How to Grow Sorrel Herb from Seed
- Scientific Name: Rumex acetosa
- Hardiness Zone: Annual, Perennial Zones 3-7
- Days to Harvest: 35-40 days (from date of transplanting)
- Days to Maturity: 60 days
- Days to Germination: 7-21
- Seeding Depth: ½”
- Plant Width: 18-24"
- Plant Height: 12-18"
- Growth Habit: Low-growing and bushy shrub
- Soil Preference: Moist, cool, well-drained
- Temp Preference: Temperate, 50-70°F
- Light Preference: Full sun
- Pests/Diseases: Sorrel is an overwintering perennial with few known diseases, but can be susceptible to aphids, slugs, and snails.
- Availability: See All Sorrel Varieties
Sorrel, an herb native to Europe, is known for its culinary properties but carries many medicinal properties as well. Sorrel is usually considered to be a perennial in USDA zones 5 and above, but also may be grown as an annual in zones 3 through 7. Since it is a cool season herb, it prefers cooler temperatures and moist conditions, tolerating temperatures up to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Sorrel is often times compared to spinach as the two plants are similar in look and cooking properties. When sorrel is cooked, it reduces down to significantly less mass and becomes slimy, the same way spinach does. The two differ in taste though, as sorrel is known for its tangy, lemon taste. It may be used fresh in salads and sandwiches, among other dishes. Among its herbal uses, it is known for reducing inflammation of the nasal passages and respiratory tracts, for being a useful diuretic, and is one of the four ingredients in Essiac (an alternative herbal cancer treatment).
How to Grow Sorrel from Seed
- Seedlings prefer cool, early springs
- Add organic matter to soil before sowing
- Keep soil warm during slow germination
Sorrel is considered to be a winter herb, as it does best in cooler temperatures is very cold hardy. It does best in the seasons of spring and fall for growth, as it thrives in cool and moist conditions. It typically does best to be planted in early spring, in moist and fertile soil. Sorrel prefers acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 to 6.8.
Since it is grown for its leaves, it is important to make sure that the soil has enough organic matter within it to encourage growth of leaves. For this reason, organic matter is helpful to add to the soil prior to seeds being sown, along with side-dressing the herb with compost. To ensure proper moisture is contained within the soil, mulch made be added as well. Sorrel prefers full sun with partial shade, as too much sun can deplete it of its moisture. It usually germinates within 7 to 21 days.
Sorrel prefers moist, cool soil conditions. It grows best in an acidic environment, with a pH of 5.5 to 6.8, but will tolerate other soil conditions. It is important to ensure that sorrel receives enough moisture as it is a taproot plant. Dry soil conditions will cause sorrel to wither and stunt its growth. It typically needs at least an inch of water a week, but most of the time does not require much maintenance beyond that. If you live in an area with a lot of rainfall it may not need watered beyond that, so it is important to check the soil’s moisture level frequently. Organic matter is often added to the soil of sorrel to ensure proper leaf growth, along with fertilization of the soil prior to seed sowing. Fertilization is not needed frequently, but rather once a year if any. Mulch is not needed but may be helpful in moisture retention.
- Do not over-water for risk of root rot
- Ensure that the roots receive enough water
- Make sure that it receives at least 1” a week
Sorrel thrives under consistent watering, as it requires wet soil to grow. It is important to make sure that the soil is not overwatered, as it can cause root rot and for the plant to fail. Sorrel usually requires an inch of water a week, but under warmer conditions may require more as the plant is cold hardy and prefers cooler conditions. In this case, try to ensure that the plant receives some shade and possible add mulch to the soil to maintain moisture. The ideal climate for sorrel is one that is within 45 degrees, as this is optimal. It is tolerant of warmer conditions and temperatures but does not fare well in extremely hot environments.
Is Sorrel A Perennial?
Yes, sorrel is a perennial. It fares well as a perennial in USDA hardiness zones 5 and higher, but also has annual habits in some zones, particularly zones 3-7. It does well in cooler temperatures but not extremely hot temperatures, which can hinder its growth in some zones. Depending on the variety of sorrel as there are a few, the perennial and annual habits may differ in those as well. However, sorrel is typically considered a perennial more often than it is considered an annual.
