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!
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.
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!
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