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How to Grow Sorrel

How to grow sorrel

Sorrel is a cool-season perennial often grown as an annual. Sorrel is often grown from root divisions. Sorrel can be grown from seed sown in the garden as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring. Sorrel will be ready for harvest 60 days after sowing.

Types of Sorrel

Sorrel is grown for its tangy, slightly-sour tasting arrow-shaped leaves. There are five types of sorrels to choose from: garden sorrel, French sorrel, herb patience or spinach dock, spinach rhubarb, and common or sheep sorrel. All are good for eating.

  • Garden sorrel (Rumex acestosa) grows about three feet tall and produces leaves that can be used fresh in salads.
  • French sorrel (R. scutatus) grows 6 to 12 inches (15-30cm) tall and has fiddle-shaped leaves used in salads.
  • Herb patience or spinach dock (R. patientia) grows to four feet tall with leaves that can be used either fresh or cooked.
  • Spinach rhubarb (R. abyssinicus) grows up to 8 feet (2.4m) tall; the leaves can be used like spinach and the stalks like rhubarb.
  • Common or sheep sorrel (R. acetosella) is a wild plant whose leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked like spinach.
  • Red-veined sorrel (R. sanguineus)

Yield. Plant 2 or 3 sorrel plants per household member. Sorrel is used as a salad green accent.

Sorrel in garden
Red Veined sorrel also called Bloody sorrel (Rumex sanguineus)

Planting Sorrel

Site. Plant sorrel in full sun. Sorrel grows best in well-worked, well-drained soil rich in organic material. Add aged compost to planting beds before planting. Sorrel prefers a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8.

Planting time. Sorrels are very hardy. Sow sorrel in the garden as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average date of the last frost in spring. In zones 5 and warmer, sorrel will grow as a perennial. Divide plants to renew them every 3 to 4 years.

Planting and spacing. Sow sorrel seed ½ inch (12mm) deep and 2 to 3 inches (2.5-7cm) apart. Thin successful seedlings from 12 to 18 inches (30-45cm) apart when plants are 6 to 8 weeks old. Space rows 18 to 24 inches (45-61cm) apart. Divide established sorrel in spring. Choose male plants–without flowers–for divisions to avoid reseeding.

Companion plants. Strawberries but not tall plants such as corn or pole beans.

Container growing. Sorrel grows well in a 6-inch (15cm) pot. In larger containers, plant sorrel on 8-inch (20cm) centers.

Sorrel in garden
Garden sorrel (Rumex acestosa)

Caring for Sorrel

Water and feeding. Sorrel should be kept evenly moist. Add aged compost to planting beds before planting and again at midseason.

Care. Sorrel is not demanding; it requires little extra care. Keep beds weed-free.

Pests. Aphids can attack sorrel. Control them by pinching out infested areas or hosing the aphids off the plants.

Diseases. Sorrel has no serious disease problems.

Harvesting and Storing Sorrel

Harvest. Pick fresh sorrel leaves when they are young and tender, just 4 or 5 inches (10-12cm) tall. Harvest cut-and-come-again through the growing season. Leaves can be harvested as early as 60 days after sowing. Remove flowers before they mature to keep the plants producing new leaves into the fall.

Storing and preserving. Use sorrel fresh. Sorrel leaves will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks. Sorrel leaves can be frozen or dried and used as an herb; some flavor will be lost.

Varieties. See the list of types of sorrel above.

Common name. Garden sorrel, herb patience or spinach dock, French sorrel, spinach rhubarb

Botanical name. Rumex acetosa, Rumex patientia, Rumex scutatus, Rumex abyssinicus

Origin. Europe


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    • I planted sorrel in the spring. Thru the summer it struggled with the Midwest heat, but now this fall it looks luxurious. Are the leaves good to eat in fall or is it best to wait for the tender new leaves of spring?

    • Sorrel is an herb-vegetable. You can add young, tender leaves to soups and salads. Sorrel is a good fit for the salad garden; companion plants include early spring and early autumn greens–cabbage, kale, collards, and other cabbage-family crops broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.

