Sorrel is a flavorful, tarty herbaceous perennial that’s just not popular enough in the home kitchen.
But it should be!
It’s super easy to grow and makes a welcome addition to your cut and come again plant collection.
It can be grown indoors or out and doesn’t require much upkeep as it grows like a weed. Literally.
You can grow it organically for that extra “oomph” in your soups or salads.
This small herb packs a punch.
You’ll wonder why it didn’t grow earlier and where it’s been all this time when you read more about it.
Let’s dive in and learn about how to grow and care for sorrel.
Last updated: 12/13/21.
Quick care guide: Sorrel
|Plant type||Perennial herb|
|Origin||Europe, Jamaica, Asia|
|Scientific name||Rumex acetosa
|Other names||Common sorrel, Garden sorrel, French sorrel|
|Soil type||Fertile, loamy, well-draining|
|Soil pH||5.5-6.8 (slightly acidic to neutral)|
|Sunlight requirement||5-8 hours, full sun or partial sun|
|Colors||Lime green, yellow, red, white|
|Max height||3 feet|
|Max width||2 feet|
|Low temperature tolerance||-30F|
|High temperature tolerance||80F|
|Ideal temperature range||70-80F|
|Watering requirements||1-3" per week|
|Fertilizer requirements||Moderate feeding during spring, summer|
|Plant food NPK||5-5-5 or 10-10-10|
|Days until germination||1-3 weeks|
|Days until bloom||Blooms in June or July|
|Speed of growth||Moderate|
|Hardiness zones||4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10|
|Plant depth||0.25" from seed|
|Plant spacing||12 inches|
|Plant with||Tomatoes, cabbage, strawberries|
|Don't plant with||Plants in the same family|
|Propagation method||Seeds, cuttings|
|Common pests||Beetles, caterpillars, common plant aphids|
|Common diseases||Fungus, gray mold, leaf spot, powdery mildew, root rot|
|Grown in container||Yes|
|Care level||Low (easy)|
|Best uses||Salads, soups, eggs, sour cream, stew, preserves, dry herbs, edible herbs, teas, houseplants|
Sorrel (pronounced “saw-ruhl”) is a sour, tarty perennial herb that’s vastly outspoken.
It tastes like chewy, minty lemongrass with tons of vitamin C, iron, manganese and other micronutrients. It’s not popular by any means, but it should be because of its versatile usage scenarios.
You may have seen it used to garnish some dishes, but otherwise, most people have no idea that sorrel is even edible!
Native to Europe and Asia, sorrel is a leafy green perfect for salads, garnishing, or culinary recipes.
Note that sorrel can be harmful in large quantities or to sensitive individuals. Be sure to do you own research, consult with your provider in healthcare, and use caution before consuming.
What does it taste like?
Sorrel has a tarty flavor that stems from the oxalic acid that’s abundant in the leafy greens.
They’re commonly used for salads when they’re baby greens because they get too bitter if they grow.
You’ll often find sorrel in salad mixes, but not as the main ingredient.
They’re more of a flavoring than a main dish, if you get what I mean.
The leaves need to be used when they’re small.
As they get bigger, they produce a bitter flavor with a tougher chewy green. This isn’t ideal.
Overall, it’s good to use it to balance out your soups.
It can be sprinkled on rice, potatoes, fish, or other foods. A little goes a long way. Sorel isn’t to be overused in any dish or else you’ll get a sour-infused soup or salad.
Is it easy to grow?
Yes, sorrel is very easy to grow as a garden herb, potted herb, or indoor herb.
It’s perfect for beginners and qualifies as what most people call a “cut and come again” edible.
Cut a piece off for your soups, salads, bread, or whatever else you cook. The lemony flavor is good for garnishing.
What is it used for?
Sorrel is used for a variety of dishes, mainly soups or salads.
You can use the lemony flavor for pairing with other ingredients like carrots, potatoes, sour cream, chicken, beef, or lamb.
It can spice up salads, be added to vinaigrette, or even be used for egg dishes.
