Herbs & Plants

Rumex Acetosella

Sheep's Sorrel
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Botanical Name:Rumex acetosella L. [Fam. Polygonaceae]
Family: Polygonaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Caryophyllales
Genus: Rumex
: R. acetosella
Common Names: sheep’s sorrel, red sorrel, sour weed, and field sorrel.
Forms: Aqueous extract of whole or cut dried herb

Habitat:The plant is native to Eurasia but has been introduced to most of the rest of the northern hemisphere. In North America it is a common weed in fields, grasslands, and woodlands. It favors moist soil, so it thrives in floodplains and near marshes. It is often one of the first species to take hold in disturbed areas, such as abandoned mining sites, especially if the soil is acidic. Livestock will graze on the plant, but it is not very nutritious and contains oxalates which make the plant toxic if grazed in large amounts.

Rumex acetosella is a host plant for Lycaena phlaeas, also known as the American Copper or Small Copper butterfly.

Perennial weed commonly found in meadows, disturbed areas, waste places and in dry gravely places in most of the globe except for the tropics, grows ½ – 3’ high with small reddish flowers, leaves are usually tinged with a deep red hue..
It has green arrowhead-shaped leaves and red-tinted deeply ridged stems, and it sprouts from an aggressive rhizome. The flowers emerge from a tall, upright stem. Female flowers are maroon in color.


Sheep’s sorrel is widely considered to be a noxious weed, and one that is hard to control due to its spreading rhizome. Blueberry farmers are familiar with the weed, due to its ability to thrive in the same conditions under which blueberries are cultivated. It is commonly considered by farmers as an Indicator plant of the need for liming.

Culinary Uses:-
There are several uses of sheep sorrel in the preparation of food including a garnish, a tart favoring agent and a curdling agent for cheese. The leaves have a lemony, tangy or nicely tart flavor.

Active Ingredients:
Sheep sorrel dried aerial parts contain: rutin (0.53%), flavone glycosides (i.e. hyperoside or quercitin-3d-galactoside) 0.05%, and hyperin (12mg/100g). Sheep sorrel also contains vitamins: C, A, B complex, D, E, K, P and U. Total vitamin C of the leaves varies from 750-1200mg/100g based on dry weight. The ash (8.1%) contains, in the oxide form, 20.0% calcium; 13.9% phosphorus; 13.4% magnesium; 28.3% potassium, and 11.5% silicon, along with iron, sulphur, copper, iodine, manganese, and zinc. The leaves and stems contain beneficial carotenoids, chlorophyll, organic acids (i.e., malic, oxalic, tannic, tartaric and citric) and phytoestrogens. The plant also contains anthraquinones including emodin, aloe emodin, chrysophanol, rhein, and physcion.

Sheep Sorrel contains constituents including beta carotene, tartaric acid, oxalates (oxalic acid), anthraquinones (chrysophanol, emodin, Rhein), Glycosides (Hyperoside, quercitin-3d-galactoside).

Medicinal Uses:

Traditional Usage:
– Anti-diarrhea
– Anti-inflammatory
– Antioxidant
– Cellular Regeneration
– Cleansing
– Detoxifying
– Diuretic
– Laxative
– Scurvy
– Vascular Disorders

At least ten Native tribes of Canada and the United States have used this plant, also known as sour grass or sour weed, as a food and medicine. Sheep sorrel is a popular ingredient of many folk remedies and the tea was used traditionally as a diuretic and to treat fevers, inflammation and scurvy. Sheep sorrel was considered the most active herb in Essiac for stimulating cellular regeneration, detoxification and cleansing, based on reports by Rene Caisse and her doctor colleague who did studies with mice bearing abnormal growths on the original eight herb formula. Interestingly, even though it is not a legume, sheep sorrel contains significant levels of phytoestrogens with notable estrogen receptor binding activity, similar to the isoflavone phytoestrogens common to red clover, licorice and soy, all legumes known for their strong health restorative properties. The herb also contains several anthraquinones that are effective antioxidants and radical scavengers. Although research is limited on sheep sorrel, closely related species contain a powerful antibacterial compound called rumicin, which is effective against Escherichia, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus. The high tannin content of the tea can also provide astringent action, which is useful for treating diarrhea and excessive menstrual bleeding. At low doses, most Rumex species are useful for treating diarrhea; however, at higher doses, they are laxatives due to the presence of anthraquinones that directly effect the neuromuscular tissue, stimulate peristalsis, increase the mucous production of colonic mucosa cells and stimulate secretion of water into the intestinal lumen, thereby exerting a laxative effect. A comparison of the distribution of anthraquinones in 19 representative species of Rumex showed an identical profile between Rumex acetosella and Rumex acetosa and good similarity to R. crispus. Rumex crispus has been used traditionally to treat anemia, anthrax, diarrhea, eczema, fever, itch, leprosy, malaria, rheumatism, ringworm and tuberculosis.

