Canary Islands herbs: Canary Island Sorrel or Vinagrera

Sorrel is a medicinal herb of traditional folk medicine

Canary Island Sorrel (Rumex lunaria) is a very common plant found growing on Tenerife and all of the other Canary Islands. It is a very useful medicinal herb used in many remedies in traditional folk medicine.

Canary Island Sorrel is known as "Vinagrera" in Spanish and this name refers to its very sharp and acidic taste like vinegar.

Canary Island Sorrel forms small bushes and grows in large clumps all over waste ground, mountainsides and anywhere it can seed itself in and get established. In fact, it is one of the most successful endemic plants for colonising new territory in arid and volcanic areas.

Canary Island Sorrel photo

Canary Island Sorrel (Rumex lunaria). Photo by Steve Andrews
Canary Island Sorrel (Rumex lunaria). Photo by Steve Andrews

Description of Canary Island Sorrel

Canary Island Sorrel is a lot bigger in size than most other forms of Sorrel but like the other species it has a high oxalic acid content in its leaves that give it its sharp flavour. Because of this though, these plants should not be used by people who suffer from gout or arthritis because the acid can make their condition worse.

Canary Island Sorrel has shiny, rounded leaves and bears flowering spikes of greenish flowers that become reddish-brown as they set seed. The numerous seeds germinate easily and this enables the plant to rapidly colonise new areas. It will grow on very rough and arid ground and is pioneering plant that is often one of the first to appear on volcanic lava flows.

David Bramwell's Medicinal Plants of the Canary Islands rightly describes Canary Islands Sorrel as "a veritable pharmacy containing vitamins, iron, tannins and oxalates as well as novel anthraquinones." This is what makes the plant such a useful medicinal herb.

Canary Island Sorrel can be used as a blood tonic and for its diuretic properties if taken in the form of an infusion of the leaves. The powdered roots can be used in a herbal tea too and sweetened with honey are an expectorant.

The juice from fresh leaves is a remedy for nasal congestion, and the plant also has laxative properties. A poultice made from the leaves can be used as a treatment for skin complaints such as psoriasis and as a remedy for insect bites and stings. 

Canary Island Sorrel has anti-inflammatory properties too but should not be used by anyone with gout, rheumatism or arthritis as already explained above.

Sheep's Sorrel and Essiac said to be a treatment for cancer

The related but much smaller Sheep's Sorrel (R. acetosella) grows in fields and meadows in the UK and many other parts of the world. It is used in herbal medicine too.

The controversial herbal cancer cure known as Essiac, which name is a reversal of "Caisse", the surname of its discoverer the former Canadian nurse Rene Caisse, makes use of Sheep's Sorrel as the main ingredient in a mixture of herbs. The others are Burdock (Arctium lappa), Turkey Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) and Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva).

Sheep's Sorrel has an acidic taste too and can be used raw in salads but again should be avoided by anyone suffering from arthritis and rheumatic complaints. The Common Sorrel (R. acetosa) has been used as a vegetable and boiled as greens as well as being used to make Sorrel Soup.


© 2011 Steve Andrews

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Comments 5 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

Hi, a fascinating hub. The common sorrel here in the U.K. has lost favour since the larger cultivated varieties were introduced from France. In Medieval times it was one of the most utilised pot herbs. I enjoyed reading of your local species along with its health benefits. Thank you for sharing.


Tenerife Islander profile image

Tenerife Islander 5 years ago from Tenerife Author

Thanks for your feedback, D.A.L!


teresa8go profile image

teresa8go 5 years ago from Michigan, USA

My favorite sorrel is common wood sorrel. I'm going to have to check out other local sorrels and learn more about them. Thanks!


Tenerife Islander profile image

Tenerife Islander 5 years ago from Tenerife Author

Thanks for posting! Wood Sorrel is an Oxalis and not related to the Sorrels in the Dock family.


teresa8go profile image

teresa8go 5 years ago from Michigan, USA

Yup I know.

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