Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), also known simply as sorrel or dock, is a perennial plant that has been used in multiple roles for centuries, including:
- Anti-cancer therapy
- Anti-inflammatory agent
- Antibacterial agent and immune system booster
- Vitamin deficiency
- Food preparation
In present times, the plant’s leaves are the parts used for both medicinal and culinary purposes, though the plant’s roots have been historically used as an astringent and coagulant. The entire plant, including roots, is used as the main ingredient in essiac tea. And though sorrel is considered by many to be a nuisance weed, its presence and usage have provided numerous benefits for people across the years.
Sheep sorrel has several reported health benefits, including treatment for cancer, fever, generalized inflammation, and scurvy. Its ability to help treat these conditions stems from sorrel’s abundance of disease-fighting molecules, such as vitamins (A, B complex, C, D, E, and K) and natural molecules used to make many drugs, including anti-cancer medications.
Another common health use for sheep sorrel is reducing pain and inflammation associated with sinusitis. Sorrel’s effectiveness in this setting comes from tannins in the plant, which help to decrease mucus production. In fact, use of sorrel for sinusitis boasts the largest amount of clinical evidence. Sorrel is also used as adjunctive treatment for bacterial infections (with antibiotics as first-line treatment),and for increasing urine flow, though less evidence exists for these uses.
An important contradiction to sorrel use is a history of kidney stones, as sorrel can lead to kidney stone development due to high amounts of oxalic acid. It is also generally recommended that children and pregnant or breastfeeding women avoid this herb, as not enough information exists regarding its effects in these states. Another side effect that one must be mindful of when taking Sheep sorrel is diarrhea. Diarrhea can lead to potassium loss, and thus, those taking certain diuretic medications prescribed by a physician, which can also lead to potassium loss, should be cautious with sorrel.
Outside of health uses, sorrel has also been used extensively in the culinary world for hundreds of years. Two types of sorrel are commonly used: common/wild sorrel and French sorrel. One differentiating feature between the two are the larger leaves of common sorrel. In general, sorrel appears as a thin plant with long, green or crimson leaves and has a taste similar to kiwi or unripe strawberries. It is known for its sour taste, and is even called “azeda,” in Portugal, which means “sour.”
Young sorrel leaves are used directly in cooking, such as in salads, sauces, and soups. Countries around the globe have been known for using sorrel. In many countries, such as Romania, Hungary, Nigeria, and Croatia, sorrel is used for sour soups. Because of its sour taste, stewed sorrel leaves are also popular aside lamb and pork. Sorrel can also be used as a garnish, curdling agent for cheese, or flavoring agent for tartness.
From its usefulness as alternative cancer therapy to its ability to excite taste buds, Sheep sorrel boasts a multitude of uses across multiple domains.