When to plant sorrel?

How to grow sorrel: Why you need to plant this lemony perennial

Sorrel is a robust and persistent sort that grows like a weed (which it’s not) and can be used to tart up your tastebuds in a variety of dishes.

Words: Kristina Jensen

Sorrel is a plant with evergreen tenacity and tasty leaves that are always ready to pick. It has been a mainstay in my garden forever, albeit that I move fairly regularly: I either collect a seed or four to germinate, or dig up a piece of the root and replant it – and off it grows again. Although sorrel can go to seed twice a year, once a plant is established, all it needs is a chop back and a bit of compost every now and then to keep it healthy. The red-veined variety is one of my favourite salad greens with its uniquely patterned leaves.

Red-veined sorrel

The sorrel I am speaking of here, the one most commonly used for salads and cooking, is Rumex acetosa, also known as sour dock. There is another popular rounder-leaf variety known as French sorrel (Rumex scutatus). Both have a distinctive lemony flavour, ideal for pesto, smoothies, salads and soups. Sorrel can be used, cooked, in place of spinach in many recipes. It can also add the citrus tang to a dish to replace a lemon, especially in fish.

Used as a cure and preventative for scurvy for centuries, sorrel, like watercress and chickweed, is high in vitamin C. It is known to remove excess fluid from the body and contains oxalic acid (which gives it the sour taste) so beware if you suffer from gout or heartburn – don’t overdo it.

Sorrel likes the cooler weather so it’s an ideal plant to get going in early March as it will happily provide leafy greens all winter long if situated in a well-drained, composted garden bed with plenty of sun. Come summer, it tends to bolt and produce long red stalks covered with masses of seeds which then have a habit of insinuating themselves hither and yon throughout your garden. Best to nip the flower stalks out and chop the plant right back to the ground. It will come away again just fine with a new crop of delectable young green leaves. Unless you are feeding an army, one or two sorrel plants is plenty and if you are limited for space, sorrel is quite happy to grow in a pot.

Growing sorrel from seed is very easy. For a summer crop, sow in early September and for a winter crop, sow in early March. You can either start your plants off in a small punnet of good-quality seed raising mix, or sow them directly into a garden bed about 20cm apart. Keep an eye out for slug damage; they just love tender young leaves. Set a beer trap or use slug bait.

To grow sorrel from a piece of root, slide a spade or trowel down into the centre of the plant and carefully wiggle it back and forth until you can scoop one half of the plant and its roots out of the ground. Even a tiny piece of root will grow so you don’t need much to start a new plant. Dig a nice deep hole and add a shovel full of mature compost before repositioning the root cutting in your garden.

Want to share your sorrel? Every couple of years in autumn, it’s recommended to divide established plants to avoid congested clumping. Pass these small sections on to friends and family and they can watch them spring up with increased vigour, shooting out masses of leaves for their culinary pleasure.


8 tips for preserving herbs

How to grow lemon verbena in a New Zealand garden

How to cook with scented geraniums

Growing kale over winter

How to grow chervil in New Zealand

Discuss This Article

Add red veined sorrel to your planting list. In fact, don’t wait and plant it now.

The Best Kitchen Garden Edibles

The best kitchen garden edibles are also the best ingredients. That’s why you take the time to grow a food garden in the first place, right? If you’re not eating from your garden and loving what grow then it’s time to re-evaluate.

This is one of the reasons why I wrote Grow What You Love. Central to the book is a curated group of plants that are both the gardener’s and chef’s choice. They’re plants that are easy to grow, provide an abundance of flavor, and they’re also the ingredients found most frequently in everyday recipes.

Grow What You Love is a perfect go-to resource for anyone hoping to fine-tune an existing garden or begin a garden from scratch. Dive into the pages of the book and discover joy in the simple act of growing and transform everyday meals by growing a handful of ingredients that matter most. Such as…

Red Veined Sorrel

If I had an opportunity to add a plant to the book, it would be red veined sorrel which is also often called ‘Raspberry Dressing’ sorrel. It’s gorgeous, hardy, and thrives no matter where I plant it. In fact, I can practically ignore it and still it produces beautiful leaves that are wonderful in anything calling for a leafy green or a tangy herb.

