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Sheep Sorrel

Native to Asia and Europe, this lemony edible plant has naturalised widely in Australia and is commonly found in backyards.


What Is Sheep Sorrel?

Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) is a species of flowering perennial weed in the Polygonaceae family. The name sorrel is derived from the Germanic word ‘sur’ and the old French word ‘surele’ meaning sour.

Sometimes referred to as field sorrel, garden sorrel, sour weed or sour dock, it favours acidic soils and sunny positions. With a high concentration of vitamin C, sheep sorrel has been consumed as a tea for a very long time, as well as being added to a variety of foods.

How To Identify It

Sheep sorrel is most easily recognised by its arrow-head shaped leaves with two distinct basal lobes. It grows in clumps that stem from a rhizome which has aggressively spreading lateral roots. A close relative of dock, sheep sorrel has a similar flower spike that throws small flowers off an upright stem that will reach a height of around 30 centimetres. The spike will branch at the top with tiny yellow-coloured flowers (if it’s a male plant), or reddish flowers (if it’s a female plant), which both develop into reddish-brown seed heads.

How To Eat It

The young leaves are small, quite decorative and, due to the high levels of oxalic acid, have a refreshing lemony ‘zing’ to them. Oxalic acid, also known as oxalate, is an organic compound that is found in many plants. Our bodies can produce its own oxalate or we can get it from our food. Though it was once prescribed to cure scurvy due to its high levels of vitamin C, we wouldn’t recommend eating large and regular quantities of it, because in some people it can crystallise and form kidney stones.

Eaten occasionally, and in small amounts, fresh sheep sorrel leaves are a delicious addition to salads, risotto and quiches or, due to that lemony ‘zing’, an excellent addition to salad dressings. The fresh leaves of sheep sorrel can also be used in a similar way as rennet, as it will work as a coagulant in milk for cheesemaking.

Tonic Treatment

Sheep sorrel is one of four main ingredients in a tea called essiac, which has been used as an alternate remedy to treat tumours and even some cancers. Originally used by native Americans, it was popularised by a Canadian nurse named Rene Caisse – her surname is essiac spelt backwards – who created the formula in 1922. Due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, sheep sorrel teas are widely used as a general body tonic.

Sheep sorrel & potato soup


1 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp chopped garlic

1 1/2 cups of lightly packed sheep sorrel leaves

1 kg potatoes, unpeeled and diced

2 cups vegie stock

1 tsp thyme

1/4 tsp pepper

1 cup milk

1 cup water


Heat olive oil in a stockpot over low heat, add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add leaves and cook for around three minutes until leaves are wilted and have turned a dull, khaki colour.

Add potatoes, stock, herbs and pepper and bring to the boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat before adding the milk and water and blend until smooth. Serve with a dollop of cream.