Sheep Sorrel

Rumex acetosella

Herbs gallery - Sheep Sorrel

Common names

  • Field Sorrel
  • Red Sorrel
  • Sheep Sorrel
  • Sour Weed

One sorrel species is known as Rumex acetosella or sheep sorrel, which along with all its sub-species is a common weed that grows perennially. These plants produce green leaves having the shape of an arrow head, while the stems are deeply ridged and have a reddish tinge. The plant emerges from an insistent rhizome that spreads very rapidly. The flowers of sheep sorrel appear on a tall and straight stem. The color of the female flowers of this species is maroon.

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This perennially growing herb often grows up to 18 inches (0.5 meters) in height. At the top, the plant is branched. Its leaves are small, growing somewhat more than an inch (3 cm) and have a resemblance to an arrow head. At their base, the leaves have two horizontal lobes, which are smooth. The plant produces flowers during the period between March and November. Sheep sorrel bears separate male and female flowers, whose colors are yellowish-green and reddish respectively and they appear on separate plants. The flowers that emerge on the stem apex later develop into red-hued fruits known as achenes.

It is generally believed that the species is a noxious weed that is difficult to control owing to its rapidly spreading rhizome. This weed is familiar to farmers cultivating blueberry, as it flourishes in conditions that are also conducive for cultivating blueberries. Farmers, therefore, consider this weed to be a liming indicator plant.

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Parts used

Leaves, roots, seeds.

Uses

Sheep sorrel offers quite a few health benefits and hence has several therapeutic uses. This is an important detoxifying herb and the freshly obtained juice of the plants' leaves has a distinct diuretic effect. Similar to the other members belonging to this genus, sheep sorrel is also a little laxative and has the potential to be a long-term and effective remedy for chronic ailments, especially those related to the gastro-intestinal tract. Rumex acetosella also forms a part of a formula used in North America and known as essiac - a popular herbal medication for treating cancer. Although the effectiveness of the plant in treating cancer has not been scientifically proved yet, currently scientists are conducting several controlled studies and, therefore, the claim regarding the plant's anti-cancer attributes cannot be disapproved too.

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In addition to sheep sorrel, Ulmus rubra, Articum lappa and Rheum palmatum are few other herbs that are included in essiac formula. The fresh complete sheep sorrel plant is known to possess diuretic, diaphoretic and refrigerant properties. The leaves of this herb are used to prepare a tea that is drunk to treat fevers, scurvy as well as inflammations. The juice extracted from the plant's leaves is effective for treating kidney as well as urinary tract diseases. Rumex acetosella leaves are used to make a poultice that is applied to cysts, tumours and others. In fact, in folk medicine, the poultice is used to treat cancer. The roots are used to prepare an herbal tea having astringent properties. This tea is recommended for people suffering from diarrhea as well as for treating profuse menstrual bleeding.

Sheep sorrel has several supposed uses in folk medicine, especially used for treating diarrhea, cancer, fever, scurvy and inflammation. The leaves and stem of this plant are used to prepare a tea that is diuretic. In addition, this tea is also astringent and has astringent uses. Traditionally, the tea is also used in the form of a vermifuge because sheep sorrel encloses chemicals that are toxic to worms, particularly for intestinal parasites.

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It has been reported that Rumex acetosella encloses numerous molecules that are competent in combating various health conditions, including fevers, inflammation, cancer and scurvy. This plant is known to contain various vitamins, including vitamin A, C, E, D, K and B complex, in addition to natural molecules that help in fighting diseases. These nutrients are used for making several different drugs  for treating cancer.

Sheep sorrel is also commonly used for alleviating inflammation and pain that accompanie sinusitis. This therapeutic ability of the plant is attributed to the tannins contained by sheep sorrel. The tannins present in this plant are helpful in decreasing the production of mucus by the body. In effect, there is sufficient clinical evidence regarding the use of this plant for treating sinusitis. In addition, this herb is also used in the form of a supplementary remedy for infections by bacteria, while antibiotics form the main medicine for this condition. Sheep sorrel also helps to enhance the flow of urine. However, there is very less proof regarding the usefulness of the herb for treating these health conditions.

This herb contains a number of natural chemicals, counting oxalic acid, tartaric acid, beta carotene, chlorophyll, carotenoids, anthraquinones, glycoside such as quercitin-3-D-galactoside, hyperoside and vitamin C. Beta carotene is generally used in the treatment of problems related to the skin, for instance, Erythropoietic protoporphyria; breast cancer prior to menopause in women and macular degeneration, which is related to aging.