French sorrel and common garden sorrel are cousins of red veined sorrel and grown much the same way. They’re equally as versatile, but are slightly more tangy than red veined sorrel and are bright green from tip to tail.

What’s wonderful is, these plants respond to harvesting. The more you pick the more they grow. One or two plants easily provides plenty of greens to supplement salads and other dishes for a family of 4.

They can also be grown as baby greens because they’re easy to grow from seed.

Grow Sorrel As A Cut-And-Come-Again Crop

Approach sorrel as a cut-and-come-again crop and grow it as a baby green. Here’s how.

  1. Prepare your planting area. I start out by giving the soil a boost and amend with worm castings and a modest layer of compost.
  2. Sow seeds 1 to 2 weeks before your last average spring frost or when soil temperatures are about 50F. Seeds can also be sown in late fall before your first fall frost for spring harvesting. To scatter sow, sprinkle seeds throughout your planting area, or take a little more care and place seeds 1 to 3 inches apart.
  3. Gently press seeds into the soil, ensuring seeds make good contact.
  4. Cover seeds with a 1/8 to 1/4 inch layer of soil, water, and watch them grow. Sprouts emerge in about 5 to 10 days.
  5. Trim outer leaves as they emerge, harvesting as needed, or treat them as an annual and wait until plants are 2 to 3 inches tall and cut them to the ground.
  6. At some point, plants will crave maturity very much like a teenager itching for a driver’s license. This is when you can move smaller plants around your garden where they’ll have more room to develop. Share extra plants with friends.

Read Succession Planting Tips: Get More From Your Plot for tips on how to grow sorrel for continual harvesting.

Grow Individual Sorrel Plants

Repeat steps 1 – 5 above, but instead of scatter sowing plant 3 seeds every 8 to 12 inches apart and be prepared to thin the smaller sprouts within each bunch. (But don’t toss thinned sprouts into the compost bin, instead, add them to your salad.)

As plants mature over the course of a year or two, they can become quite large, averaging 24” x 24” in size. It’s okay to move plants around if they begin to crowd each other. Just dig deeply around the root zone in order to capture the entire root system and then water plants with an added dose of liquid seaweed.

This is a plant that will have you visiting your garden each and every day for fresh greens to add to eggs, sandwiches, salads, summer rolls, soups, roasted veggies… honestly, the skies the limit with this one. Keep picking and eating and experimenting and you’ll discover the best kind of joy.

Other articles you might enjoy:

6 Basil Varieties to Grow & Love

Seeds 101: Seed Selection & Terminology

Grow Your Own Herb Tea Garden

Ultra-Niche Crops Series: Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.) Production and Marketing in New Jersey

Quick Facts

Origin: Uncertain – Either Sudan in Africa or India/Malaysia in Asia

Core Nutritional Value: The leaves, calyx (flower bud cover or sepals) and flowers are rich in pigments (esp. anthocyanins) and antioxidants; high in iron, magnesium, and Vitamins A and C.

Major Uses: The leaves are used for food preparation; the calyx and flowers for tea, flavoring, and coloring

Major World Producers: China (East Asia), Sudan (Africa) and Thailand (Southeast Asia)

Suitable U.S. Growing Areas: USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3–11


Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.) is an annual or perennial shrub in the Malvaceae (cotton or okra) family. It is a major cash crop in China, Sudan, and Thailand and a minor vegetable crop in several other tropical and subtropical countries around the world. The origin of roselle is unclear. Some ethnobotanists identify Sudan in North Africa as the center of origin (Mohamed et al. 2012) while others suggest India to Malaysia (Morton 1987). There are two major strains: Hibiscus sabdariffa var. altissima Wester which is important for the high quality fiber, and H. sabdariffa var. sabdariffa which is important for food uses. All roselle types have traditional medicinal values; and applications vary widely among cultures all around the world. This fact sheet focuses on three broad roselle types that are particularly suitable for New Jersey: H. sabdariffa var. sabdariffa: ruber with red or variegated edible calyx, and albus with green edible calyx; and Indian Green (Hibiscus cannabinus), a kenaf that is more important for the high quality fiber.


