20 February 2014

Sorrel Varieties for Garden and Table

If you ask a flower gardener about Sorrel they will describe lavender or pink-flowering, shamrock-like plants growing in their woodland gardens.

Ask a vegetable gardener about Sorrel, though, and you will hear about a reliable perennial vegetable used to flavor salads, soup, sauces, seafood, and egg dishes such as spinach-sorrel quiche.

A few gardeners call sorrel a weed that but they are usually  thinking of a different red sorrel, commonly called sheep’s sorrel or sour weed.

Part of the problem is the confusion about identification. There are 200 dock and sorrel genus members including annual, biennial and perennial herbs, so it is easy to blame one or two for all the problems.

The leaves of sorrels cultivated for cooking have a lemony-citrus flavor like kiwi fruit, that is loved by chefs. The leaves vary in shape and color based on variety, but they are all loose-leaf greens that tolerate more heat than spinach making them an ideal addition to the herb or vegetable garden.

Sorrel plants are difficult to find. Walton Farms had them at the Muskogee Farmers Market a few years ago. Southwood Garden Center in Tulsa said they have had them in past years in one-gallon containers in the perennial, ornamental section but probably will not this spring.

The seeds are started in March and there are a few varieties to choose from. To avoid the weedy herb types look for Rumex sanguineus, Rumex acetosa, Red-veined sorrel, and French sorrel. When the seeds appear in catalogs they may be placed among the herbs, in “specialty greens”, or “gourmet greens”.

Sorrel plants are not fussy about soil or location. They can take low-fertility and light or part-shade. They do better with regular water. Our Red-veined plants are at the front edge of the herb bed along a stone walkway where we can enjoy their beautiful leaves in the spring.

The young, small, tender leaves are the ones prized for eating and seeds are often planted for micro green crops. The older leaves tend to be tough. If you prefer your plants to not re-seed, remove the flowers. That will also help keep the plant producing fresh greens.

The seeds can be sown three times a year or started indoors now for early spring planting into the garden. The plants should be replaced every few years. You can let your existing plants go to seed or buy new varieties to plant each time.

When we have mild winters, Red-veined sorrel remains pretty until January. Of course, it can be covered with a cloche to extend the growing season. Generally the tap root is cold-hardy in zones 6 to 8 with a few exceptions in colder climates.

Common (English) sorrel, Blonde de Lyon, or Sorrel de Belleville, Rumex acetosa, has narrow, arrow-shaped leaves. Victory Seeds (www.victoryseeds.com) sells this variety 900 seeds for $2 and its catalog says each plant grows two-feet tall and wide. Common sorrel is native to northern climates, is cold-hardy to zone 4 but prefers full-sun there (55-days).
Red-veined sorrel or dock
Red-veined dock/sorrel, Bloody sorrel, Bloody dock or Rumex sanguineus grows into an 18-by-18-inch rosette of bright green leaves veined in purple or dark red. The leaves are ready to pick 55 days after seeds are planted.  Park Seed (www.parkseed.com) 400 seeds $3.

French sorrel, buckler-leafed, Mammoth Lyon, or Rumex scutatus, has wide-base shield-shaped 18-inch leaves, ready-to pick in 60 days. This variety is lower in oxalic-acid and therefore is considered “refined” by Territorial Seed (www.territorialseed.com).

If you decide to plant garden Sorrel, you will be in the company of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Germans who ate it. The nutritional value is in its abundance of potassium, vitamins C and A. Pests include Dock beetle.








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