French sorrel

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Sorrel, French Botanical: Rumex scutatus (LINN.) ---Synonym---Buckler-shaped Sorrel. ---Part Used---Herb. ---Habitat---It is a common plant in mountainous districts, being a native of the South of France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Barbary.

This has a more grateful acid than Common Sorrel, and is therefore preferred for kitchen use in soups, especially by the French. Their Sorrel soup is made from this species. It is distinguished from the Common Sorrel by the form of the leaves, which are cordate-hastate, very succulent, fleshy and brittle. The whole plant is intensely glaucous. The flowers are hermaphrodite, thestamens and pistils not on separate plants as in the Common Sorrel.

It is sometimes met with in Scotland, or in the North of England, but is a doubtful native.

It is said to have been introduced into this country in 1596.

Garden sorrel, a popular culinary herb in the ancient world and a salad and vegetable plant in the West since the 14th century, is a bushy perennial that grows from 30 to 150 cm (1 to 5 feet) tall. French sorrel, used in France's kitchens since the beginning of that country's recorded history, is a low-growing perennial about 45 cm (18 inches) tall, although it can be as much as 60 cm (2 feet) wide. Garden sorrel is a native of Europe and Asia; French sorrel is native to the mountains of southern and central Europe and southwest Asia. Garden sorrel has large, narrow, arrow-shaped green leaves that grow out from a thick basal cluster and are tinged with red when young. Leaves have a distinctive sharp, somewhat bitter, spinach-like flavor, with a tart citrus tang, the result of their high oxalic acid content. French sorrel has green, shield-shaped leaves that are more succulent and sharply acidic than those of garden sorrel, and have a pronounced lemon taste. Garden sorrel has an erect, many-branched stem, and deep roots. French sorrel has either prostrate or ascending stems that form thick clumps, and a tough, branched rootstock. Garden sorrel produces small reddish-green flowers. French sorrel produces small, green flowers, which turn reddish-brown later. In garden sorrel there are both male plants and female plants. Plants of French sorrel normally have flowers representing both sexes. Both sorrels bloom by midsummer. French sorrel may be grown indoors for winter use.

USES In traditional folk medicine, garden sorrel was used as an antiseptic. Because of its high vitamin C content, it was (correctly) believed to prevent scurvy. Roots and seeds were prescribed as a general tonic, and were used to treat diarrhea, a valid use because of the high tannin content. French sorrel was also used to cure scurvy, cleanse the blood, and promote urine flow. Sorrel was used externally to cure skin disorders and promote a clear complexion. In addition to being rich in vitamin C, both sorrels are high in vitamin A, and are a good source of iron. French sorrel is also an excellent source of fiber. Culinary uses - Sorrel is often used in French cooking, and is the main ingredient of such culinary classics as sorrel soup and soupe aux herbes. (Purists insist that only French sorrel may be used to make sorrel soup, but if you're just becoming acquainted with sorrel, you'd do well to substitute the milder garden sorrel.) Add sorrel to your favorite spinach and chard recipes, and use it in omelets and souffl├ęs, and in sauces, especially those accompanying, lamb, veal, pork, duck, goose, fish, and shellfish dishes. Sorrel is a tangy addition to early spring salads and mixed green salads. Whatever your recipe, use either sorrel sparingly, tasting as you go, as the sharp flavor does take getting used to. Craft uses - Include dried garden sorrel blooms in floral arrangements and bouquets.

HABITAT AND CULTIVATION Both sorrels do best in deep, rich, moist but well-drained soil. The sorrels are fairly tolerant of a wide range of soil pH, although garden sorrel prefers acidic soils. Both sorrels prefer full sunlight, but will tolerate partial shade. French sorrel is more drought-tolerant than garden sorrel. Garden sorrel likes cooler temperatures. Hot weather increases the acidity of the leaves. Grow both sorrels from seed, which should be planted directly in the garden in fall or early spring. Plant seeds 6 mm (1/4 inch) deep. Space seedlings 30 cm (12 inches) apart. Garden sorrel can also be propagated by root division; French sorrel by dividing well- grown clumps every third or fourth year. Once established, garden sorrel tends to self-sow. As a couple of plants are usually sufficient for most home gardens, cull those you don't want. Remove flower stalks of both sorrels to prevent plants from going to seed and to encourage tender new leaf growth. Replace garden sorrel plants every 3 or 4 years, as they are inclined to become woody. Sorrels are usually disease-free, but are susceptible to infestations of slugs. Indoor French sorrel plants need at least 5 hours of strong direct sunlight daily. To accommodate its long roots, pot in a deep container of commercial potting soil. Feed with half-strength liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks.

SIDE EFFECTS AND CAUTIONS Garden and French sorrel should be consumed in moderation, as both are high in oxalic acid, which can cause kidney stones in some individuals. If you are prone to hyperacidity, you probably should avoid sorrel as its high acidity may cause gastric upset. If you suffer from gout or kidney stones, or if you have a history of kidney disease, you should not consume sorrel. Some authorities have also recommended that people afflicted with arthritis or rheumatism should avoid eating sorrel. Don't cook sorrel in cast iron pots as the oxalic acid in the leaves will react with the metal, and the leaves will have an unpleasant metallic taste. Also avoid using aluminum cookware, as the oxalic acid could free toxic amounts of aluminum ions. Use stainless steel utensils and cookware when preparing sorrel. Avoid sorrel tea because of the oxalates and also because sorrel acts as a diuretic.

COLLECTION AND HARVESTING Harvest garden sorrel for fresh use throughout the growing season. If you prefer a more piquantly sour taste, hold off collecting the leaves until the plants are well into the growing season, at which point the flavor is fully developed. Begin gathering French sorrel leaves for fresh use from newly sown plants about 2 months after planting. With such young plants, you can gather the shoots whole. As the plants grow, harvest individual leaves rather than whole stalks. To preserve sorrel, wash and dry leaves, wrap in a sheet of paper towel, and refrigerate in a plastic bag. Although sorrels wilt quickly after picking, even wilted sorrel retains much of its distinctive taste. To dry sorrel, lay leaves out flat in a dark, cool, dry place with good air circulation. Crush dried leaves and store in an airtight container. To freeze both sorrels, wash and dry young leaves, wrap in foil, and place in freezer, or puree leaves and freeze in ice cube trays. Cut flowering garden sorrel stalks for use in floral arrangements when the flowers are just turning red.

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