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French sorrel

French sorrel

Photo and story by Russ Grayson

Common name: French sorrel.

Botanical name: Rumex acetosa

Growth form: Perennial, clumping, leafy vegetable of temperate regions with long, lanceolate-shaped leaves. Grows to around 60cm high with deep roots and small whorls of reddish flowers.

Propagation: From seed.
Centre of diversity: Europe to Central Asia.
Edible part: Leaf.
Uses: Vegetable, cooked.

Uses in community food garden design:

  • plant in perennial beds so the plant is not disturbed by cultivation of annual crops
  • plant amid the food forest/orchard trees
  • useful as a border planting along paths where if close-planted its broad growth may form a physical and shade barrier to weeds.

Note: Planting a sufficient quantity of perennials like French sorrel in the community garden makes available a supply of leafy green vegetables throughout the year.

Intersperse it among the community garden’s fruit trees as a ground-layer planting where it gets sufficient direct sunlight.

French sorrel is related to the edible wild dock found on unmaintained land. Unlike its wild relative, French sorrel has been selected for edible and cultivation qualities over time and yields a more consistent flavour between plants. 

Wild docks 

Wild docks are wild harvested by people competent in plant identification, cautious in using the plant and preparing the plant for eating.

Caution: If harvesting wild dock relatives of French sorrel:

  • never harvest and eat a plant that might have been sprayed with herbicide or that is growing adjacent to polluted water
  • wash before cooking to remove dirt, insects and in case dogs have urinated on the plant
  • never eat a wild plant unless you are absolutely certain as to its identification and edibility.

Consult wild food and edible weed guidebooks or do a workshop on edible weeds so as to properly identify the plant and learn about preparation for eating.

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