet tangy flavor, and they have an appealing color.

These microgreens take a little longer to grow than others.  The seeds germinate in 3 – 7 days and are ready to harvest in 17 – 30 days.

Required Tools:

  • A spray bottle for misting the seeds.
  • A pair of shears for cutting the microgreens.

What materials do I need for growing microgreens?

You might have some of these already. See our recommendations after this section.

  • Red-veined sorrel seeds.
  • Organic seed starting mix.
  • Seed starting tray with drain holes.
  • Seed starting tray without drain holes.
  • Grow light or fluorescent light.

Here are the steps for growing red-veined sorrel microgreens:

  1. Get a supply of red-veined sorrel seeds (see the seeds displayed above).  Microgreens don’t come from a special seed; they’re a growth stage for the plant.
  2. Take a tray with drainage holes and fill it with seed starting mix.  Smooth out the surface of the mix.
  3. Spread a thin layer of seeds on the surface of the starting mix from edge to edge.  Separate the seeds so they don’t overlap or touch.
  4. Don’t cover the seeds with soil.  Instead, lightly press on the seeds to set them in place.  Then mist the seeds with the spray bottle.
  5. Place a tray without drainage holes on the seeds.  The bottom of the tray should contact the seeds.  This step will help with germination.
  6. Put a small weight (no more than five pounds) on the top tray.
  7. When they’re mature enough, the seedlings will start to push up the top tray. After the seedlings push up the top tray, remove it and the weight.  The seedlings will look scrunched and pale, but the grow light or fluorescent light will change that…
  8. Set the grow light 1 – 2 feet above the seedlings and leave it on for 6 – 8 hours daily.  The seedlings will soon straighten and turn green.
  9. The soil can turn dry but don’t water the seedlings from above.  That could bring diseases and pests.
  10. To water the seedlings, take the tray without drainage holes and put an inch of water in it.
  11. Put the seedling tray into the tray with water.  Let it sit there for 10 – 15 minutes, then remove the seedling tray. Use this method to water the seedlings whenever they start to dry.

The microgreens will be ready to harvest in a week or two.  At that time, you might see some true leaves starting to grow.  The leaves will become more sour if allowed to grow any longer.

Cut the stems of the microgreens with shears but avoid touching the leaves as much as possible.  Please don’t wash the microgreens until right before you use them.  Serve them raw or in salads.  They also make a great garnish for potatoes, chicken, or fish. Plant more seeds and regrow more microgreens whenever you’re ready.

Here are the tools and materials you need for growing microgreens

Espoma Organic Seed Starter Premium Potting Soil Mix - All Natural & Organic Seed Starting Mix with Mycorrhizae. For Organic Gardening, 16 qt, Pack of 2
Espoma Organic Seed Starter Premium Potting Soil Mix - All Natural & Organic Seed Starting Mix with Mycorrhizae. For Organic Gardening, 16 qt, Pack of 2
$31.57
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
Barrina T5 Grow Lights for Indoor Plants, Full Spectrum Grow Light, 2ft 80W (8 x 10W), Plant lights for Indoor Plants Growing, Pinkish White, 8-Pack
Barrina T5 Grow Lights for Indoor Plants, Full Spectrum Grow Light, 2ft 80W (8 x 10W), Plant lights for Indoor Plants Growing, Pinkish White, 8-Pack
$59.99
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
5-Pack 10x10 Garden Growing Trays Without Drain Holes - 10' x 10' Plastic Plant Trays No Holes - Wheatgrass Sprouting Tray, Microgreens Seed Tray, Hydroponic Trays, Nursery Flats, Greenhouse Supplies
5-Pack 10x10 Garden Growing Trays Without Drain Holes - 10" x 10" Plastic Plant Trays No Holes - Wheatgrass Sprouting Tray, Microgreens Seed Tray, Hydroponic Trays, Nursery Flats, Greenhouse Supplies
$15.19
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
10' x 10' Garden Growing Trays with Drain Holes - 10-Pack Recyclable Plastic Plant Trays for Wheatgrass Sprouting Tray, Microgreens Growing Trays, Hydroponic Trays, Nursery Flats, Greenhouse Supplies
10" x 10" Garden Growing Trays with Drain Holes - 10-Pack Recyclable Plastic Plant Trays for Wheatgrass Sprouting Tray, Microgreens Growing Trays, Hydroponic Trays, Nursery Flats, Greenhouse Supplies
$23.97
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
Plant Mister Water Spray Bottle - Fine Mist Spray Bottle for Flowers, Plants, Gardening, Cleaning Solutions - 10oz, Plastic
Plant Mister Water Spray Bottle - Fine Mist Spray Bottle for Flowers, Plants, Gardening, Cleaning Solutions - 10oz, Plastic
$9.99
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18
Kitchen Shears by Gidli - Lifetime Replacement Warranty- Includes Seafood Scissors As a Bonus - Heavy Duty Utility Stainless Steel All Purpose Ultra Sharp Scissors for Food
Kitchen Shears by Gidli - Lifetime Replacement Warranty- Includes Seafood Scissors As a Bonus - Heavy Duty Utility Stainless Steel All Purpose Ultra Sharp Scissors for Food
$23.95
Buy on Amazon
2024-07-18

Harvesting Sorrel

After a month, the plants will be about four inches long.  This is a good time to harvest some of the young leaves.  Grown from seed, the plants will take two months to mature.  Harvesting sorrel can continue through the fall.