The calyx and flower are used for tea, jam, jelly, juice, wine, syrup, gelatin, pudding, cake, ice cream, flavoring, and coloring. In some parts of India the leaf is the primary plant part used for human consumption. The young leaves are used in a manner similar to spinach with the leaves mixed with other vegetables and food condiments for human consumption. In Thailand, tea made from the dried flower is a major drink. Sudan is currently the leading producer of roselle in Africa where the flower and calyx have wide applications in the food and drink industry. In West Africa both the leaves and flowers are the plant parts that are used in food preparations. In Liberia it is important for the leaves, while in Senegal and Nigeria the flowers and calyx are harvested. In Southwestern Nigeria the young calyx is parboiled, dried, and mixed with other vegetables and condiments for a highly delicious meal. In most Nigerian homes, when roselle calyces are available, it is a substitute for meat or fish! In Senegal, dried calyces are processed into a tasty beverage that is considered to be highly therapeutic. In Europe, Germany is the leading importer of roselle calyx for food coloring and flavoring. The United States currently imports approximately 5,000 metric tons of dried roselle calyces annually for use in brewing herbal teas (Chin 2008).

Plant Characteristics

Roselle is naturally a perennial plant but is commonly cultivated as an annual. In studies at Rutgers University, the Indian Green (IG) which is kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus) flowers readily after 12–14 weeks in the greenhouse or in the field, but the Indian Red (IR), African (Zobo) Red (AR), and African Green (AG) types take much longer to flower due to their sensitivity to day length. IR, AR, and AG types begin to flower as the day length becomes substantially shorter; usually from late September to early October. The plant is in full bloom from mid to late October and the fruit matures in November/December. Due to this late flowering IR, AR, and AG may be propagated to full maturity only under warm temperature and therefore are more appropriately adapted to tropical or subtropical climates. These roselle types do not produce mature flowers and fruit under New Jersey conditions. On the other hand, IG (kenaf) if planted early (May 15–June 15), should attain full maturity under New Jersey conditions. Leaf shapes vary among roselle types and kenaf. The plant normally starts with a simple single-lobed leaf. As it grows bigger, the leaves develop three to five lobes. In the greenhouse the leaves become smaller at fruit maturity and the number of lobes is reduced to one.


Roselle is relatively easy to grow from seed. Germination takes five to 10 days depending on type and temperature. For maximum success planning in the field, it is advisable to raise plants in flats in the greenhouse, and after four to six weeks transplant seedlings in the field. Roselle plants grow well in sandy loam to loamy sand soils with pH from 5.5–6.8. Organic matter level should be >1%. It is prudent to carry out a soil test long before crop establishment to confirm the suitability of the location chosen for crop cultivation. Plants may be grown under conventional tillage or no-till practices. Space plants about 36″ x 18″ in the field and, at 2–4 weeks after planting, apply fertilizer based on the results of your soil test. Closer spacing is recommended where early vegetative growth is desired.

If planted on bare ground, weed control is crucial in the first 6–8 weeks after planting. Chemical or manual weed control practices must ensure minimum weed interference with the newly planted roselle at this early growth stage. Once fully established, the plant canopy of the roselle will suppress future weed interference. Roselle is generally tolerant of insect attacks, but one should scout the field regularly for leaf-feeding insects and control them with recommended treatments as soon as they appear. Disease problems are also rare in roselle plants. However, it is always important to be vigilant and take note of any unusual symptoms so one can take appropriate control measures. There are currently no pesticides registered for pest/disease control in roselle, so physical removal and disposal of affected plants are recommended. Nutrient deficiencies, chemical damage, or other abiotic disorders may be confused with disease problems. Seek expert advice to ensure proper diagnosis and any possible treatment of the problem. Diagnostic services are available at Rutgers Plant Diagnostic Laboratory.

Leaf Harvest and Handling for the Market

In New Jersey a major niche market for roselle leaves is the Asian Indian population. In this community, roselle is known as “gongura”, and the leaf is the main attraction. Leaf harvest may begin as early as six weeks after transplanting or eight weeks after direct seeding. At harvest, the main shoot and branches are cut back with a sharp knife or cutter and allowed to regrow. Subsequent cuts are done at 2–3 week intervals until the frost in late October or early November. Cut branches/leaves will retain freshness only for a few hours after harvest. For this reason, the cut ends must be dipped in water or the whole foliage kept in cold storage (45–50°F or 4°C) soon after harvest. If dipped in water, the cut branches/leaves will retain freshness for 24–48 hours. From our observations if kept in cold storage (45–50°F) the leaves may retain freshness for 7–10 days.