  1. Hi Steve. Great information. Thank you.

    Quick question.

    I had two sorrel plants in the summer and had great success. But what do I do to make sure they come back this spring. The plants are still there, dead, dead sprigs and leaves, big and ugly. Do I trim, cut them up, or just leave to wither through the rest of Winter in to Spring?

    Thank you for any advice shared.


    • Sorrel is a perennial with a long taproot. Sorrel root will survive the winter unless the soil freezes deeply. You can cut back the dead leaves and stems and protect the crown and root by placing straw or chopped leaves mulch over the trimmed back stems. When the weather warms consistently into the high 30s or low 40sF in spring, pull back the mulch and if the root has survived the winter cold it will send up new shoots.

  2. Sorell i.e. “skabenes” – meaninfg “sour ones”, are common in all the ditches across the Baltic States… They are wonderful in salads and make the basis of a wonderful sour-tasting fish sauce with the addition of white wine, white vermouth, garlic and butter… They also form the basis of a very nice soup if you add potatoes, smoked pork bits, i.e. pork bullion, and chopped hard eggs and dill…

  3. I harvested some of my early Store leaves and made soup. Then I left the plants alone for several weeks. They put up very tall tough stocks with flowers at the top. The stocks had some leaves growing up their sides. Can those leaves be harvested and used as well as the leaves that grow directly at the base of the plant?

    • The plant bolted and sent up a flower stalk due to warm temperatures. None of the leaves will be as tasty as before the plant flowered. Any of the leaves can be used, but after flowering the flavor will be bitter.

  4. What’s the best way to deal with a bolted sorrel plant — cut down the stalks? cut the stalks and cut back the whole plant at the same time? It’s late June and we are hoping for more sorrel throughout the rest of the summer. We think it bolted so early due to lack of rain but we’re not sure.

    • Very warm temperatures will cause sorrel to bolt. Cut the stalks; taste a few leaves–if the leaves are bitter then you can either trim the plant back to a few inches above the soil and let it re-leaf, or you can remove it and replant at the end of summer. If you leave the plant in place, put a frame over the plant and drape shade cloth over the frame to keep midday sun off of the plant; keep the soil moist; do not let the soil dry out.

  5. This is my favorite use of sorrel – you must try this:
    Take fresh fish, any kind (wonderful salmon!), dribble olive oil on a couple of layers of foil, and lay bed of sorrel leaves over the oil. Lay fish, skin down, on bed of leaves. Dribble olive oil over fish. Salt and pepper. Maybe a little dill Layer sorrel leaves over fish, well covered, maybe a couple of leaves deep. BBQ (medium, indirect heat) or oven, about 17min. Let stand 5min. Enjoy the grilled leaf with each bite of fish. You may never cook fish any other way!!

  6. If I grew red veined sorrel hydroponically, providing it organic nutrients and lighting year round, how long would I be able to harvest from it before needing to replant? Or could I harvest from it indefinitely?

  7. Hi Steve, I’m interested to learn about growing sorel commercially for the herbal industry. I am waiting for Autumn here in NZ before dividing my wild grown plants. Would you expect I could harvest from newly divided plants by the Spring or would you advise letting them establish before harvesting another season? Thanks

    • If the winter is mild where you are, try to get the plants into the ground in autumn while the soil is still warm. This will allow the roots to get a foothold before days grow short. Plant growth will slow as the days grow shorter, but if the roots have gotten a head start this autumn, they will finish establishing themselves in spring and you should be able to harvest cut-and-come-again by the end of spring. Be careful not to overharvest leaves the first season while the plant is establishing itself.

  8. There is no sorrel in your sour soup. The base for the soup is fermented flour with garlic and some other stuff. It’s called zurek. Sorrel makes great sour soup as well very popular in Poland. I love it, light and refreshing.

  9. stop cutting off your sorrel flowerings let them grow. the fruit is used to make one of the best drinks in the world. youtube the jamaican recipe

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