The weed worth growing: Sheep’s Sorrel!

Aah, Rumex acetoselia. That sour weed you loved picking as a young one. I feel like it has brought smiles to kids all over, the first foraged delight. From an onlooker’s perspective, Sheep’s Sorrel is not a particularly riveting plant. At 15-50 centimeters high, this hairless perennial is short and nondescript, a simple weed that could be overlooked. But BOOM, take a bite and you will be pleasantly surprised by the oxalic acid. It has slender, widely spreading rhizomes with numerous arrowhead shaped leaves. The small flowers can be red or yellow and each plant has either male or female flowers (Pojar and Mackinnon, 2004).

It can be found living all around the world, in disturbed sites such as pastures, roadsides, lawns, pathways and waste spaces. Much to the enjoyment of ambitious city slickers eager for an afternoon pick me up, it gravitates toward human settlements (Pojar and Mackinnon, 2004). Sorrel was likely introduced from Europe and now thrives throughout North America in USDA Zones 1-9 (TC Permaculture, 2013). It was never traditionally used by Coastal First Nations, however some folks have said that children would eat the leaves (Pojar and Mackinnon, 2004). A tasty treat that transcends all cultures, I suppose!

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Pick me when young and tender!

The primary uses for this plant are all for consumption. You can eat every part and it is rich in vitamin C. The secondary uses vary, with perhaps the most exciting being that it is a dynamic accumulator and a pioneer species. This means that it will draw up important nutrients (like phosphorous, potassium and calcium) from the soil and transfer it into the leaves. As a pioneer species, Sheep’s Sorrel will break up hardened soil and make it easier for the next succession of plants to advance. This plant can also be used as a dye, groundcover, way to curdle milk and clean stains from clothing (TC Permaculture, 2013).

Not everyone loves this plant, as it can spread fast and be a nuisance to the everyday gardener. The oxalic acid that forms the sour taste is poisonous, however you would have to consume a lot of it for that to take any drastic affect. So go forth, my foraging friends, and nibble away. Perhaps that annoyed gardener will thank you.

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Rumex acetosella, part of the buckwheat family!

Below is the rap I wrote about Sheep’s Sorrel to the tune of Bust a Move. Thank you Young MC for letting me butcher your beautiful lyrics. Next time we meet, I’ll be sure to harvest some leaves for you and clean your stains.

 

[Bust a move – Sheep’s Sorrel rendition]

This here’s a jam for all the permies

All of us stoked on weeds and wormies

Get weird looks coz your over-zealous

But we all know they’re super jealous

 

Beg my pardon, step to my garden

I’ll share some thoughts on a wicked plant

Sit on tight, I’ll try not to rant

 

Farm day function, foragers luncheon

Food is served, it’s sheep’s sorrel you’re munchin

Tastes like lemon and you puck your face

But then you ate so much you need to find its place

 

Sorrel lives all over, except the tropics

Even though we love it, it’s still exotic

Slender width and green leaves flowing

Come on permies, this weed’s worth growing!

 

Latin name is Rumex acetosella

Can’t remember that? Hell I feel ya!

All you need to know are a few small facts

Like medicinal uses and how the functions stack

 

Seedlings are showing, so you’re goin

To the plot where the food is flowing

Spring has come, past the winter blow

You see sorrel, at the edge of the row!

 

Now you’re on a mission and you’re wishin

Someone could cure your kidney condition

Looking for pills in all the wrong the places

No fresh plants, just pharmaceutical traces

 

But as a permie, that ain’t how we play

We look to the wild to guide our way

 

Say you’re a sick fellow, and I say “hello,

Please explain your constant bellow”

You tell me that you have cancer

Well, this green weed might be your answer!

Or, hey, do you feel pain and inflammation?

The tannins is sorrel will cause elation

Now I know it’s not on your doctor’s note

But dude, I’m telling ya, it’s what the botanist wrote!

 

Some people are holistic, naturalistic

Harvesting sorrel makes them opportunistic

They get the goods, from roots to leaves

Coz everyone knows it’s full of vitamin c

 

Sorrel is more than a weedy situation

It’s a hairless perennial combatting starvation

The rhizomes are aggressive and spreading

Better watch out, coz this weed is shredding!

I won’t stop there, the uses get greater,

This fine plant is a dynamic accumulator!

 

The oxalic acid packs an unexpected punch

But that tastiness adds a kick to my lunch

No need to water or prune, it’s easy going

Come on permies, this weed’s worth growing!

 

References:

Pojar, J. and Mackinnon, A. Plants of Coastal British Columbia: Including Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Vancouver: Lone Pine Publishing, 2004.

Temperate Climate Permaculture. Permaculture Plants: Sorrel. Online Blog, 2013. Retrieved from http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.ca/2013/03/permaculture-plants-sorrel.html