A good crop of roselle generates 6–8 lb fresh leaf weight/plant at 12–18″ spacing in seedbeds spaced 36–48″ apart under plastic mulch, with good weed management between the plastic rows. The total leaf fresh weight is estimated based on 3–5 harvests over a 12-week period (August–October in New Jersey). If conditions are ideal, a higher yield is possible.

Market Opportunities

There are many specialty food market opportunities for roselle leaf in New Jersey: farmers markets; bodegas (roadside/street markets); and Indian groceries, restaurants, and brokers. For the farmers market, cut branches/leaves may be bunched similar to whole-plant spinach, or sold individually by weight. The latter strategy is more cumbersome for both the grower/marketer and the consumer. For other markets, the cut branches/leaves are packaged in well-aerated 5–15 lb/box units. The “harvest-your-own” marketing option is not common and not likely to be a major option for roselle production, as the grower must ensure that the plants are not destructively harvested by untrained customers. Currently the market for the red roselle types is much larger than for the green types due to cultural preferences.

Flower Harvesting and Handling

Roselle may be grown for flower and seeds in New Jersey only in heated greenhouses. Without artificial lighting, roselle flowers in October/November and seeds will mature in December/January. Growers may harvest fully open flowers along with the bracts and calyx when the plant resumes flowering. At full bloom, flowers may be harvested every 2–3 days and harvesting may continue for four to six weeks until the plant senesces (enters dormancy). Towards the end of the growth period it is suggested that flower harvesting be discontinued to allow fruit maturity for seed production for future use. Harvested flower should be handled carefully to allow for proper drying and retaining high quality for tea or other uses. Air drying under low humidity gives the best quality flower. Spread fresh flowers thinly on a clean surface (fiber preferred) and allowed to dry naturally over several days or weeks.

Market Opportunity for Roselle Flower and Fruit

In many countries, Hibiscus flowers and fruit have major applications. There is currently no information on the market opportunities for roselle flower, fruit, or seed in New Jersey. However, based on current information from major users of roselle in different parts of the world, especially China, Germany, Thailand and the Sudan, it is clear that roselle flower, fruit, and seed have a future in New Jersey’s agricultural economy.

Food Safety

While most roselle plant parts are cooked prior to consumption, the calyces or dried flowers can be consumed raw. All produce items should be treated with care, but those consumed raw warrant extra attention throughout the production and post-harvest handling process:

  1. Quality irrigation water should be used, particularly when the irrigation water will come in contact with the edible portion of the plant. The source of the irrigation water should be assessed annually through water sampling. A decision tree from Cornell University can help you determine the quality of your water and proper actions.
  2. Workers coming in contact with the product should be educated on best practices for worker health and hygiene. A robust worker health and hygiene training should include information on human pathogens commonly associated with fresh produce, signs of human illness, modes of cross-contamination, and proper handwashing techniques and restroom behaviors. A video introduction to worker health and hygiene training is available through the National Good Agricultural Practices Program. For the most up to date versions of this resource please contact the Rutgers On-Farm Food Safety team.
  3. Containers and tools used for harvesting, transport, and marketing should be appropriate for use and clean and free from potential hazards.
  4. Water, if used to wash the harvested roselle, should be of drinking water quality.
  5. Roselle stored in refrigerated containers should be kept away from potential contaminants, including raw meats, eggs, dripping cooler condensation, field equipment, and personal items.
  6. More detailed information on on-farm food safety for fresh produce operations can be found online at the Rutgers On-Farm Food Safety program and the National Good Agricultural Practices program.


Roselle will grow well on good soils under New Jersey conditions and elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic. Maximum vegetative yield is feasible under good management practices as described above. Production for leaf has a huge potential under field conditions. Flower, fruit, and seed production and processing for maximum yield are currently feasible only under greenhouse conditions. The yield and quality to expect will depend on the roselle type or variety and the level of management applied. Market opportunities are significant for leaf production, with the Indian population as the major niche. Opportunities for flower, fruit, and seed production are also significant, but the market is in its infancy and needs to be developed.