Younger plants have softer leaves and a mellower flavor.  Any plants from older clusters have coarser leaves and a more acidic taste.

If you don’t like the flavor of older leaves, cooking can make them more palatable.  Sorrel is poisonous to pets, so don’t let them chew or eat it.

Harvesting Sorrel Seeds

Cut off the seed heads after they dry on the plant.  The seed heads are dry enough when the seeds start falling out.  Put the seed heads in a bowl and shake out the seeds.  Remove any chaff and store the seeds in air-tight containers.

Overwintering Sorrel

Sorrel is hardy and tolerates temperatures down to -20o F.  The plants will die back and go dormant in the winter and sprout again in the spring.  Cut off dead stems about an inch from the ground and discard them.

Storing Sorrel

Fresh sorrel doesn’t keep well but will stay in the fridge for a week.

  • Rinse the leaves and pat them dry.
  • Wrap the leaves in paper towels and seal them in storage bags or air-tight containers.

How to Freeze Sorrel

Here are three handy ways to freeze sorrel:

  1. Rinse the leaves and dry them completely.  Then chop them into small pieces and seal them in freezer bags.
  2. Take the chopped pieces and put them in ice cube trays.  Top off the cubes with water.  When the cubes freeze, remove them and seal them in freezer bags.  Add the cubes to cooking food whenever they’re needed.
  3. Cook the leaves in butter until they wilt and fall apart.  The leaves will look like a puree.  Put the cooked leaves in ice cube trays and move the cubes to freezer bags after they freeze.

Frozen sorrel will last about a year.

Drying Sorrel

Sorrel leaves are large and hold much moisture, so slow methods like air-drying don’t work well.  It can but done, but you run the risk that the leaves will rot or get moldy.

Fast-drying methods use higher heat so that the leaves will lose some of their essential oils.

Store dried whole or ground sorrel leaves in air-tight containers.  Any properly dried herbs will last up to three years.  When dried herbs go “bad,” they lose their flavor to the point that they become useless.  This happens to every dried herb over time.

Drying Sorrel in the Oven

  • Set the oven to its lowest temperature.  This will vary depending on the oven model.
  • Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Lay the sorrel leaves on the parchment paper in a single layer.
  • Put the loaded baking sheet in the oven for 15 minutes.
  • Check the leaves.  If they aren’t brittle and crumbly, continue drying for 15-minute intervals until they are.

How to Dry Sorrel in a Dehydrator

  • Lay the leaves in a single layer on the dehydrator trays.
  • Follow the dehydrator instructions for drying herbs.

Drying Sorrel in a Microwave

  • Cover a microwave-safe plate or tray with a layer of paper towels.
  • Lay the sorrel leaves on the towels in a single layer.
  • Cover the leaves with another layer of paper towels.
  • Microwave the leaves for 30 seconds and check them for dryness.
  • If the leaves aren’t dry enough, continue microwaving in 15-second increments until they are.

Sorrel Companion Plants

  • It likes to be near sage, rosemary, and thyme, and also does very well near strawberries.
  • Other top companions are lettuce, the onion family, and spinach.
  • Tall plants like pole beans, corn, and climbing peas will give sorrel too much shade and stunt its growth.

More information about companion plants is available on our Companion Planting Chart.

Pests and Diseases

Aphids, slugs, and snails can affect many garden crops, even those that repel other pests.

Aphids

Blast aphids off with water or spray them with organic insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Slugs and Snails

These are easy to spot and pick off by hand, but only some people are willing to do that.  Organic insecticidal soap or neem oil work against slugs and snails.  Neem oil is effective against pests that chew on plants or suck their juices.

Spread diatomaceous earth on the ground around the plants.  This will cut any soft-bodied insects as they crawl around. Snail bait can also defeat slugs and snails.

Leaf Miners

These tiny worms hide inside the growing sorrel leaves.  They end up forming yellowish trails, giving the leaves a papery feel.

Any affected leaves should be picked off and burned or thrown in the trash.  Since the leaf miners are in the leaves, spraying won’t work on them.

For more information about controlling pests organically, see our article “Top 5 Natural Pest Control Methods You Can Use Now.”

Root Rot

This fungal disease affects almost any plant sitting in too much water.  The solutions are to water the plants less or move them into well-drained soil.