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Findings of several studies undertaken by German and Spanish scientists have proved that oxalic acid helps to lower the levels of glucose and cholesterol in the bloodstream. In addition, it helps to alleviate inflammation and is also responsible for weight loss. Oxalic acid inhibits the digestive process thereby helping in the uniform supply of insulin (a hormone that helps to lower blood sugar) in the bloodstream. This action of oxalic acid helps in maintaining the normal levels of blood sugar. It is needless to say that the above mentioned attributes of this herb are very useful for people with type 2 diabetes.

Herbal medicine practitioners generally advice people suffering from digestive problems, throat and mouth ulcers, lack of appetite, fevers, hemorrhoids and infections to take sheep sorrel. The juice obtained from the fresh sheep sorrel plant is employed for treating kidney and urinary diseases. In addition, one may also apply sheep sorrel topically to rinse the skin if they are suffering from disorders like eczema, herpes and itchy rashes, especially those caused by hives and poison ivy.

It is important to note that all the parts of Rumex acetosella (including the plant's leaves, stems, flowers and roots) possess therapeutic properties and are used to treat various health problems. Ideally, the harvesting of the leaves as well as the stems of sheep sorrel ought to be undertaken during the spring or in summer prior to the blooming of its flowers. The roots of the plants should be harvested during the fall. It is safe to consume little amounts of sheep sorrel leaves in salads, especially mixed salads. You may also consume the leaves in the form of a green vegetable after boiling them. However, avoid taking the leaves in excess, as it may turn out to be toxic owing to the presence of oxalic acid.

For therapeutic purposes, you may also purchase sheep sorrel in the form of teas, tincture or capsules.

Culinary uses

The leaves, roots and seeds of sheep sorrel are used for culinary purposes.

Leaves: The arrow-shaped leaves of Rumex acetosella can be consumed fresh or after cooking. Since the flavour of the leaves is refreshingly lemon-like, majority of the people think that they are extremely potent for use in large amounts. However, sheep sorrel leaves are wonderful for flavouring mixed salads. Ideally, you should always use these leaves in small amounts, as they contain oxalic acid. In addition to mixed salads, you may also use these leaves in the form of thickeners in soups and other preparations. Alternatively, you may dry the leaves and use them when needed later. The leaves can also be boiled to prepare a beverage akin to lemonade, but this drink does not have any fizz.

Root: The sheep sorrel roots can be consumed cooked. The roots may be dried out, pounded to form a powder and used to make noodles.

Seed: Like the leaves, Rumex acetosella seeds can also be consumed uncooked or after cooking. Harvesting the seeds is quite easy, but they are somewhat small and therefore, difficult to use.

Habitat and cultivation

Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) is indigenous to the Eurasian region. However, now it is found growing in most of the regions of the northern hemisphere. Generally, this weed is found growing in the grasslands, fields and forest lands. Sheep sorrel has a preference for damp soils and, hence, it flourishes in flooded plains close to marshlands. Often, Rumex acetosella is the first species to emerge in disturbed lands, for instance, mines that have been abandoned, particularly when the soil is acidic. Although livestock likes to graze sheep sorrel, this plant is not at all nourishing. On the contrary, it is noxious owing to the presence of high levels of oxalates. It is worth mentioning that the Small Copper or the American Copper butterfly also feeds on this weed for sustenance.

Rumex acetosella has a preference for a damp, reasonably fertile soil having a proper drainage. This plant also favours a sun-lit position. While sheep sorrel is basically a plant that grows well in acidic soils, it also has the aptitude to survive in soils having some alkalinity. This species is dioecious (producing male and female flowers on different plants) in nature. Hence, if you want to harvest the seeds of sheep sorrel, you need to grow the male and female plants nearby.

Constituents

Chemical analysis of the sheep sorrel plant has revealed that it contains a number of compounds, including vitamin C, anthraquinones (for example, emodin, chrysophanol, rhein), chlorophyll, carotenoids, beta carotene, oxalates (oxalic acid), glycosides (quercitin-3d-galactoside) and tartaric acid.

Side effects and cautions

It has been found that the presence of oxalic acid in the sheep sorrel plants may be sufficiently high. In fact, the acid-lemon essence is attributed to the presence of oxalic acid. When taken in small amounts, the leaves do not cause any problem, but consuming excessive amounts of sheep sorrel may cause the oxalic acid to detain the other nutriments in one's food, particularly calcium, thereby resulting in the deficit of the essential mineral. However, cooking the plant causes its oxalic acid content to decrease. People suffering from health conditions like kidney stones, arthritis, rheumatism or hyperacidity ought to be particularly cautious if they want to incorporate sheep sorrel weed in their diet. In fact, this plant may be responsible for worsening their health conditions.

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