Some Sources of Seed


We are indebted to the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and the technical staff at Rutgers Horticulture Research Farm 3 and Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center for facilitating our research and development efforts on the roselle plant.

  1. Ansari, M; Eslaminejad, T; Sarhadynejad, Z; Eslaminejad,T. 2013. An Overview of the Roselle Plant with Particular Reference to Its Cultivation, Diseases and Usages European Journal of Medicinal Plants; Gurgaon 3: 135-145
  2. Mohamed, BB, Sulaiman, AA and Dahab, AA. 2012 Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.) in Sudan, Cultivation and Their Uses. Bull. Environ. Pharmacol. Life Sci. 1:48-54 Online ISSN 2277-1808
  3. Mohammed, R., Fernandez, J., Pineda, M and Aguilar, M.2007. Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) Seed Oil Is a Rich Source of γ‐Tocopherol. Food Science 72: S207-S211
  4. Mohd-Esa, N; Hern, FS; Ismail A; and Yee, CL, 2010 Antioxidant activity in different parts of roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.) extracts and potential exploitation of the seeds. Food Chemistry 122:1055–1060
  5. Morton, J. 1987. Roselle. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL p. 281–286
  6. Sermsri, N; Duyapat, C., and Murata, Y 1987 Studies on Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa var. altissima L.) Cultivation in Thailand : II. Effect of planting time, harvesting time and climatic factors on fiber yield. Japanese Journal of Crop Science 56:64-69

For more information, please visit our website: njaes.rutgers.edu/ultra-niche-crops

October 2018

Copyright © 2020 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. All rights reserved.

For more information: njaes.rutgers.edu.

Cooperating Agencies: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and County Boards of Chosen Freeholders. Rutgers Cooperative Extension, a unit of the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, is an equal opportunity program provider and employer.

Botanical Name: Rumex acetosa

Sorrel is a perennial with broad lance shaped bright green leaves and grows to about 90cm high. Sorrel is native to Europe and Asia and has naturalised in many countries.

The tart, lemony leaves can be pulled from the base of the plant by hand, discard the stem and use the leaves to flavour soups, sauces and salads. Sorrel leaves partner well with avocado in a salad or on a sandwich. Add some shredded leaves to scrambled eggs, omelettes and frittata. Quinoa salad loves the tangy addition of sorrel as do seafood and tomato dishes. Stir finely shredded sorrel through a basic white sauce to give a real zing to vegetables. Don’t cook sorrel in aluminium pans (the oxalic acid reacts and gives it a metallic taste).

Sorrel contains iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, some calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. It is astringent, cooling and diuretic. A tea from the leaves can be used to lower a fever and a poultice will help ease itchy skin conditions.

Contra-indication: High in oxalates, sorrel leaves should be avoided if prone to kidney stones or arthritis.

Growing Conditions

Sorrel likes to grow in sun through to semi – shade. It will tolerate most soils although it does prefer moist fertile soils that are slightly acidic.

Sorrel sounds romantic, like a secret mushroom, special tincture or magical word used to conjure fawns to appear by your side. However, sorrel is none of these things — it’s a simple perennial herb that sprouts eagerly from the ground each spring. While it looks like any old lettuce, its tang and brightness are positively bewitching, almost as if the leafy plant were made of lemon zest. Play with this ingredient, because not only does it add a nice layer of flavor to many dishes, it’s hard to mess up! A quick note before you begin: Common sorrel is not the same as Jamaican sorrel, which is a magenta-hued plant that falls into the same family as the hibiscus flower and will color your meal pink.

Where it’s from

Until recently, most American chefs didn’t utilize sorrel. Most of the recipes I found come from France, where the plant has been used for centuries medicinally, as well as in soups and stews. Before the French, evidence of sorrel consumption can be found in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, where the herb was used to add acidity to rich, heavy foods, much like we do today. In fact, the word “sorrel” comes from the Germanic word “sur” and the old French word “surele,” both meaning “sour.” This is exactly the profile the plant imparts and why it’s been used not only in the aforementioned countries, but all over the world, including in Romania, Nigeria, Hungry, Russia, India and Vietnam.