Types of sorrel
If you’re deciding which type of sorrel to plant, here are some popular ones you may want to check out:
- French sorrel (Buckler leaf, white leaves)
- Garden sorrel (AKA English sorrel, broad leaves)
- Red-veined sorrel
They each slightly differ in terms of flavor profile, but care is similar. You can do some reading on each of them to see what works for you.
Annual or perennial?
Sorrel is a perennial plant that grows in USDA hardiness zones 4-10
If you’re in these zones, you can grow it as a cut and come again plant.
If you’re in a cooler zone, then you can grow sorrel as an annual plant that you can easily grow again next season.
How to grow sorrel
This section of the guide covers everything you need to know about growing sorrel. And caring for it.
While care instruction may vary depending on your cultivar, climate, hardiness zone, etc.
However, the general guidelines should work for most gardeners who are just starting out and don’t need to get too fancy.
If you have any questions, use the comments section and drop a line for us!
Propagating sorrel is simple. It’s just like most garden edibles (think green onion or catmint). No cold stratification, seed scarring, or specific this-or-that planting instructions. Woot!
So to start, you should know that you can have a garden full of sorrel if you really wanted to.
Sorrel reseeds easily without much intervention, so you can have rows of sorrel in your garden for plenty of surpluses. This herbaceous perennial is excellent for beginners because of its ease of planting.
We’ll cover both starting from seed and from crown division.
You can also just buy a baby sorrel plant from the nursery and call it a day. There’s no wrong way to do it.
Starting from sorrel seed
Seeding sorrel is fun.
The seeds are cheap.
Buy a packet from your local nursery and follow the directions on the packet. You can sow in spring directly into the garden.
There’s no need to use a starter kit unless you want to get a head start for the season and you’re sowing indoors.
Otherwise, just direct sow into the garden to prevent unnecessary transferring of seedlings later on. It also avoids plant shock.
But if you want to sow indoors, do it about a month before the last frost date in your zone (see map if you don’t know).
The starter kit should be placed near a filtered window and should be covered with a humidity dome. Keep it moist at all times. But not wet. The crowns should be above the soil line.
Plant each seed half an inch deep with 12 inches of space between each one. Plant further apart if you have the space to eliminate competition for nutrients in the soil column.
Water deeply for the first time around. Seeds will germinate within 7-21 days.
Thin if you plant multiple seeds together. Leave at least 7-8 inches of space between each sorrel plant. Thin when at least 1” tall, not before.
Next comes deciding when you want to harvest them.
Do you want to eat sorrel as baby greens or do you want to eat them as perennial herbs?
This depends on your preferences.
It changes how you plant the seeds. If you’re eating those baby greens, you can space them about much closer to each other.
If you want whole Sorrells, then space them at least 8 inches from each other.
From crown division
If you have a fully grown sorrel that’s established, you can divide the crown into different plants and then plant them individually.
Get a pair of gardening gloves and a garden space.
It’s time to go hunting!
Dig up around the crown until you see the very tips of the roots. This can be 8-10 inches deep, depending on how old your plant is.
Gently lift the crown and you’ll see that it can be divided into 2-3 pieces.
Get a sterilized shear and then cut it into individual pieces- each with its own roots, crown, and stem.
Replant those as individual plants. That’s it. You’re done. They should root on their own and establish their new root systems over time.
Give him a good watering the first time to build water pathways.
The first thing you should know is your hardiness zone. Sorrel does well in USDA hardiness zones 4-10.
If you’re growing within these zones, you’re golden.
While it’s possible to grow in a higher or lower zone, you need to be aware of the differences in local temperature.
For example, if you’re growing in zones 10 or higher, summertime scorching is possible due to high temperatures.
Perhaps you’ll want to grow it in a shady spot.
If you’re in a cooler zone, perhaps you want to use row covers and plant it in full sun since it’s less prone to scorching.
If your zone is in the extremes, you can plant sorrel inside your kitchen as a houseplant rather than exposing it to the harsh environment.
The soil should be slightly acidic with high organic content. It should be well-draining, well worked, with plenty of nutrients in the soil profile.
