Sheep Sorrel – Rumex Acetosella: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Sour Spinach of Wild Plants

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Sheep sorrel (rumex acetosella) is another tangy nonnative edible and medicinal plant in Ontario. It’s very similar in usage to our native wood sorrel. But it’s an ingredient in the popular and controversial Essiac tea.

Sheep sorrel (rumex acetosella) is common here around Haliburton, primarily in ditches and sand flats. This sorrels clusters of reddish flowers look a lot like the larger, showier curly/sour dock plant you see along the roadsides here. Have you noticed docks huge red clusters that turn rusty brown and stand out along the roadsides? (Dock is next weeks featured plant!) No wonder they look alike, they are all part of the rumex genus.

Sorrels arrowhead shaped leaves are fairly unusual around here. They don’t really look like the native plant we call arrowhead. So it’s a relatively easy plant to ID.

Sheep Sorrel – Rumex Acetosella
Sheep Sorrel – Rumex Acetosella

Edible Uses of Sheep Sorrel

The young leaves are edible raw or cooked, but the stems and stalks are very tough. It tastes somewhat like rhubarb, very tart and a little bitter – another plant high in oxalic acid. If you like a sour punch to salads, it’s great to toss a few leaves in. Or use it like the herb French sorrel to add a lemony tang to recipes.

The leaves can also be steeped for a zesty tea. Sweetener is recommended. Like staghorn sumac and wood sorrel, this sorrel can also be made into a sour wild lemonade. Simmer handfuls of leaves for 20 min. You can drink this hot too.

I’ve seen wood sorrel used for pie filling, and this sheep sorrel could substitute for that.

You can keep the flowering stems cut back to continue harvesting tender leaves. If you are freezing to stock up for a recipe, blanche beforehand.

Rich in Vitamin A and C.

Medicinal Uses of Sheep Sorrel

Sheep Sorrel is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary
  • Metabolic 

Medicinal tags include Antiseptic, Astringent, Diuretic, and Laxative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes its inclusion in Rene Caisse’s “Essiac tea”. Around here I know a lot of people who have seen the use of Essiac tea, used during cancer treatment. They swear it gave their loved one more time. This tea also has burdock, slippery elm, Turkish rhubarb and a checkered history with no clinical trials that I’ve heard of. But when your doctor says you have X amount of time, I’d say drink whatever tea you believe in..

The Essiac Tea Recipe

  • 6 ½ c. of chopped burdock root
  • 1 lb. powdered sheep sorrel herb
  • 1/4 lb. powdered slippery elm bark
  • 1 oz. powdered Turkish rhubarb root

Mix well and store in an airtight glass jar in a dark place (and/or use a tinted jar). To make the tea, use 1 oz. of the mixture per 32 oz. untreated water. Boil 10 minutes and let the mixture sit in a warm crock over night. Heat up the following morning until steaming, then strain it into a clean glass jar. You can store this in a cool dark cupboard or your fridge, and refrigerate when opened for about 2 weeks. Discard if it gets moldy. And when taking it drink it slowly, letting it sit under the tongue. There are a few websites dedicated to this remedy you can find for more information.

You can find Essiac tea on Amazon!

Otherwise sheep sorrel is most commonly used for various skin conditions.

Alternative Uses of Sour Grass

You can add it to pickling recipe for cucumbers to keep them firm, like grape leaves! Grape leaves contain tannins that inhibit an enzyme that make pickles mushy. Sheep sorrel has tannins too. But I am not sure why these herbs in particular have been picked for pickling when so many have tannins.

The herb will also curdle milk for cheese-making.

Sheep Sorrel – Rumex Acetosella
Sheep Sorrel – Rumex Acetosella

Growing Rumex Acetosella

Lots of generalist wildlife will eat the leaves, but very few native insects will use the flowers. The fact that the American Copper butterfly will host on this plant hints this butterfly, like cabbage whites and Essex skippers for instance, may be also be nonnative. It’s more of a vegetable garden or medicinal garden herb. A very similar native alternative is wood sorrel.


It may be a purgative when combined with alcohol. (I need to confirm!)

Don’t consume in large quantities.

Contains oxalates, which you may want to limit or avoid if you have gout, kidney problems, or rheumatism.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

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

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries (Regional Foraging Series)

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments

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