Any of several hardy perennial herbs of the buckwheat family, widespread in temperate regions. Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), a weed native to Europe and widespread in North America, is an attractive but troublesome invader in lawns, gardens, meadows, and grassy slopes. It has slender, triangular leaves and tiny yellow or reddish flowers. The pungent, sour leaves are used as a vegetable, as a flavouring in omelets and sauces, in soups, and, when young, in salads. Two related species are garden sorrel (R. acetosa) and French sorrel (R. scutatus), both found throughout Europe and Asia. Wood sorrels, unrelated plants, belong to the genus Oxalis (see oxalis).
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Sorrel is a slender plant about 60 cm high, with roots that run deep into the ground, as well as juicy stems and edible, oblong leaves. The lower leaves are 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. The leaves are eaten by the larvae of several species of Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) including the Blood-vein moth.
Common sorrel has been cultivated for centuries. The leaves may be puréed in soups and sauces or added to salads and shav; they have a flavor that is similar to kiwifruit or sour wild strawberries. The plant's sharp taste is due to oxalic acid, and so may be contraindicated in people with rheumatic-type complaints, kidney or bladder stones. Sorrel is also a laxative.