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TIP OF THE DAY: Red-Veined Sorrel

[1] Just-harvested red sorrel, ready for the evening’s menu at Union Square Cafe (photo © Union Square Cafe).

[2] Beet and Red Sorrel Salad with Pistachio. Here’s the recipe from Paul Liebrandt (photo © Anna Williams | Food & Wine).

[3] Even in a colorful dish, a leaf of red sorrel is eye-catching (photo of carrot spaghetti with scallop and kale © Augustine Fou | Unsplash).

[4] Planked salmon with sorrel sauce. Here’s the recipe from Crumbblog.

[5] A field of sorrel (photo © Mariquita Farms).


The next time you’re at a farmers market or specialty produce store, look for red sorrel.

It’s a beauty that can garnish anything from a green salad to lemon sorbet to sparkling water.

It’s aesthetically pleasing, expressive, festive, and may we add, a great garnish for Valentine’s Day food and beverages.

Because we’re focused on the beauty of red-veined sorrel as a garnish, we’re not going to cover green sorrel today. As a recipe ingredient (soup, chutney, whatever), it tastes like the red sorrel variety.

Sorrel is a perennial herb with juicy stems arrow-shaped leaves. The leaves can be cooked or served raw in salads and as garnishes (the raw leaves add tartness).

As with all plants, there are numerous varieties—not only within red sorrel and green sorrel, but also

Our favorite variety has red veins (photo #1), which give it the glamour to garnish.

The name sorrel derives from the Germanic word sur and the old French surele, both meaning sour.

It is an ancient herb used by Egyptians and then, Europeans to impart acidity to dishes.

Depending on the variety, it can be refreshing, sharply acidic, or astringent; it can have a spinachlike taste with bitter notes or a milder, lemony taste (the dried leaves lose their lemony taste).

The younger the leaves, the earlier in the season (early spring to late fall), the less acidic. If the leaves are too bitter for you, blanch them for 10 seconds.

Another rule of thumb: enjoy small leaves raw, large leaves cooked.

There are three major varieties of sorrel:

  • Broad leaf/common sorrel (Rumex acetosa), with slender, arrow-shaped leaves.
  • French or buckler leaf sorrel (Rumex scutatus), with small, bell-shaped leaves.
  • Red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus), with a slender, tapered leaf and bright red veins throughout.
  • Sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella), is similar to common sorrel, but with smaller leaves. It is foraged rather than cultivated across much of the U.S.
    Another plant called sorrel is the unrelated Jamaican sorrel, from the Hibiscus or Mallow family, Malvaceae. It is used for beverages and preserves in Mexico and the Caribbean.

    Tea made from Jamaican sorrel is a homeopathic remedy to lower elevated blood pressure, bad cholesterol and as a general detoxifier.

    Our first sorrel recipe, perhaps at age 10, was to help our Nana prepare the famed cold Russian soup, schav: sorrel combined with sour cream, lemon juice, chicken broth and egg yolks, and garnished chopped egg, sour cream and scallions.

    Schav (shtshav) is Yiddish for sorrel, and it was once a hugely popular summer soup—right up there with borscht.

    In European cuisines, sorrel brings lemony intensity to whatever it graces.

  • Avocado toast
  • Beverage garnish: club soda/mineral water, cocktail garnish, juice, iced tea*
  • Condiments: chutney, pesto
  • Cream sauces
  • Cured meats: charcuterie, prosciutto, serrano ham
  • Eggs and egg salad
  • Goat cheese and quiche
  • Fresh herb (substitute for parsley, thyme, etc.)
  • Fresh lemon substitute*
  • Gratins
  • Plate garnishes: cheese plates, dessert platters, pasta in EVOO, anything that needs a bit of green and red
  • Poached eggs
  • Poached fish, from salmon to white fishes
  • Pot herb (i.e., a cooked herb or as a vegetable side like spinach)
  • Salads (beet salad, green salad, fruit salad) and dressings
  • Sandwiches
  • Sauces (check out this recipe)
  • Savory yogurt
  • Smoked or oily fish
  • Soups and stews
  • Stewed and braised meats
  • Stir-fries
  • Spice blends: for green sauce, marinades, potato soup
  • Vegetables, especially onions, peppers and potatoes
    MINI TIP: To prevent sorrel from blackening and developing a metallic taste, use only stainless steel or other non-reactive pots and cooking utensils.

    MINI TIP: If you have too much fresh sorrel, saute them in butter until they wilt. Freeze in individual ice cube containers until you’re ready to defrost and add them to eggs, grains, vegetables, etc.

    How about 100 sorrel recipes?


    Native to Europe and western Asia, sorrel grew wild in grassland habitats. It is commonly cultivated in France, Egypt, and parts of Europe and the U.S.—the areas where it is most popular in cuisine.

    The intense lemony tang is also embraced in cuisine from Nigeria to Scotland to Vietnam [source].

    Sorrel, Rumex acetosa, is a member of the Polygonaceae family of flowering plants, known informally as the buckwheat family and, outside the U.S., the knotweed family or smartweed.

    In addition to buckwheat, rhubarb is another well-known food in the family.

    Earliest known examples of cultivation include Egypt, where its tartness was used to offset rich foods [source].

    The Romans and Greeks followed suit, to aid digestion of rich foods. Homeopathically, it was used to treat liver ailments and for throat and mouth ulcers.

    Even today, it is used around the world to treat scurvy and chronic skin conditions, and to lower fevers. Both the fresh leaves and the flowers are high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and vitamins A and C†,

    Red sorrel is native to Europe and was likely brought to the United States with colonists, where it now grows throughout the country [source].

    You just don’t want to grow it in your garden: It’s what’s known as a spreading rhizome, an aggressive-spreading, hard-to-control perennial weed.


    *If you steep the whole leaves in boiling water and add sugar or other sweetener, you get a lemon-less lemonade.

    †In addition to good nutrition, sorrel also contains oxalic acid, a naturally occurring compound found in greens like including kale and spinach. Oxalic acid is lethal in very high enough doses, but you’d have to eat almost 10 pounds of greens daily to be affected [source].


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