Supplement with organic compost, manure, or mulch to give your soil a balanced nutrient column.
pH – acidic or basic soil?
The pH of sorrel should be between 5.5 to 6.8.
They love organic soil with plenty of rich nutrients, such as compost or manure for the soil column. The soil must be well-draining no matter which mashup you choose.
If your soil is too high in pH, you can lower it naturally with limestone.
Sorrel can do well with slightly acidic to neutral pH levels, so don’t worry about it. It doesn’t need to be perfect.
It’s well adapted to multiple soil types.
Even if you don’t have acidic soil, it can grow in neutral soil or even slightly basic soil! Soil should be rich in nutrients, fertile, and organic.
As mentioned earlier, each plant should be spaced according to how you plan to harvest.
If you want baby greens, they don’t need a ton of space between each plant because they won’t grow that much before you harvest.
If you want to harvest the fully grown leaves, then provide at least 18 inches between plants to minimize competition for resources.
Otherwise, that’s it. To maximize space, for those that are planting a lot of sorrels, use row planting. It’s efficient and you can fit plenty in a tiny garden.
Plant seeds 0.25” deep if starting from seed. If starting from crown divisions, plant each crown the same depth as the original crown you used to divide from.
Sorrel doesn’t need plant food if the substrate you planted it in has enough nutrients.
However, you can encourage it to thrive by providing some balanced plant fertilizer with NPK of 10-10-10. If your sorrel seems to be waning or not growing too well, use general-purpose plant food.
Organic if possible.
This isn’t necessary if you supplemented with a rich nutrient-dense substrate when you first planted it. This is why shelling out a few extra bucks is OK. It pays for itself.
Sorrel should be always moist, but never wet. Keeping the soil slightly wet will constantly feed so it can grow big leaves. If you let it dry out, sorrel will show it.
Those bright green crisp leaves will dry out, turn brown, or crispy.
Sorrel should be moist at all times. Use your finger to feel the top 3-4 inches of soil and make sure it’s moist. Don’t overwater though. This brings bugs.
Use a moisture tester (soil meter) for easier judgment of when to water it. Soggy soil can introduce mold, mildew, fungus, or pests.
When watering, water at the base of the sorrel stem.
Don’t water the leaves. Put 1-2 inches of straw mulch or grass clippings to help keep moisture levels consistent.
Use organic mulch, soil, and fertilizer if possible.
Drip irrigation is perfect for sorrel if you have a system setup. Aim for 1” of water per week. If it rains, water less. If it’s hot, water 1” or so more than usual.
Easy enough, right?
Sorrel grows in full sun for about 6 hours per day, but it can also handle shade. If your garden doesn’t get strong sun rays, partial shade is OK.
This will force the sorrel to grow leggier, but it’ll prevent bolting spontaneously.
The leaf and taste are usually also improved because the plant won’t get scorched in the summertime, unlike full sun planting. The drawback is that you’ll get slower plant growth because you have less sunlight daily.
So that’s the tradeoff.
Planting in a container has a clear advantage here- you can move it around to always get direct sunlight no matter the season.
You can leave it in direct sunlight during the off-season, then move it to partial shade during the summertime. This way you get the best of both worlds.
Seedlings can tolerate both frost and shade, so you don’t need to keep it under too strict of conditions.
They’re somewhat tolerant to temperature even when small. As they grow, they become more established to temperature swings.
Part shade is OK for sorrel for those that have artificial shade surrounding their garden. However, for the ideal harvest, full sun for at least 5 hours daily is perfect.
Baby greens can be harvested when they’re around 3-5 inches tall.
They’re nice and tender, so you can use them in salads and such. This is usually 30 days after you sow.
The baby greens are ready to be used in your culinary recipes, soups, salads, or eaten raw if you’re into that.
How to pick sorrel
Get a sterilized pair of your favorite garden pruners.
Sterilize with rubbing alcohol to make sure you don’t transfer pests or plant viruses.
Cut each leaf from the stem, starting on the outside. don’t harvest the inner leaves, as they’re still baby and growing.
You harvest the older leaves, which form the outside of the ring of leaves. Those outer greens are ready to eat.
For the whole sorrel, wait until they’re taller and filled out.
You don’t have to use the entire leaf. Just cut what you need.
Cut leaves from the bottom upwards. This way, you get to eat the fuller leaves first.
Harvest before they get too long, or else they become tough. This makes them not edible.
If this happens to your sorrel, cut them all down to just near the crown at the soil level. This lets you start over.
If the second pair of leaves come out, you can harvest another before the winter. You’ll get those fresh green tarty leaves in no time!
Plan ahead when you pick. Sorrel needs to be used the same day, if not hours before you cook. They go bad pretty quickly.
If you need to store surplus because you cut a bit too much, that’s fine. Put them in the crisper. Use a bag to keep them fresh for up to 2 days or so.
Give them a spritz of water to keep them wet. If you already washed them, don’t store them. They’ll grow mold. Toss them or compost them.
You can harvest as you see fit throughout the season whenever you need some of those lemony herbs. Spring, summer, and even fall are all prime harvesting peaks for flavor.
But once the warm weather makes your sorrel bolt, that’s when you need to cut it down to 1-2 inches from the crown. It’s far too tough to eat if it bolts.
Plus, even if you like the chewiness, the flavor is nothing but pure bitter greens. Gross.
Next time, pluck your plants earlier.
Even if you screw up and it bolts, you can cut it down and then get a second harvest in the autumn if it’s doing well.
Sorrel can withstand slight temperature fluctuations.
It can tolerate a range between -30F to 80F, but should be above 60F for ideal growth. If it’s too cold, you won’t get that lemony flavor you want.
But it sure can tolerate the cold, huh?
Average to high humidity is good enough for sorrel.
This is something you don’t tend to worry about.
Just make sure that the leaves don’t grow into a jungle and crowd. This will raise the humidity and make it prone to mold, mildew, or fungus.
There’s little work to be done in terms of pruning.
You basically just cut off the leaves as you need them.
If you’re after baby greens, you pull the entire plant out when it’s just a few inches tall. If you want to do a cut and come again, then you cut as necessary by using the older leaves first.
Of course, prune off any damaged or infested leaves as you go. Don’t uproot the plant by pulling the leaves. Always use sterilized pruners.
If you notice weeds, remove them ASAP, or else they’ll compete for the nutrients.
Cut the seed stalks before it gets too hot, or else you risk bolting. It also encourages your sorrel to grow a second pair of leaves. If you never harvest on time, you risk getting some pretty bitter leaves.
Sorrel will bolt in the summertime when it gets too hot for too long.
The bolting causes the plant to get bitter.
If you want the peak flavor, you need to harvest it before it bolts. When harvested on time, sorrel will produce two harvests per season- one in the summer and another in fall.
However, if you let it bolt, you forgo the second harvest in favor of bolting, which is a double negative
This leafy green needs to be used when it’s ready, similar to kangkong or buttercrunch greens so it doesn’t become too bitter for consumption.
Unless you’re into that sort of thing.
When it does bolt, it becomes indelible. It’s tough, bitter, and just plain gross. Don’t force yourself to eat it. Sorrel is so easy to propagate from seeds, cuttings, or divisions that you can just regrow it.
If you want to be able to eat your sorrel all year round, consider succession planting. In other words, plant each row one week apart.
This way, you’ll have rows that come ready to harvest one after the other. You’ll always have sorrel to eat, rather than waiting on individual plants to become ready.
These microgreens really should only be eaten at peak flavor. No need to suffer from poor taste because they’re simple to restart from scratch.
Sorrel is a herbaceous perennial that doesn’t need overwintering if you’re in zones 4-10.
For lower zones, consider using mini-greenhouses, row covers, or a thick layer of mulch to insulate the crown/roots during the cold season.
If you’re growing in planters, bring your sorrel indoors to save it. Otherwise, leave your sorrel outside in the garden for the winter.
Cut it down to soil level right above the crown. The leaves naturally will wither, so you don’t want to just leave them there or bugs will eat them.
