Half a Hundred Herbs week 9 – Sorrel
Here is my sorrel plant, just bursting into new leaf. I thought it would like its situation especially after the wet winter we have had, but it seems a bit sluggish. The soil it is in is probably rather poor and stony, as at one time there was a set of steps here, and a coal bunker, and thhough it is all covered by the best loam I could get, it’s probably not good enough. I may move it beside the rhubarb near the greenhouse, and see if that suits it better.
I first grew sorrel at my allotment, just one of the many eccentricities which amused my neighbours when I first took over the plot. I was mostly surrounded by elderly men, who were really intotraditional vegetable growing. One of them even objected to the raspberries his daughter-in-law planted on his plot, because they got in the way of his spuds. They were into double digging and manure heaps and flame throwers to kill the weeds, didn’t understand green manures and disapproved of flowers. As for herbs – I think most of them grew a bit of parsley and mint, but that was as far as it went. My allotment was on the river bank, shielded from the west by a band of large old willow trees, where kestrels nested, and being so close to the river, the ground was very wet. Sorrel flourished, and it was one of the nicest discoveries I made while I was there.
Animals love to graze on sorrel, and one of its folk-names is cuckoo’s-meat, because it was supposed to clear the bird’s throat when it began to sing. It is believed to cleanse the blood, to cure scurvy, and to be good to remove the poison of scorpions, but to make gout worse because of the large quantities of oxolate of potash in the leaves. This used to be extracted and sold as ‘salts of lemon’ for removing ink stains from linen.
Sorrel has a sharp acidic taste, rather like a very tangy lemon. It was lovely in early salads, and made a fantastic sauce for salmon, but you have to use the leaves very young, because if they are allowed to grow old they toughen, and the taste is so harsh it becomes unbearable. But that first fresh green bite in the spring really wakes you up! It’s just what we need, after weeks of being inside keeping warm and eating stodgy comfort food.