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Sheep Sorrel Herb - Edible Weed With Healing Benefits

Updated on January 12, 2016

Sheep Sorrel Benefits - Nutritional and Medicinal

Sheep sorrel, or Rumex acetosella is a common weedy plant that grows throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere. Like the many species within this genus, it has a tangy, acidic taste, and adds a lemony flavor to salads, soups, and stews.

Did you ever, as a child, discover that certain weedy plants were fun to eat because of their zingy, sour, lemony taste? Chances are you were nibbling on one of the sorrel plants.

"Sorrel" comes from an old French word for "sour". Sorrel plants ("sour plants") can refer either to the genus Rumex (family Polygonaceae, which also includes buckwheat and rhubarb), or the genus Oxalis (family Oxalidaceae).

Sheep sorrel is also a medicinal herb. It's often used as an astringent, and it may have cancer-fighting properties. Sheep sorrel is one of the herbs in the medicinal Essiac Tea, which is most commonly known as an alternative treatment for cancer and other diseases. (Also see Essiac Tea - A Healing Herbal Tea.)

You can buy and download an inexpensive well-researched article on the medicinal properties of Sheep Sorrel, taken from the extensive The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine.

Image from Wikimedia Commons is in the public domain.

Rumex acetosella
Rumex acetosella

Sheep Sorrel

Rumex acetosella

Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) is a member of the Buckwheat family, and is also called red sorrel, field sorrel, and sour weed. It's native to Europe and Asia, but has also become naturalized in North America.

Sheep sorrel is a common weedy plant that grows in grasslands, woodlands, and fields, along roads, and in moist areas such as floodplains and marshes. It's one of the first plants to appear in disturbed areas, especially if the soil is acidic. It's a hardy plant and can grow under many soil conditions.

Sheep sorrel is a perennial with an upright reddish stem of up to two feet tall, and arrow-shaped leaves that are 1 - 4 inches long. The female plants have reddish flowers, and the male plants have yellow-green flowers. It has a reddish hard, seedy fruit.

Photo by Forest and Kim Starr, under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

Sheep Sorrel Powder Organic - 1 lb,(Frontier)
Sheep Sorrel Powder Organic - 1 lb,(Frontier)

Good quality organic product -- can use with other healing herbs for teas.


Sheep Sorrel Health Benefits

Medicinal Healing Herb

All parts of the sheep sorrel plant can be used medicinally, although the leaves and roots are most commonly used. It's an ingredient in many folk remedies, and traditionally has been as a diuretic, as a fever and inflammation reducer, and to treat scurvy. It also purifies the liver and cleanses the blood.

Sheep sorrel is the most active ingredient in the non-toxic, cancer-fighting Essiac tea and acts to detoxify and cleanse internal organs, and to stimulate cellular regeneration. It's thought to break down and reduce tumors, and some of its compounds may inhibit tumor growth. "All of the [Essiac tea] herbs normalize body systems by purifying the blood, promote cell repair, and are effective in assimilation/elimination. When used in conjunction with traditional treatment (i.e. physician), the herbs can stimulate self-healing capabilities and assist the body to rid itself of cancer." (from Herbs for Healing Cancer)

Its high tannin content makes it a good astringent (tightens and constricts soft organic tissue), and is helpful for treating diarrhea and heavy menstrual bleeding. Too much of the herb, though, can create a laxative effect. Its diuretic quality makes sheep sorrel useful in the treatment of kidney, liver, and bladder problems.

It also contains an antibacterial compound, rumicin, that is effective against bacteria such as Escherichia, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus. It also helps fight off viral infections. Sheep sorrel has also been used as a vermifuge -- that is, it gets rid of intestinal worms.

Sheep sorrel has been called one of the strongest antioxidant herbs that we can use. This helps to get rid of free radicals in the body, and help to boost the immune system to fight off the damaging effects of free radicals.

A leaf poultice of sheep sorrel can be applied to tumors and cysts. Topical application of the tea or tincture can also clear skin problems such as eczema.

The silicon in sheep sorrel benefits the nervous system.

Photo of Essiac tea in cup is my own

Rumex -- A Wild, Edible Plant

First video: Frank Cook discusses the use of Rumex as wild food.

Second video: Frank Cook discusses the use of Rumex as herbal medicine.

He may be talking about another Rumex species with very similar characteristics to sheep sorrel.


I've just "discovered" this fascinating man, only to find out he passed away in August, 2009 apparently from a parasitic infection picked up from one of his many international travels.

Read In Memory of Frank Cook to learn more about this amazing man.

There are many more very interesting videos of Frank Cook on YouTube.

sheep sorrel plant
sheep sorrel plant

Sheep Sorrel Culinary Benefits

Wild Edible Herb

Sheep Sorrel is a nutritious herb that adds a tangy, lemony seasoning to salads, soups, egg dishes, and other dishes that may otherwise be bland and boring. Sorrel leaves can be used fresh in salads and sandwiches, or cooked down for other dishes.

Sometimes the roots are dried, powdered, and made into noodles.

Sheep sorrel can be used in any recipe that calls for Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) or French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus.

The sheep sorrel leaves remain tender throughout their growing season, so can be used throughout the summer.

Photo by Forest and Kim Starr, under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

Sheep Sorrel Recipes

Fresh sheep sorrel leaves can be added to salads or sandwiches for a nice tangy taste, or brewed to make a lemony-tasting tea. Also try throwing a few chopped sheep sorrel leaves into garlic mashed potatoes.