Powdery Mildew

If you see plants covered with something that looks like baby powder, it might be powdery mildew.  There’s no cure for this fungal disease.  Pull up infected plants and destroy them.

To prevent this disease, keep the plants separated so they get good airflow.  The infection can also spread from other infected plants.  Spraying plants with neem oil will also prevent the mildew from spreading.

Final Thoughts

There are many herbs that aren’t readily available when we’d like to have them.  Growing sorrel in pots or gardens may be the only way we’ll get to enjoy this tasty but little-known herb.

Frequently Asked Questions About Growing Sorrel

  1. Does sorrel grow in the US?

    Sorrel is native to most parts of Asia and Europe but now grows throughout the United States.  Throughout history, when people migrated, they brought more than themselves.  They brought their favorite plants, too.  And that’s how it got to North America.

  2. Does sorrel grow wild?

    Two major wild varieties are sheep sorrel and wood sorrel (or oxalis).  Both varieties are edible, but large quantities can cause health problems. This is due to oxalic acid and tannins.  These substances also occur naturally in cultivated sorrels.

  3. What is oxalic acid in sorrel?

    This basic organic acid is found naturally in many food crops.  Its chemical formula is H2C2O4.  Other foods containing oxalic acid (or oxalate) include chocolate, rhubarb, spinach, peanut, beets, beans, almonds, cashews, and others.  It’s safe in small amounts but can cause health problems in large quantities.1

  4. How tall does sorrel grow?

    Depending on the variety, sorrel will grow 6 – 36 inches tall and spread 12 – 18 inches.

  5. How long does sorrel take to grow?

    You can harvest young leaves in 30 – 40 days.  Sorrel reaches full maturity in 60 days.

  6. Can you grow sorrel in a pot?

    Like many herbs, sorrel is easy to grow in pots.  The ideal pot will have drainage holes and be 8 – 12 inches wide and deep.  Fill the pots with potting mix.

    If you plan to use potting soil, mix three parts with one part each of compost and perlite.  Vermiculite is a good substitute for perlite.  Potting soil by itself will get too dense and won’t drain well.

    Since sorrel seeds are so small, spread them in the pot as well as you can.  Cover them with 1/2 inch of soil and keep the soil moist.  When the seedlings sprout, thin them so they’re three inches apart.

    That’s a good distance for seeds in pots.  In a garden or raised bed, thin the seedlings 12 inches apart.

  7. What are the problems growing sorrel?

    Sorrel likes cool weather.  On sweltering summer days, it can bolt early.  Plant it in partial shade or grow it indoors to give it protection.

    Aphids, slugs, and snails are all-around pests for many garden crops.  Remove aphids with a blast of water, or spray them with neem oil or organic insecticidal soap.  The sprays also work against slugs and snails.

    Other options to fight slugs and snails include diatomaceous earth, snail bait, or picking them off by hand.

    Leaf miners are another pest that can affect sorrel.  These little beasts bore into the leaves and make yellow trails.  Since they’re inside the leaves, sprays won’t work.  Remove any affected leaves.

    Regarding diseases, sorrel will get root rot if the soil is too wet.  Cut down on watering to prevent this problem.  If the soil doesn’t drain well, replant the sorrel somewhere else.

    Powdery mildew can happen from excessive moisture or overcrowding.  It can also spread from infected plants.  Pull up all infected plants because this fungal disease has no cure.  Spray the plants with neem oil to prevent it.

  8. What can I grow sorrel with?

    Sorrel is a good companion with thyme, sage, and rosemary.  It also grows well with strawberries, lettuce, the onion family, and spinach.

    Don’t plant sorrel near tall crops like corn, sunflowers, or pole beans because they could give the sorrel too much shade.

  9. What is sorrel used for?

    Raw sorrel is a good addition to salads.  The leaves can be cooked like spinach or used with vegetables, eggs, fish, chicken, or creams.

    Medicinally, sorrel is used with conventional medicines to treat infections and reduce inflammation of the nasal passages and respiratory tract.  It’s also used as a diuretic.2

  10. Can you freeze sorrel?

    Yes, it’s easy.  It’s a good way to store sorrel for about a year.  First, rinse the leaves and dry them completely.  Then chop them into small pieces and put them in freezer bags.

    You could also put the chopped leaves in ice cube trays and top off the cubes with water.  Once the cubes freeze, remove them and store them in freezer bags.  Add the cubes as needed when cooking food.

    Another way is to cook the leaves in butter until they fall apart.  After cooking this way, the leaves will look like a puree.  Put the cooked leaves in ice cube trays and freeze them.  After they freeze, put the cubes in freezer bags and add them to food whenever needed.

Last update on 2024-07-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Bob Styer

As a child, I hated gardening. That was mainly because Dad expected us to work in the garden every so often even though we thought play was more important. Over the years, though, I've developed a real appreciation for growing things. Whether you're growing plants for food or to enjoy their beauty, gardening can make your life better. Seize the moment!

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