Over the years, sorrel has grown to encompass many similar green-leafed herbs including patience, spinach dock or narrow-leaf dock, sheep sorrel, wood sorrel, belleville sorrel and most common, French or garden sorrel. While these all hail from different families and genuses, they all maintain similar characteristics, namely the texture, color and a sharp, tangy essence due to naturally occurring oxalic acid.

Aside from adding flavor, the leaves are used to aid digestion, treat liver problems and cure throat and mouth ulcers. Because sorrel provides a hefty dose of fiber, vitamins A, C and B6, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium, it’s considered a health food. Most medicinal consumption of sorrel comes in tea form, which is a nice way to end a heavy meal if you’re looking for a nonalcoholic digestif.

When it’s in season

Sorrel is in season in late spring until mid-summer, usually May to June. And because it grows like a weed and thrives in all sorts of conditions, you can find the plant all over the country.

What To Look For

Right now is the time to start looking for the long, emerald-hued leaves of the common sorrel plant. They are sold in bunches like any other green and either have long leaves or smaller round ones. Wild wood sorrel also can be found in the late spring and early summer months. With three heart-shaped “folded” leafs, this variety looks a lot like clover, though it also has small yellow flowers and seed pods that look like tiny okra. You can also forage for sheep sorrel, which has arrow-shaped leaves more like the classic French variety found in the market. No matter where you go to find your sorrel, get crisp leaves with an even green hue.

How to store it

Prepare sorrel soon after buying or harvesting it. The leaves will last longer washed and pressed between damp paper towels in a plastic container in the fridge, but their one- to two-week shelf life is shorter than spinach, kale or romaine. You can also dry sorrel to use as an herb, but it will lose some flavor.

How to prepare it

First, try it raw. Next, work it into pasta dishes, wilt into soups, wrap your beef in it before grilling and daintily lace the next whole fish you serve. Sorrel really can be used in any capacity. “At its peak, sorrel has a bright, tangy acidity that adds a huge depth of flavor to a dish to make it pop,” says chef Ryan Taylor of the Colorado-based Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group. “I like to use sorrel in contrast to certain dishes with creamy cheeses like chèvre or a more oily fish like salmon to cut the fattiness and really brighten up a dish perfect for spring.” One way Taylor works with sorrel is by combining it with yogurt to make a rich topping for his citrus-cured salmon salad (yogurt recipe below).

At Cafe Aion in Boulder, Colorado, chef Dakota Soifer whips up a stunning pesto with fresh sorrel (recipe below), a sauce he thinks the herb was meant for. “I love the lemon and acid component that comes along with the unique herby-ness of sorrel,” says Soifer. “The fatty and slightly salty Marcona almonds balance the dish out really nicely.” Soifer also uses the pesto as a riff on the traditional French pistou and will add a last-minute dollop to his homemade soups. In general, you can think about using sorrel in anything that calls for a bit of acid or that would benefit from a dash of tangy citrus flavor. Throw some raw leaves into a mixed-green salad, cook it down and add as a side or take the advice from these chefs and turn it into a bright accoutrement to your main dish.

Dakota Soifer’s Sorrel Pesto

“This pesto goes beautifully with fish given its lemony character,” says the chef.


  • 1/2 pound sorrel, thick stems removed
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup Marcona almonds
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, grated on a microplane
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil


  1. In a food processor, blitz garlic with a pinch of salt.
  2. Add almonds, blitz quickly, then add sorrel. With the machine running, drizzle in olive oil to achieve the desired consistency. Remember, it will thicken a little when you add the cheese.
  3. Stir grated Parmesan in by hand. Soifer notes, “You get a better consistency if you don’t put the cheese in the food processor.”)

Ryan Taylor’s Sorrel Yogurt


  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 generous handful of red-veined sorrel
  • Pinch salt to taste
  • Juice of one lemon


  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Put yogurt in a bowl or mixer and whip until it starts to peak.
  3. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Gardening How-to Articles

Red Sorrel

By Scott D. Appell | June 2, 2003

On the island of St. Croix, where I reside, it’s not uncommon to pass roadside colporteurs standing behind makeshift tables heaped with what appear to be 1- to 1-½-inch-long, stubby, wine-red flower buds. And it’s not unusual to see a crowd of customers around these tables purchasing the produce and carting it off in big bags.