Sorrel in Winter
- Fares well in cooler temperatures (up to -30°F)
- Can survive light frosting
- Grows well inside if necessary
Sorrel fares well in the winter, as it prefers cooler temperatures and is tolerant of very cold temperatures, up to -30°F. Sorrel can also survive light frosting. Sorrel is deemed both a perennial and annual, as it is grown differently in certain hardiness zones. However, if temperatures are too low, sorrel does well as an indoor plant and will grow steadily over the winter season inside. If decided to make it an indoor plant, make sure that the pot is big enough for its roots as it is a taproot plant and requires space for growth. The recommended pot size is at least 6, but 8 to 12” works better.
Growing Sorrel in Pots
Sorrel thrives in pots as well as they do if they are outside. The recommended pot size for sorrel is at least 6-inches but 8 to 12” pots work better due to their ability to hold more growth. If grown inside, it is important to ensure that the plant receives enough sunlight as it is a full sun plant. Sorrel also enjoys partial shade from time to time, which is easily obtained as an indoor plant as these are easier to transport from different places. Make sure that the pot you plant sorrel in has ample draining holes, and that it is large enough for root growth along with supporting the plants upright growth. Ensure that the plant receives enough water, up to 1 inch a week but it may require more as an indoor plant since pots are known to dry soil quicker than if they were planted outside.
How to Care for Sorrel Plants in Pots
- Make sure your pot is big enough for ample growth
- Keep an eye on how much sunlight/shade it receives
- Make sure it receives enough water
Caring for sorrel as an indoor plant is fairly easy, the same way as if it were outside. Sorrel does not require a lot of supplemental care but rather usually is able to maintain itself. If planted inside, make sure that it is receiving enough water but not too much as to cause root rot, and make sure that it is receiving ample sunlight. Just as these things are important for its growth outdoors, it is the same as an indoors plant. Pots are known to dry soil out quickly, so make sure that the soil retains moisture. Organic matter and some mulch may be added to aide this.
Growing Sorrel Indoors
This herb is known for being grown outside but also responds well to being grown inside. In places where climate outside remains hot year-round, it can be helpful to grow sorrel inside instead of outside since it responds better to cooler temperatures and most indoor buildings have air conditioners that regulate the temperature. In these places, it is still important to ensure that the plant receives enough sunlight and water. As mentioned in sections before, it is important to ensure that the plant receives around 1” of water week at least, along with full sun and partial shade occasionally. When planting sorrel, make sure that the pot is large enough for proper growth, being 6” at least but 8 to 12” if available. A large pot is needed as sorrel grows fairly quickly and its roots extend deep into the soil in which it is placed.
Sorrel Companion Planting
Sorrel does well with many other crops, which makes it even more useful in the garden besides its benefits medicinal and culinary-wise. Sorrel is known for doing well with certain plants such as thyme, sage, rosemary, strawberries, and more. It does well in growth when it is planted alongside these among other herbs. This companion planting helps keep aphids at bay, as they are the biggest threat to sorrel. Thyme, sage, and rosemary are all a part of the mint (Lamiaceae) family. Aphids are known to be deterred from plants within the mint family as it is a natural repellant for them. This helps protect sorrel from being eaten or having its leaves destroyed from these pests. Since sorrel is generally regarded as a good companion plant for family different crops as its growth does not hinder others, it is popular for being planted near other crops in gardens. These gardens are usually vegetable and fruit gardens, too.
Depending on the variant of sorrel and during the time of year, its flowers may differ. In summer, sorrel develops its flowers that range in color from red to yellow. These are not typical flowers, as they are more of a collection of spikes. The plant grows as a rosette and only has a flower stem in the summer months. Outside of the summer months, sorrel usually develops leaves that grow from the center rosette. The smell of sorrel flowers is much like the leaves that it produces, tangy and very lemon-like.