It has a number of purported uses and folk remedies that include treatment for inflammation, cancer treatment, diarrhea, scurvy and fever. A tea made from the stem and leaves can be made to act as a diuretic. It also has certain astringent properties and uses. Other historical uses include that of a vermifuge, as the plant allegedly contains compounds toxic to intestinal parasites (worms).

Its alleged use as a cancer treatment, generally considered a folk remedy, is as a primary ingredient in a preparation commonly referred to by the name Essiac.

Rumex acetosella Traditionally used to cool fevers, stomach ache and inflammation. Very Nutritious, aids in digestion. Used to help treat cancer as it aids in breakdown of tumors as well as ulcers. Contains chlorophyll helping bring oxygen to the tissues, aiding in healing, as well as benefiting skin, urinary and kidney diseases. Also used as a cooling drink in all female disorders. Relieves ulcers of the bowels, gravel and stone in kidneys.

Contradictions: High in oxalic acid, large amounts can cause poisoning and kidney irritation.

Instructions: Use whole plant in infusion to bring fever down, fresh leaves used as a cooling diuretic. A salve or poultice of leaf and flower may be used externally for skin problems and tumors. Use one or two cups a day for no longer than 5 days at a time.

Properties: Good source of vitamin C, chlorophyll, and carotenoids. Contains oxalic acid which is where its bitter taste comes from, quite safe for consumption in small quantities. Anti-tumor, diuretic, refrigerant, astringent, laxative, diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory.

Suggested Amount:
Sheep sorrel can be taken as a tea with the recommended dosage of one to three cups per day, using one teaspoonful of dried aboveground herb per cup of boiling water. Culpeper recommends that the leaves be used for their diuretic property and taken as an infusion with a dosage of 1oz (28g) to 1pt (568ml) of boiling water – in doses of 2fl oz (56ml). He recommends the leaf juice as a tonic for the kidneys and urinary tract taken in doses of half to one teaspoonful.

Drug Interactions:

In large dosages, the anthraquinones-type laxative compounds may increase the action of other laxatives and so should not be taken at the same time.

Sheep sorrel and other plants of the Polygonaceae family contain oxalates in their fresh and cooked leaves and are contraindicated in cases of kidney stones. These plants with a characteristic tart taste, including rhubarb, should not be eaten in quantity (just as a flavouring or spice in small amounts) because the oxalates may interfere with calcium metabolism in the body, especially in a calcium-poor diet. Sorrel and rhubarb leaves contain enough oxalates and anthraquinones-type laxative compounds to cause poisoning and possibly even death if eaten in excessive amounts. One death has been reported for a man consuming a soup made with 500g of French sorrel (Rumex acetosa). Teas containing sheep sorrel (hot aqueous extracts of sorrel that do not contain any raw herb material) contain only trace amounts of oxalates, however manufactures of such teas should do routine testing to assure customers of safe levels. Large doses of sheep sorrel tea and/or concentrated extracts may also cause gastric disturbance, nausea and diarrhea due to anthraquinones-type laxative compounds.

Side Effects:
Large doses of sheep sorrel tea may cause gastric disturbance, nausea, and diarrhea due to anthraquinones-type laxative compounds. Large doses of the raw herb may even cause poisoning due to high oxalic acid and tannin content. One death has been reported for a man consuming a soup made with 500g of French sorrel (Rumex acetosa). Teas containing sheep sorrel (hot aqueous extracts of sorrel that do not contain any raw herb material) contain only trace amounts of oxalates, however manufactures of such teas should do routine testing to assure customers of safe levels.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.