The “flower buds” are actually seedpods of red sorrel, Hibiscus sabdariffa, enclosed in their fleshy calyces (plural of “calyx,” a collective term for the sepals of a flower). The red pods—technically the fruits—and calyces are fused and difficult to distinguish from one another. They are both edible and have an invigorating, astringent flavor reminiscent of the unrelated herb Rumex scutatus, or French sorrel (hence the common name).

In the Caribbean, the calyx-covered fruits are brewed in water to make a refreshing, cranberry-colored tea. They are also used in salads, jellies (such as Jamaica’s famous rosella jam), sauces, soups, beverages, chutneys, pickles, tarts, puddings, syrups, and wine. Powdered dried red sorrel is added to commercial herb teas such as Red Zinger for flavor and color.

Originally native from India to Malaysia, H. sabdariffa is now widely distributed and cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions all around the globe. Not surprisingly, it has a lot of common names besides red sorrel. These include roselle, Jamaican sorrel, Indian sorrel, Queensland jelly plant, sour-sour, lemon-bush, and Florida cranberry.

The plant was introduced to North America in the late 19th century and was a popular garden plant and food crop in Florida up until the 1950s. It was, as you may have guessed, a handy warm-climate substitute for the cranberry. But because of the plant’s zero tolerance for frost and the general decline in home preserving after World War II, it eventually went off the garden radar screen. Until now!

Red sorrel is a herbaceous annual that grows between three and eight feet tall. (Sometimes the plant is categorized as a biennial or tender perennial since, in warmer climes, it can live for more than a year.) A member of the Malvaceae, or mallow family, it bears three- to five-inch-long narrow leaves that are simple near the top of plant and palmately compound lower down. Its reddish stems have a distinctly upright habit and give the plant a solid, shrubby appearance.

The flower petals are funnel-shaped, typically pale yellow with deep red blotches at the base, and grow up to five inches wide. They are actually edible too and have a citruslike flavor. But make sure to harvest the flowers quickly, as they only last a day on the plant. Once the petals drop, the calyces enlarge and become crisp and juicy.

Red Sorrel Punch

    • 2 quarts sorrel fruit (pods plus calyces)
    • 3 quarts boiling water
    • 3-inch strip fresh orange peel
    • 2-inch strip fresh lime peel
    • 3 pounds granulated sugar (or to taste)
    • 12 cloves
    • 2 one-inch knobs ginger, unpeeled and crushed
    • Cruzan rum to taste (optional)

Remove seeds from the fruit by cutting off the bases with a small, sharp knife and scraping the seeds out with a small spoon. Place the fruit in a large, clean jar or noncorrosive pot with the citrus peels, cloves, and ginger. Pour in boiling water. Cover the container with a tea towel, and let the mixture steep for 24 hours. Then strain it and sweeten to taste. Keep refrigerated. Adults can add a jigger of rum to their servings; be sure to use clear rum so as not to affect the brilliant color of the beverage.

Along with the fruit, calyces, and flowers, the leaves of red sorrel are also edible. They have a rhubarblike taste and are served in salads and curries. The seeds likewise may be eaten; they are best roasted or ground to make flour for baking. In the Sudan, the seeds are fermented into a meat substitute called “furundu.” Red sorrel has a lot of nutritional value. The calyces, for example, are high in calcium, niacin, riboflavin, and iron.

Although red sorrel is readily available dried (and often pulverized) in urban African, Jamaican, and Caribbean markets in the U.S., it’s best when served fresh. So why not cultivate a few specimens in your vegetable or herb garden this year? The plant has enough ornamental pizzazz, in my opinion, to hold its own in a herbaceous border or cut-flower garden. The ruddy stems and seedpods make interesting additions to fresh or dried arrangements.

Plant seeds in individual pots in fertile, moisture-retentive but well-drained soil eight weeks before the last frost date. Harden off seedlings completely before setting them out in a sunny site. Staking is not required. Flowers will appear from mid- to late summer. Leaves may be harvested at any time.