You can begin to harvest sorrel when the plants are 4 to 6 inches tall. This usually occurs after about 4 weeks of growth and one to three months of sowing seeds. The smallest leaves on the plant are known for being a good addition to salads while the larger leaves are not nearly as zesty. Newly seeded plants take 35 to 40 days to reach bay size and two months to fully mature. When the leaves are about 4 inches long that is when they are fully ready to be harvested. To keep the plant producing new leaves, it is important to remove the flowers that bloom before they completely mature. As long as this is done, the plant will produce leaves until the end of its life cycle.
When to Harvest Sorrel
- When plants are 4-6" tall
- After around 4 weeks of growth
- When leaves are 4" wide
How to Harvest Sorrel
Sorrel is harvested best when the plants have reach 4-6” of growth. This usually occurs after 4 weeks of consistent growth. The plant is best harvested by using scissors to snip off ¼ of the leaves present. If all leaves are cut at the same time, it will not grow as quickly as it should. It’s important to do some at a time rather than all at once, as this will encourage continuous growth for the plant and more to harvest. When preparing to harvest, make sure that the flowers on the sorrel plant are removed before they mature. If this is not done, new leaves will not continue to be produced on the plant.
Sorrel may be oven-dried, hang-dried, and dried in a food dehydrator as long as it is supervised, particularly in oven drying processes and in a food dehydrator as these are more tedious than hang drying. When oven drying sorrel, it is recommended to preheat an oven to below 180 degrees Fahrenheit. While this occurs, spread the sorrel leaves on a tray and dry them in an open oven for less than 15 minutes. For hang drying, it is best to store sorrel in a warm, dark room with adequate air circulation as it can spoil easily due to moisture retention in the leaves. Due to this, it is best to not keep it in areas such as a kitchen, basement, or any other humid area. When drying in a food dehydrator, it is important to keep the temperature as low as possible and steady as this will result in the best product. By doing a low and slow dehydration, some oil within the leaf may be preserved rather than how it may be diminished through a quick-dry such as the oven process.
How to Dry Sorrel
Hang Dry: It is important to make sure that the sorrel is contained in a warm, dark room with decent air circulation to prevent spoiling and molding of the leaf. You can also cover the herb in a cardboard bag to preserve its green color if desired. Keep an eye on the temperature in the room chosen as it does not dry well in humid areas.
Oven Dry: When oven drying sorrel, preheat an oven to less than 180 degrees Fahrenheit. While the oven is heating up, spread the leaves on a tray. When the oven is finished preheating, keep the door open and dry them in the oven for less than 15 minutes until they are fully dry to the touch.
Food Dehydrator: Keep the food dehydrator on its lowest temperature setting and place the leaves in it. Dry them steadily for as long as it takes to get them dry to the touch, likely around 12-18 hours. By drying them slowly and steadily, some oil within the leaf may be preserved which usually is not in quick-dry processes such as the oven drying process.
Types of Sorrel
There are three major varieties of sorrel: broadleaf, French, and red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus). The two most commonly grown species are garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and French sorrel (Rumex scutatus). There are a few more varieties of sorrel, including spinach dock (Rumex patientia) and spinach rhubarb (Rumex abyssinicus). Garden sorrel, also known as common or sheep sorrel, is often grown wild and considered a weed. Red-veined sorrel is more decorative than flavorful but is used commonly as a salad green. Broad leaf sorrel, perhaps the best-known variant of sorrel, is a hardy perennial that has the distinctive lemon flavor that sorrel is known for. All of the variants of sorrel have many of the same properties and growing conditions.
Benefits of Sorrel
Sorrel is a highly beneficial plant, as it has many culinary uses and medicinal properties. Sorrel is popular in egg dishes and is known for its addition in soups and salads. Medicinally, it is used for reducing sudden and ongoing pain and inflammation in areas such as the nasal passages and respiratory tract. It is a known diuretic and is even one of the ingredients in an alternative cancer treatment that is known as Essiac. It has been claimed to improve eyesight, slow aging, and even reduce skin infections. The plant has significant nutritional value as well, containing high levels of vitamin C and significant levels of iron. Because of this, the consumption of sorrel may benefit one’s immune system and their red blood cell production. Sorrel is also known to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL levels. Since heart disease is the leading risk of death in the United States, particularly those who are middle-aged, this makes a good addition to one’s diet.