This plant is known by several common names— Field Sorrel, Sorrel, Red Weed, Sour Dock, Sour Grass, Dog-eared Sorrel—proper identification vital despite common name
FAMILY: Polygaonceae (Greek—polys (many) gony (knee—referring to the jointed stems)
PARTS COMMONLY USED: Primarily above ground portions
COLLECTION: Ideally at each season; leaves in Spring, Summer and Fall, roots in Fall and Winter in milder climates, seeds when ripe
DESCRIPTION & HABITAT: acetosella means vinegar salts. It is the smaller of the sorrel plants and should not be confused with the French or Garden Sorrel (Rumex acetosa). (It is considered less active in it’s properties than either of those varieties.) It is found in pastures and dry places. The plant is not native to the U.S., but was brought from Europe with the early settlers. Toward the end of summer, the plant becomes tinged with a red hue. A slender plant, I have seen it grow from 3 or 4 inches or much taller—depending on it’s environment. The leaves are approximately 1/2—3/4 inches in length, have long petioles, variable in width, narrow-lanceolate (shaped like an arrowhead). The yellow-orange (male) or red-orange (female) flowers are on long stalks, and have very small triangular seed pods. Easily grown from seed, I encourage each of you to grow some for your own use—even in a small pot on a windowsill. Perennial.
HISTORY & USES: Many sources give reference to the Sorrels but not specifically the Rumex acetosella. They seem to interchange them—Garden Sorrel, Wood Sorrel, French Sorrel, Mountain Sorrel. This makes it a rather difficult, and confusing, undertaking to sort out which properties are specific to this plant. Several author’s works I consulted would refer to Garden Sorrel in one part and then switch midstream to Sheep Sorrel—implying they were one in the same. This can be very misleading to someone! Although the “true” sorrels have many commonalities, it is also important to recognize that proper utilization and identification of a plant requires accurate information!
Sheep sorrel taken as a cool drink may reduce a fever. As a tea it is good for diarrhea, a gargle for sore throats. It has been used for internal and external bleeding (due to its astringent properties), but I would seek medical attention first! Instead of trying to sort out the mish-mash of inaccurate information, I decided to look at the chemicals found in this plant, it’s actions, and go from there. Seemed safer to me! Although many of the actions seem contradictory, keep in mind that it is the degree that the chemical is present in the plant which will determine it’s overall actions expected.
Sheep Sorrel is high in antioxidants. These protect the cells from free radical damage caused by pollutants and the normal activity of cell metabolism or destruction. It appears to be antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral and antiparasitic. (Anti means against.) It also seems to be high in anti-tumor properties. A word of caution here for the trusting—most of the studies were done on mice. Anecdotal evidence seems to support that this may be anti-tumor for humans though! The anti-inflammatory properties would suggest why it has been found helpful for those with arthritis. The many vitamins and minerals offer a plausible reason why it also has been found helpful for those with fatigue, lack of energy, muscle aches. It’s many constituents related to functions of the blood, or circulatory system, indicate it may be helpful for those who are suffering imbalances in that regard. Indications are there for constituents which would relax the nervous system, muscles, and decrease pain. This herb truly seems to be abundant in properties which could possibly help in a variety of health concerns. Along with that, unproven theories are that it possesses some antiangiogenesis properties. That long medical term loosely translated means that the blood supply created by the tumor to continue it’s existence and survival is cut off. This is one of the avenues allopathic medicine is studying in regard to cancer treatment.
Anthracenosides are present in Sheep Sorrel. This chemical serves as a gentle laxative. It should not be consumed by pregnant women, or persons with varicose veins, hemorrhoids, or blood disorders that could be exacerbated by increased blood flow to the abdominal cavity.
ORGANS/SYSTEMS AFFECTED— blood, heart, immune system
LOOK ALIKE—If you are only looking at the leaves of a plant trying to identify it, then look again! Sheep sorrel sometimes will be found next to Common Nightshade. Both have arrow-shaped leaves. One is an upright plant (the sorrel) and the other is a vine (Nightshade) with a very different display of flowers and fruit.
The Sheep Sorrel plant is much smaller than the French or Garden Sorrels.
THOUGHTS: It is high in Vitamin C, therefore considered “anti-scorbutic”, or anti-scurvy. Also high in beta-carotene, potassium and phosphorus. It’s oxalic acid content has been a source of discussion with many of our clients. This chemical can interfere with calcium metabolism when consumed in very large quantities for prolonged periods. Those with kidney disease should avoid this herb for that reason. In my readings, I found the following in relation to oxalic acid: It may interfere with iron absorption and inhibit calcium absorption. A few sources suggested to take Vitamin B6 (pyroxidine) and magnesium. Sheep sorrel and Slippery Elm are reported to contain B6 and magnesium. Could it be enough to balance out the oxalic acid content?