Gardeners in the southern U.S. will have more success at getting their fruits and calyces to ripen outdoors. If early frost threatens, northern gardeners may have to bring the plants inside to complete the maturation.

Scott D. Appell is a regular contributor to BBG publications and the author of four books, Pansies, Lilies, Tulips, and Orchids. He lives and gardens on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Growing sorrel in home gardens

Sorrel is an early spring perennial vegetable, hardy into USDA Zone 3. Its bright lemony flavored leaves are good in mixed salads, on sandwiches and in soups. Cooking greatly reduces the tartness, so you can put large amounts of sorrel in soups.

Start sorrel seed indoors three weeks before last frost, or direct seed in early spring. Choose a spot in full sun with good drainage. Space mature plants at least a foot apart. If the plant thrives and spreads outside its space, divide it in spring.

Proper watering will enhance good production. Soak the soil thoroughly when watering, to a depth of at least one inch each week during the growing season.

Frequent, shallow cultivation will kill weeds before they become a problem. Be careful not to damage the plants when cultivating. Keep your tool away from the plant itself.

Once the plants establish, harvest sorrel at any time from early spring until frost kills the growth. Pluck individual leaves. You can use the leaves whole or chopped. Young leaves are much tenderer than older leaves.

Remove seed stalks that emerge, just as you would rhubarb. Sorrel plants are not as long-lived as rhubarb. You can start new plants easily from seed and many gardeners treat sorrel as an annual.

Red Sorrel
Botanical Name: Rumex sanguineus

Red sorrel is an attractive herbaceous perennial and one of about 200 species belonging to the genus Rumex. It has the look of spinach, with the green leaves described as lance shaped, from 5-14 cm long. The characteristic red-purple veins are quite striking and may be more prominent in the summer months. This colouring also gives the red sorrel the names ‘bloody sorrel’, ‘bloody dock’ or ‘red veined dock’.

There are various reports on the height attained by red sorrel, but an average seems to be 60cm by 40cm wide. It may grow higher in good conditions with one meter recorded as maximum height. The plant itself spreads, with a rosette like base creating a clump of leaves above the taproot. The tall spikes of tiny, greenish flowers appear in summer. Small, brown fruits, containing seeds, appear after flowering.

Red sorrel is an attractive plant that does well in borders and adds a striking ornamental feature to any vegetable garden. Sorrels do contain oxalic acid, a poison, which may need consideration where animals are concerned. Intake of oxalic acid can affect the way other chemical are managed in the body. This can result in also mineral deficiency, even though it appears that there are no outward effects.

Red sorrel is generally a plant that requires little attention, doing well in warm climates and growing in cooler areas. In the tropical areas, it can be grown as a cool season annual. It prefers full sun, but this may depend upon how hot the garden aspect is. Sorrel can tolerate part shade and some gardeners recommend a sheltered position. Sorrel is considered vulnerable to frost and will need some cover or protection if it is to survive.

The best soil for red sorrel is one that is consistently moist, but well drained. Monitor watering, although sorrel will tolerate some dryness, the plants may wilt. The quality of the soil does not have to be rich, but the addition of animal manure will help improve lighter soils.

Sorrel is propagated by seed sown directly into the garden or by wind pollinated, self-sowing seed in later years. Seedlings should be thinned to approximately 30 cm apart. Mature plants can be divided and transplanted once the leaves and stems have been trimmed. The plants benefit form pruning after flowering to encourage new growth. If you do not wish sorrel to self-seed, remove the seed heads before the wind dispersal begins.

Culinary Uses

Red sorrel is considered to be an ornamental vegetable, rather than a culinary herb. In the past sorrel was a culinary herb, but it is known to contain oxalic acid, which gives the herb its lemony taste. The young leaves of sorrel can still be used sparingly in salads, but other varieties of sorrel may be more useful for most other culinary purposes. In general, sorrel may be used for sauces and soups, salads and omelettes. Some sources note that mild stomach ache may occur if sorrel is consumed.

Other Uses

Red sorrel is recommended as a semi-water plant, placed at the edge of a pond for added colour. It can take part shade so this is often helpful with pond plants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *