The Nashville Herb Society will host their annual herb sale on April 20 from 9AM to 2PM. There is a 5.00 entrance fee. Each week before the sale, they send out an e-mail introducing new herbs. This week they introduced Sorrel.
SORREL (Rumex acetosa)
Common name: garden sorrel
Sorrel is the best kept secret in town! Once you have tried growing sorrel you will never stop. It is truly one of the easiest, most forgiving herbs to grow. It is a perennial herb that is hardy from zones 3-9. It likes partial shade but can be grown in a sheltered sunny spot. It can get up to 2-3 feet tall. You can grow it in the garden or in a pot on your patio.
Sorrel was once a common ingredient in soups, stews, salads, and sauces and then it vanished for hundreds of years. It’s back! It hasn’t become the trendy restaurant herb as yet, but look out, you might be seeing it on menus soon.
Garden sorrel has long, arrow-shaped leaves and a tart, lemony flavor. Europeans grew and used garden sorrel for years until the milder, round-leaved variety known as French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) was developed in Italy and France during the Middle Ages. By the 17th century, French sorrel was the preferred variety. Sorrel frequently appears in Medieval cookbooks because it was a common ingredient in “fasting day soup” which could be eaten on “fasting days” when no meat was allowed by the church.
Don’t confuse the garden and French varieties of sorrel with Jamaican sorrel (a species of hibiscus), which is dried and used in flavoring drinks. They are not similar at all.
Sorrel is rich in vitamin C but it also contains oxalic acid, so if you have arthritis or are prone to kidney stones, be careful because it can aggravate these conditions.
How do you grow sorrel? You can sow the seeds directly in the ground either in the spring after the danger of frost has passed or in the fall two weeks before the first frost date. It likes moist, rich soil with iron. The seeds take about 7-10 days to germinate. When the seedlings are about 2 inches tall, thin them. Instead of planting the seeds, however, you can purchase the plants from us at our plant sale on April 21st at the Tennessee State Fair Grounds here in Nashville. You will want to get several plants because most sorrel recipes call for quite a lot. When planting in the garden, place them about 12-18 inches apart. Divide and replant every 5 years in the fall. Garden sorrel is frost hardy, but the French sorrel is not. French sorrel is hardy only from zones 6-10. We will be selling the garden sorrel variety at the plant sale.
Harvest the young leaves often in the spring and fall, and use them in salads and on sandwiches as a substitute for lettuce or spinach. Nothing dresses up a BLT or chicken salad sandwich like a few sorrel leaves. Use the larger, tougher leaves in soups, sauces, and pestos. Don’t let your sorrel flower or set seeds. In the really hot summer time your sorrel will fade, but once it cools down it will be back. Watch out for snails; they really like sorrel.
You will love cooking with sorrel, but you might want to try using the juice from the leaves to bleach rust, mold, and ink stains from linen, wicker, and silver.
To preserve sorrel either chop it up, add a little water, and freeze it in ice cube trays or make a pesto out of it. Don’t try to dry it because it loses its flavor when it is dried.
You will want to use the leaves of sorrel. The average amount of chopped leaves for six servings is ½ cup. It goes well with fish (especially salmon), shellfish, salads, eggs, spinach, and other greens. Sorrel’s best herbal partners are dill, chives, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lovage, mint, parsley, and tarragon.
Information from: The Herb Companion Magazine
Spicy Sorrel Chive Pesto
This bright, lemony pesto is balanced with the earthy flavor of toasted hazelnuts. Fresh chives and garlic, plus a bit of spicy heat, takes the flavor combination over the top.
4 ounces (1 medium bunch) fresh sorrel leaves, stripped from the center ribs
2 ounces (small handful) fresh chives
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup freshly grated parmesan or other dry grating cheese, such as pecorino romano, grana padano, dry asiago, or dry jack cheese
4 ounces (1 cup) toasted, skinned hazelnuts (or lightly toasted walnuts)
½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
½-1 cup olive oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
- In a processor fitted with the steel knife, process sorrel, chives, garlic, cheese, hazelnuts, and red pepper until desired consistency (chunky, smooth, or in-between).
- Add ½ cup of oil, season to taste with salt, and pulse briefly to distribute. Add up to ½ up additional oil to achieve the desired consistency.
- Spoon the pesto into a container and cover with a tight fitting lid. Refrigerate until needed. Pesto keeps covered and chilled for about two weeks.
Makes about 2 cups.