Grow More Tang: Grow Sorrel

Sorrel may look like old lettuce, but it’s actually far from it, with a tangy lemon-zest flavour that will brighten up many dishes.

As we head towards autumn, it’s great to add a bit of flavour to soups and stews, and you can’t go wrong with Rumex acestosa, common or garden sorrel. Grow it with your other leafy greens like spinach and lettuce for picking in autumn and summer. What is interesting about sorrel is that the plants that we grow today are the same as the ones grown by the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks and used to soothe indigestion and overindulgence – there has been no hybridisation or development of this perennial herb.

Other, similar green leafy herbs are now included under the sorrel or dock name, but these are from different families and genera, and they are grouped together due to their texture, colour and tangy taste and their naturally occurring oxalic acid. Sorrel can be grown directly from seed into prepared beds, but remember that 2 – 3 plants are plenty for a family; eating too much sorrel may be harmful due to its high oxalic acid content. Cut the flower stalks to the ground and remove any older leaves and the plant should re-sprout.

Harvesting and storage

Sorrel doesn’t last well after picking, so it’s best to pick just before cooking. If you buy sorrel, wrap it in damp paper towel and seal it in a plastic container to make it last longer than a few days. Whole leaves can be frozen, or they can be puréed and frozen in ice cube trays. You can also dry the leaves as you would for other herbs, but they will lose their flavour.

What it needs

Full sun but likes afternoon shade.

  • Rich, well-composted, well-draining soil. Mulch with compost three times a year.
  • A thorough watering twice a week.
  • Mulch to conserve water, and keep the leaves clean.
  • Established plants can handle light frost but they will die down in winter. In colder climates, treat as an annual and replant every year in spring.

Small leaves are wonderful in a salad or added to coleslaw, and they can be used sparingly like any other herb. Add sorrel towards the end of cooking to pasta dishes, soups and stews, and it goes particularly well with fish dishes. Chop into yoghurt for a lemony dip or try it with fruit like the recipe below.

Baked apples with sorrel pesto Sorrel pairs very well with fruit like strawberries and apples due to its tart taste, so why not combine baked apples with sorrel pesto?

Baked apples

  • 4 apples
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon allspice

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Core the apples, leaving the base intact so you have a cavity for the sugary, spicy butter. Mix the sugar, butter, walnuts and spices together and pack into the central column of the apples. Place the apples on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes until the apples are tender.

Sorrel pesto

  • 2 cups sorrel leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup walnuts or almonds
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan
  • ¼ – ½ cup virgin olive oil

Add the sorrel leaves, garlic and walnuts to a food processor and process until the ingredients are finely chopped. Add in enough olive oil to make a sauce and quickly blend in the Parmesan. Spoon over the baked apples to serve. A touch of cream will bring it all together. Serves 4.

Bloody sorrel

Look out for Rumex sanguineus and plant some in the garden. The deep red veins of this sorrel have made it very popular in recent years, not only for eating but for bold colour in the garden. It grows to around 30cm and grows best in full sun, in rich, well-composted soil.