This is a really good ‘eat the weeds’ plant!. Rumex acetosella is a perennial plant commonly known as ‘sheep’s sorrel’ and is a very small ground hugging green leafy herb that grows from a fine rhizome. It naturally reseeds and regrows in any cool wet weather but more naturally in autumn into winter here in Australia. It is also known as Acetosella vulgaris and is considered a common introduced pasture weed in eastern Australia. It has a fairly high level of oxalates – which is what gives it the really impressive lemon flavoured ‘bite’ after the initial slightly bitter green leafy taste. It is great to see someones face when they try it for the first time and it is well grown – as the secondary lemon ‘bite’ is very surprising to most.
The oxalates can be removed by cooking but it is so impressive in its fresh state it’s so much better to just eat small amounts fresh.
These oxalates are what makes it a weed as it is not so good for cattle or sheep etc eating it vast amounts as they graze.
Given this i’m not sure why it’s commonly called just ‘sheep’s sorrel’ by many people and references – growing up we always called it ‘sheep’s head’ or ‘lamb’s head’ sorrel because it sort of looks like a small lamb’s head with big floppy ears sticking out the side.
In small amounts it is apparently ok – but eating a whole large bowl of it your self is possibly not great for you if you have any oxalate affected problems like arthritis or gout etc. This i assume would also be affected by how it is grown and how fleshy the leaf is etc. i.e.. eat in moderation like many plants and herbs.
It has a lot of other useful minerals and nutrients etc.
It will reproduce profusely if left to go to seed in a garden plot or open garden bed. I have it growing around the edges of planting plots and just leave it to do it’s thing where it will help suppress other undesirable plants by growing densely. It needs lots of water and sun to grow the best quality. Mulching thickly does help a lot.
It is a perennial and grows from a rhizome so it will spread and increase in size and keep growing for a long time if not too disturbed. Regular harvesting helps thin it out and allows you to keep an eye on any other competing weeds.
It’s pretty easy to transplant – just rip a section up and plant it again and water it well.
There appears to be quite a few variations and it is worth looking for a good one that has a dense fleshy thicker more balanced looking leaf with a good flavour.
The flowers usually appear in summer when the environment dries out and tend to make the plant put all it’s energy into that and the leaves can get quite wire like and not very nice tasting.
You can grow it in pots but it tends to grow better in the ground and does not really take up a lot of space. I gave up growing it in pots and just let it grow in the ground because where it had escaped and was growing out of the base of the pots and around them it was better quality and better tasting.
This plant is not Rumex acetosa which is the ‘common’ or ‘French’ sorrel with larger leaves. There is much variation in the sorrel family and their common names are fairly meaningless in general as they can often refer to numerous species. There are some that are tasty and good eating and there are some that are really awful and inedible – even cooked.
Here are few varied references:
- Australian Botanic Gardens