Sorrel will come back next season if properly insulated from cold. You can also let it bolt and then save the seeds if you want to replant.
Sorrel is highly resilient to pests.
You may come across the usual handful of bugs like those pesky aphids, but they can be controlled with organic horticultural oil, soapy water, or insecticidal oil.
You can also just spray them down with a hose.
The more you do it, the more they get disturbed. But don’t overwater! They just may forgo your plants in search of others to infest.
Sorrel is also highly resilient to disease. You may encounter mildew, mold, or fungus, but this comes from overwatering or poor evaporation.
Trim the leaves if dense. Harvest on time.
It’s important to note that if water pools in the soil or leaves, it can raise humidity so bugs come.
If you have foliage that you don’t plan to eat, trim them. Toss them into compost or dry them out. Don’t just let them wilt in place.
Sorrel can grow well with a variety of plant buddies. Some of the most popular choices include:
- Perennial herbs
Don’t plant with
Sorrel is considered invasive and can easily sap the nutrients from neighbor’s plants.
So this is something you need to worry about.
Space each plant or introduce barriers so your sorrel doesn’t go nuts. Give each plant its necessary space and you’ll be OK.
Use sorrel for its signature flavor in a variety of culinary recipes.
Use it to accompany others. greens in your salads. Flavor your soups. Slow cook it into your stews.
Sorrel goes well with egg dishes or sour cream. It’s very popular in eastern Europe.
There are tons of recipes online you can search for.
Some of the most popular sorrel recipes that caught my eye:
- Jamaican sorrel drinks
- French sorrel soup
- Sorrel tea
- Sorrel sour cream
- Sorrel egg omelets
Freshly harvested sorrel that’s been unwashed can be stored in the fridge for 2 days. You can also preserve your sorrel by drying them out.
Wash them thoroughly, then line them on a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay them out so they get a lot of surface area- no bunching.
Turn your oven to 180F and watch them dry up. Turn it off around the 10-minute mark or if they start to burn. Let it cool.
Then they’re ready to be stored in a jar. You can crush them if you want. This is how you make sorrel flakes or powder.
Sorrel powder is super simple to make at home and you don’t need to waste money to buy it from the grocer.
Sorrel is an herb that can easily be container planted.
Choose a pot with at least 3 drainage holes, in case one gets clogged. The container should be at least 8 inches wide for 1 sorrel plant.
Larger containers can hold more plants, but you shouldn’t crowd them because they’ll all suffer from nutrient competition.
Don’t use containers that are porous if possible to prevent the moisture from evaporating. Plastic works, but some people don’t like artificial dyes or BPA.
You can opt for ceramics if this bothers you. Plastic is also much lighter, so that makes moving it around a lot easier on the muscles later on. Try moving a stone planter full of water. That’s no fun. If this is you, get a rolling plant stand!
Use a soil that contains moisture-retaining properties.
Think peat moss or compost. Container planted sorrel naturally dries out quicker. And if it gets dry, it’ll severely harm the leaves.
Put some mulch to help prevent weeds, keep it moist, and insulate it from wide temperature swings. This is useful if you’re somewhere that gets random temperature dips out of nowhere.
Sorrel can be grown indoors easily. It tends well to pots and you can grow it near a sunny window or use grow lights.
As with any other perennial herb, give it plenty of water before it dries out. Use a pot wide and deep enough for its root system.
Watch for signs of nutrient buildup in the container. Don’t use hard water to water it. Supplement with plant food, but half the dosage so it doesn’t buildup in the container.
Otherwise, growing in a pot is excellent because you can move it around as you need. The weather is no match for your container-grown sorrel!
How do you collect sorrel seeds?
If you want to save the seed for next season, let your sorrel bolt.
This will produce seeds that you can harvest. Save them in a jar for next season. Keep seeds out of moisture and sunlight.
Note that if you want to propagate them again, that’s fine. No problem.
But if you grow them as perennials, after 2-3 years, you’ll get very little harvest. The plants become weak and brown. Cut them down because they bring bugs.
Use the cuttings to grow new plants from them.
Common questions about sorrel care
Here are some other commonly asked questions from readers. You may find these general tips for growing soil useful.
If you have specific questions, post a comment in the comment section at the end of this page.
Is sorrel good for beginners?
Yes, sorrel is extremely easy to grow and requires little to no maintenance once you get it germinated. You can cut as much as you need for each dish and let it regrow itself.
Other than basic TLC, sorrel can be grown by beginners with no issue. The main thing to watch out for is that you harvest it on time so the bugs don’t eat it before you do.
Otherwise, it’s easy to grow and a passive plant.
How long does it take to grow sorrel?
Sorrel takes about 1-2 weeks to germinate from seed. It’s ready for harvest around 4-5 weeks later following germination.
You can harvest earlier if you want baby greens, or wait until it gets to full size if you want fuller leaves. The plant is very flexible.
Can you transplant sorrel?
Sorrel can be moved from garden to pot, pot to garden, or between planters if needed.
You should avoid moving it around if it’s unnecessary, especially if your plants are still young.
Should you decide to transfer it, be sure you don’t pull on it. It rips apart easily.
You should dig up around the edges until you get to the crown. Then gently lift it up and move it to its new home.
Should I let sorrel flower?
If you want to collect the seeds for next spring, then yes, you should let them flower.
When it bolts under the heat of sunlight, it’ll produce seeds that you can harvest and preserve for the next season.
Otherwise, there’s no point because it’ll produce some bitter-tasting leaves. It all depends on you.
If you want to have more sorrel for next season, you should set aside some of your plants for bolting/flowering specifically.
Is garden sorrel invasive?
Garden sorrel is considered invasive by some.
It will take over your garden like weeds, except you can eat it. Depending on the sorrel type (French vs. Garden sorrel), the growing conditions vary.
French sorrel will grow like crazy in drier soil while Garden sorrel likes wetter ones. You should continually prune it or use barriers to prevent it from sucking the nutrients out of the substrate for your other less “greedy” plants.
Is sorrel poisonous?
Sorrel is considered poisonous in larger quantities. It’s been documented to cause damage to the liver, kidney, and other organs. It may also encourage kidney stones. Consult with your healthcare professional if you plan to add sorrel to your diet.
Can you eat sorrel stems?
The stems are similar to rhubarb. Just picture that if you get confused.
You can cook the stems and top them with some butter to remove the acidity in the stems.
The stems are rich in oxalic acid, so you may want to help blanch it to remove some of the bitterness. The older the stem, the higher the oxalic acid content.
Usually, you’ll use sorrel just like you would with spinach. The leaves are what you usually utilize.
While you can eat it raw, it’s good to reduce the oxalic acid by cooking it. It’s not easy to eat it raw.
The leaves are eaten like any other herb- chopped up and then added to your food as you please. Yogurts, pasta, eggs, etc.
Blanching or cooking it will reduce the bitterness and high acid concentration. Just like rhubarb, you shouldn’t eat it raw if it’s unnecessary.
Don’t forget sorrel tea- that’s also quite a tasty drink that’s super quenching.
These references could be handy:
- Sorrel – UC Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County
- Sorrel – Britannicca
- Does anyone here grow sorrel? : r/gardening – Reddit
Enjoy your lemony sorrel
Congrats. You now know everything you need to grow and care for sorrel
This herbaceous perennial isn’t difficult to grow and excellent for beginners.
Its tarty flavor and rich texture make it good for everything from sour cream to eggs. It’s low maintenance, easy to harvest, and doesn’t require any costly upkeep.
Just give it some basic care- water, sun, and prune it regularly. That’s it. Grow it indoors or in your garden, sorrel is sure to please.
What do you think? Do you have any specific questions regarding this flavorful plant?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
I’ve always been interested in gardening, but I never took it seriously until I was forcefully gifted an orchid. This was what got me into the hobby and I’ve never looked back. I enjoy writing about it, but not nearly as much as getting into the dirt and sculpting the perfect decorative ornamental to enjoy for the times.