COMMON SORREL (Rumex acetosa)

Sorrel - rust coloured in the depths of a very cold winter.

This member of the dock family is widespread in grassy places generally. It grows to perhaps two feet in height, with long stalked arrow-shaped leaves; the uppermost, however, are stalkless and clasp the stem. The flower-spikes consist of loosely-spaced whorls of small reddish flowers, appearing from mid-spring until July or even August.

Flowers of sorrel in high summer

Sorrel leaves have a reputation for sourness, reflected in nearly all its many popular names – sour docks, sour sops, vinegar plant and so on, but in fact the taste is not unpleasant, and is refreshing. John Clare tells how thirsty field-workers would chew them to quench their thirst. The leaves are often nibbled by children (and adults!), and nowadays are increasingly used in salads and as flavouring for soups and fish-sauces. The flavour of cooked sorrel-leaves is said by Richard Mabey to resemble that of rhubarb.

Text by George Metcalfe. Photos by Colin Wootton.