It’s a weed, it’s a vegetable, it’s a… medicine? Sorrel, a perennial herb, has been used for centuries throughout the world both as a natural remedy and food. It can help boost the flavor of a salad, and it might even help with digestion, liver health, and mouth ulcers.
There are several different types of sorrel, but in this article we’re primarily talking about Rumex acetosa (aka garden sorrel or common sorrel).
Here’s what we know about this mighty little multi-tasker.
The science behind sorrel’s benefits
What are sorrel’s benefits? Sorrel may provide a bunch health benefits, including:
Is there any evidence that sorrel actually works? Several studies suggest that sorrel does have health benefits. But whether it will make a difference for you depends on a few things.
How much sorrel you consume and what’s in that sorrel will impact how effective it is. Remember, sorrel’s a product of Mother Nature, so the vitamin and mineral levels won’t always be consistent from plant to plant.
Is sorrel safe? Sorrel has a lot of oxalic acid, a compound that can make it harder for your body to absorb certain nutrients. This can lead to issues like kidney stones or iron deficiency.
If you’re pregnant or nursing, it’s best to avoid taking dried sorrel. Talk with your doctor or nutritionist if you’re not sure if sorrel’s right for you.
Sorrel is a type of green, leafy vegetable that falls into the same family as rhubarb. Like its purple cousin, it has distinctive sour overtones thanks to high levels of naturally occurring oxalic acid. Its sharp flavor means it’s great to add to a bunch of soup, stew, and salad recipes.
Common sorrel grows over a meter tall, with clusters of small reddish-brown flowers and green spear-shaped leaves. French sorrel has a mild flavor and smaller leaves. Red veined sorrel has the most mild flavor and isn’t particularly tart. (And yes, it has red veins.)
You can eat sorrel as is or brew the leaves into a tea. You might be able to find different types of sorrel at your local farmer’s market or grocery store. Look for leaves that resemble spinach or feature red veining.
This sour plant has some pretty sweet health perks. Here’s what we know about how sorrel may be able to help.
Promotes your gum health
Take a bite out of this! The properties of sorrel may help prevent gum disease (aka periodontal disease). This condition is linked to about 15 to 20 bacterial species, but the bacterium P. gingivalis is common in chronic and aggressive forms. P. gingivalis attaches itself to your gums and causes nasty infections.
Sorrel is a powerful plant full of polyphenols, naturally occurring compounds associated with a lower risk of disease. A 2015 study found that sorrel extract could prevent and stop the P. gingivalis bacterium from adhering to or invading the gums. So, chomping down on some sorrel may be good for your chompers!
Supports your immune system
Looking to boost your body’s defenses? There’s some evidence that sorrel can provide immune support.
Sorrel’s high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that’s like a superhero to the immune system. It also helps the body heal wounds, fight infections, and absorb more iron from food. Iron is crucial for delivering oxygen around the body. So getting enough vitamin C helps your body get enough oxygen.
Sorrel is also a great source of vitamin A. This vitamin is essential in keeping the immune system functioning properly and ensures that your cells can respond to any attacks. (You don’t want any viruses or bacteria getting too comfortable in your bod.)
Protects against chronic diseases
Plants (like sorrel) are high in dietary fiber. Fiber keeps your digestive tract on track and your poops regular. It can also help to lower your risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and some gastrointestinal problems.
How can it do all of these awesome things? Eating plenty of fiber help to lower the concentration of “bad” cholesterol in your blood. That helps reduce the risk of heart disease and hypertension. Fiber can also slow sugar absorption. That helps prevent your blood sugar levels from spiking and can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Sorrel contains a lot of vitamin C. That makes it a great source of this essential nutrient, but it’s possible to overdo it. Eating too much vitamin C may cause side effects including:
The oxalic acid in raw sorrel can make it harder for the body to absorb some minerals like calcium. This can cause mineral deficiencies and other serious problems, including kidney stones and decreased iron absorption.
The dried herb form of sorrel may be unsafe for children and pregnant or nursing people. Since there’s not enough evidence behind its safety as a medicine, it’s best for peeps in this category to skip sorrel.
Pro tip: Not sure if this supplement is right for you? Chat with your doctor or nutritionist for personalized advice.
If you want to add some life to plain foods like potatoes or eggs, sorrel can help! Its tart, bright flavor can perk these foods right up. It’s tasty with smoky foods like smoked fish or cheeses. You can also pair it with cream, soft cheese, or other dairy products that balance its sharp flavor.
If the oxalic acid in sorrel concerns you, try cooking it. Cooking sorrel reduces the amount of oxalic acid down to a negligible amount. This helps make it safer to consume while still providing health perks. You can add it to all sorts of cooked dishes, similar to spinach or kale.
FYI: Once harvested, sorrel leaves lose their quality quickly. Getting an older product means you’ll get fewer of the vitamins and dietary substances that make sorrel so beneficial. Try and find a local provider, such as a farmer’s market, or try growing sorrel yourself.
If you’re not sold on sorrel, fear not, my friend. There are plenty of alternatives. Here’s what to choose based on the health perks you’re after.
Preventing periodontal disease
You can prevent periodontal disease by:
- brushing twice a day
- avoiding tobacco use
- eating a balanced diet
- flossing daily (around your teeth… flossing on the dance floor is optional)
Supporting your immune system
Eat foods high in vitamin A and vitamin C.
To get enough vitamin A, reach for:
- dairy products
Foods high in vitamin C include:
- red and green peppers
A vitamin A or C supplement is always an option, but check with your doctor to make sure they won’t interact with any other medications you’re taking.
Preventing chronic diseases
- vegetables (like carrots, spinach, asparagus, potatoes, broccoli, and green beans)
- legumes, nuts, and seeds (like lentils, black beans, almonds, and pumpkin seeds)
- fruits (like apples, bananas, peaches, pears, berries, and kiwis)
- grains (like whole-grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, and high fiber cereals)
- Sorrel is a green, leafy vegetable with an acidic taste that you can add to salads or cooked dishes.
- It contains vitamin A, vitamin C, insoluble dietary fibers, and calcium.
- Sorrel’s vitamins and nutrients provide plenty of health benefits like supporting your immune system and protecting your gums from bad bacteria.
- Sorrel’s high levels of oxalic acid may lead to kidney stones and other issues, but cooking it can combat this concern.
- Some alternatives for sorrel include foods high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber.