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The common sorrel, or spinach dock, Ambada bhaji is a perennial herb, which grows abundantly in meadows in most parts of Europe and is cultivated as a leaf vegetable. Common sorrel is a slender plant about 60 cm high, with juicy stems and leaves. It has whorled spikes of reddish-green flowers, which bloom in June and July. The leaves are oblong, the lower ones being 7 to 15 cm in length, slightly arrow-shaped at the base, with very long petioles. The upper ones are sessile, and frequently become crimson.

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      04.05.2012 14:45
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      A good alternative to spinach, tangy addition to salads. Easy to grow.

      Common or garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is a herb that can be used as a salad leaf or cooked in the same way as spinach. Wild common sorrel grows in large swathes on the boundary banks around our garden and in a few places it overflows into perennial borders. Throughout Britain and most of Europe wild common sorrel can be found growing in hedges, woodland and pasture land where the ground is free from chemical weedkillers and fertilisers. It tends to grow more abundantly in areas where the soil is rich in iron, as it is where I live here in Wales.

      The leaves of sorrel are long stalked and dark green with a wide arrow shape, approximately 11cm in length at full size. Sorrel has a quite distinctive gentle tangy taste which may not appeal to everyone. It is popular in French cooking, a quick internet search results in recipes for 'French sorrel soup', 'Salmon with Sorrel and Asparagus en Papillote' and 'French sorrel pesto'. My favourite way to eat sorrel is simply as a salad leaf as I think it adds a little zest and interest to salads as well as sandwiches.

      The wild sorrel in our garden comes into leaf during April and it doesn't require any tending or attention throughout the year. I pick the young tender leaves for adding to salads, the older larger leaves I will use for lightly boiling as a side vegetable (and like spinach the leaves reduce greatly in size with cooking) or for adding to pasta dishes. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recommends sorrel as a perfect accompaniment to eggs and this I've found to be true, a favourite very quick dish loved by my family is pasta tossed with sorrel leaves served with poached eggs and grated cheese. I have also added sorrel to quiches as you would spinach and this I've found works very well indeed.

      Cultivated sorrel usually has larger leaves. One year I grew a variety called red veined sorrel. The leaves are dark green with beetroot red veins and stems, the taste is slightly tart and lemony. It was surprisingly easy and quick to grow. The plants at full size were roughly 30cm wide and 30cm high. I sowed the seed in early March directly into shallow drills in a plot of fine, stone-free soil and 3 weeks later thinned the seedlings to approximately 25cm apart. Within 6 weeks I was able to start picking leaves as 'pick and come again', there was a continual supply for two months but after this the leaves became bitter so I pulled up the plants to free the plot for another crop. Although I have only grown sorrel from seed on the one occasion I would do so again. The wild perennial sorrel is in leaf during early spring but cultivated varieties can be sown to produce leaf for later times in the year and during winter months. I would say a small row of five or six plants would provide a fresh supply of leaves suitable for harvesting three or four times a week for use in cooking or adding to salads. The plants could also be grown singularly in containers.

      Early herbalists were full of praise for sorrel, it was used to help treat scurvy and various inflammatory conditions. Sorrel is a good source of vitamin C, iron and magnesium and also has diuretic properties. It contains oxalic acid (as does black tea, spinach and beetroot but also in very amounts rhubarb leaves) so it is advised children should not consume large quantities of sorrel at any one time.

      If you are fortunate enough, like myself, to find and identify common sorrel growing nearby, I would say it is great for picking as 'free food'. As a vegetable plant to grow, I recommend it as easy, quick and versatile. Packets of red veined sorrel seed are available from garden centres and specialists and cost in the region of £1.30 for 500 seeds.

      Thanks for reading x
      © Lunaria 2012

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