How to Grow French Sorrel: A Toronto Master Gardeners Guide

French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus). Sorrel is a short-lived perennial, hardy to Zone 4. Sorrel is grown for its tart, citrusy-flavoured leaves used raw in salads or cooked like spinach, and forms the basis of the famous French sorrel soup.

Cultivation: Grow sorrel in well-drained soil, in full sun or part-shade, and water deeply for good leaf production. Sow seeds directly in the garden or start them indoors three weeks before the last frost date. Sorrel forms a clump 60 centimetres by 30 centimetres. Every three to four years, divide the clumps in spring or fall to promote new growth. Sorrel can also be grown successfully in pots.

Leaves may be harvested any time from spring until fall, with young leaves tasting better than older ones. Flowers should be removed before they mature or else the plant will stop producing new leaves.

The variety of sorrel known as red veined dock (Rumex sanguineus var sanguineus) is grown primarily for its attractive, red-veined leaves, which are also edible. This variety self-seeds easily and can become invasive.

Important note: The tangy flavour of sorrel leaves comes from oxalic acid, which is harmful if eaten in large amounts. Although the acid content is reduced by cooking, people with certain medical conditions are advised to avoid consuming sorrel. See Rumex scutatus

Disclaimer: Toronto Master Gardeners does not advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. Any information in the recommended resources should be regarded as being for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any medical or health treatment.

For more information:

Missouri Botanical Garden Plant finder

RHS Grow Your Own Herbs: Sorrel

Plants for a Future, plant data base

University of Illinois Extension

University of Minnesota extension

Date prepared: December 2021

Prepared by the Toronto Master Gardeners, these Gardening Guides provide introductory information on a variety of gardening topics.  Toronto Master Gardeners are part of a large, international volunteer community committed to providing the public with horticultural information, education and inspiration.  Our goal is to help Toronto residents use safe, effective, proven and sustainable horticultural practices to create gardens, landscapes and communities that are both vibrant and healthy.

Statement on Invasive Plants: When choosing plants, avoid invasive plants, which can spread quickly and dominate gardens.  Invasive plants are sold by nurseries, big box stores or even at community plant sales.  Invasives may already be present in your garden.  They can invade gardens by spreading from under a neighbour’s fence or may be transported by wildlife.  For beautiful, sustainable options to invasive plants, see the Ontario Invasive Plant Council’s “Grow Me Instead – Beautiful Non-Invasive Plants for your Garden” at purchasing or accepting “gifts” of plants.

Statement on Home Remedies: The Toronto Master Gardeners do not recommend home remedies, as these have not been proven effective through scientific investigation, and may even damage other living organisms in the soil or plants in your garden.  There are other garden friendly options you can use.

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