Read the NPR (National Public Radio) story Sorrel Makes Sour Sweet for Common Sorrel, which can also be used for Sheep Sorrel.

Check out these other recipes as well!

The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

This book receives overwhelmingly positive comments in the Customer Reviews.


The Forager's Harvest - A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Product Description

A practical guide to all aspects of edible wild plants: finding and identifying them, their seasons of harvest, and their methods of collection and preparation. Each plant is discussed in great detail and accompanied by excellent color photographs. Includes an index, illustrated glossary, bibliography, and harvest calendar. The perfect guide for all experience levels.

sheep sorrel leaves
sheep sorrel leaves

Side Effects and Precautions for Using Sheep Sorrel

Eating sheep sorrel in small quantities to spice up a dish, or drinking 1 - 3 cups of tea daily for health benefits is usually fine.

Eating large quantities of sheep sorrel may produce side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, severe headache, and tingling of the tongue. Excessive quantities may cause poisoning.

People who have kidney problems are advised not to eat sheep sorrel. Because of its high oxalic acid content, large amounts can irritate the kidneys and cause kidney stones. It can interfere with calcium metabolism, and cause other mineral deficiencies. Sheep sorrel may also exacerbate problems with arthritis, rheumatism, and gout. Renal and liver damage have been seen after excessive use of sheep sorrel.

Since sheep sorrel can act as a laxative, don't take with other laxatives.

Photo by Forest and Kim Starr, under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

Small Copper Butterfly
Small Copper Butterfly

Other Interesting Facts About Sheep Sorrel

Sheep sorrel is one of the main food plants for the Small Copper butterfly larva.

Sheep sorrel grows under the same conditions as blueberries (acidic soil), and thus is considered an undesirable weed for blueberry farmers.

Dark green/brown and dark gray dye can be made from sheep sorrel roots.

"Sorrel" comes from the Old French word "sour".

Small Copper butterfly photo by Olaf Leilinger CC 2.5

Do You Have Experience With Plants Such as Sheep Sorrel?

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    • leilasi profile image


      5 years ago from Belgium

      I'm a big fan of foraging and I find very important that people get to know REAL natural food! Congrats and thanks for the great lens!!!

    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 

      6 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      I think I may have visited here before. I'm just freshening up my own sorrel lens, and really enjoyed yours.

    • giovi64 lm profile image

      giovi64 lm 

      6 years ago

      I've never tried.

      Good info.

      Beautiful and interesting lens!

    • mihgasper profile image

      Miha Gasper 

      7 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      I used weeds to sell them to cosmetic company... It helped me survive my student years:-)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I've not yet had an experience with edible Sheep Sorrel ... but I am compelled to seriously give it a healthy try!

    • ellagis profile image


      8 years ago

      I love to learn about plants and their traditional uses. Yes, I like to eat plants taken "from the wild", because I have the luck to have a friend who is a real expert of this argument.

      Thank you for the lens!

    • JoeLaBarbera LM profile image

      JoeLaBarbera LM 

      8 years ago

      Great lens on sheep sorrel. Helpful information.

    • GreenfireWiseWo profile image


      8 years ago

      Eat weeds and love them. Thank you for such an informative lens.

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      8 years ago from Canada

      I think that I used to eat this as a child. We lived deep in the woods so ate a lot of berries, flowers, and leaves as children. I remember other children telling me which leaves were safe to eat and which were not. I never remember feeling ill from eating from the bushes so they must have been right. Great article.

    • KarenHC profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from U.S.

      @spiritualll: Thanks for the good words :-) I'm glad you enjoyed this.

    • spiritualll profile image


      8 years ago

      Very nice lens!

      I really appreciate your work!

    • LouisaDembul profile image


      8 years ago

      I used to eat weeds, when I lived in the countryside. It's great to learn about a new one here, didn't really know it before.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm pretty sure that I have never seen or heard of sheep sorrel and got to learn about it here. I love how you included the Small copper Butterfly larva as fans.

    • KarenHC profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from U.S.

      Thank you very much for your comment! It's good to hear that using various herbs keeps you healthy.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      dear people, i have used herbs for many many years, my grandmother was the local village doctor back in the mountains of wales in the 800's to early 1900s, i have helped many as heal open leg ulcer, help ease pain in the joints cure my wife of kidney stone years ago, recently within the last three, four years cured ym wife of gallstone, we eat our normal food like we always have, myself i am always drinking one herb or another which i am sure has kept me in reasonably good health at my age of eighty years.

      thank you


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I don't think I have ever heard of this plant. Sounds like it could have some very good health benefits. You covered it very nicely.

    • EmmaCooper LM profile image

      EmmaCooper LM 

      9 years ago

      Great lens! I have added it to the link list on my one about Wild Plants :)

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      love the photos, and the information is truly well done. thanks for the lens.

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 

      9 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      Great information here! I appreciate the photos!

    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 

      9 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      Hey, I've got a sorrel lens too! I'm added this to my herb information lens, giving it an Angel Blessing, and also adding it to my Angel lens! Phew!

    • LadyFlashman profile image


      9 years ago from United Kingdom

      How interesting! I will have to keep an eye out for this and give it a try. Great lens!

    • kohuether lm profile image

      kohuether lm 

      9 years ago

      I love cooking with edible weeds! Sheep sorrel is one that I am not that familiar with and I'm always looking to branch out.


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