Sorrel, is a green leafy plant used in cooking. There are many related plants that use this term as part of their names, but only two are normally used in the kitchen. Garden or common sorrel has large leaves and is often harvested from the wild. French sorrel has smaller leaves and is more commonly grown in gardens. Leaves from the plant are used in cooking, and they give a pleasant lemon flavor to many dishes. The sourness is due to oxalic acid, which can be toxic in large quantities, so the plant should be consumed in moderation.
Young plants may be harvested for use in salads, soups or stews. If a cook is planning on adding it to salads, he or she should stick with small tender leaves that have a fruity lemon taste. Young leaves are also excellent when lightly cooked, similar in taste to cooked chard or spinach but with a distinctive lightly sour flavor. For soups and stews, older plants add more tang and flavor.
One well known use for this plant is in sorrel soup, an Eastern European dish that can be served hot or cold. Although recipes vary, it often starts with a base of chicken broth and may include eggs, potatoes, and/or heavy cream to give it a thicker, creamy texture. The leaves are also commonly used as an accompaniment to fish.
The plant is not often found in grocery stores unless there is a good selection of local produce. Shipping it is difficult, as it does not keep well after harvest even when refrigerated. A good place to look for sorrel is in specialty food stores, where it may be available fresh or in pureed, canned varieties. For most uses, fresh is preferable, though the canned version can be used successfully in many cooked dishes. Shoppers may also want to try a farmer's market to see if it is available from local farms.
From a nutritional standpoint, sorrel provides a number of vitamins and minerals. It has high levels of vitamins A, B9 and C, and moderate levels of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Because of the oxalic acid in this plant, however, it is not good for everyone. This chemical may aggravate the conditions of people with gout and kidney or bladder stones. In addition, it can be toxic in large quantities, so the plant should be consumed in moderation.
Sorrel seedlings are not often found in garden centers, but it is easy to start from seed. The plant is a perennial, but it does not take heat well so many grow it as a spring-time annual. Garden sorrel reaches about 3 feet (91.44 cm) tall while the more dainty French variety grows to about 1 foot (30.48 cm). It is the leaves that are harvested for use, leaving the stocks to grow more. The only usual garden pests are mites and aphids, both of which can often be controlled by applying insecticidal soap.