As a frugal and lazy gardener, I’m always on the lookout for edible plants that look nice, are easy to care for, and dependably give me food (even if they suffer a bit of neglect in the watering/weeding department). An all-season veggie/herb in our mild Oregon climate that fits all three criteria is a plant family called sorrel.
Common sorrel or garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is a perennial herb or leaf vegetable (pot herb). Other names for sorrel include spinach dock and narrow-leaved dock. Perennial means it’s an herb/vegetable that you plant once – and it comes back in the same spot every year (and sometimes self-seeds)! In milder climates it easily can be harvested year ‘round. How easy is that?
The photo above is of a sorrel family relative known as Bloody Dock (Rumex sanguineus) that tends to be more ornamental with it’s red veins, but the leaves are a little tougher than common sorrel (therefore common sorrel works better raw in salads).
I’ve also got a plant from the sorrel family in the backyard that does well in full wet shade and looks like a big 3 leaf clover!
Sorrel leaves can be puréed in soups and sauces or added to salads; they have a flavor similar to tart kiwifruit or sour wild strawberries (I think they taste lemon-ey). The plant’s sharp taste is due to oxalic acid -just like spinach.
In Nigeria sorrel is used in stews in addition to spinach. Sometimes it’s steamed and made into salad using peanuts/peanut oil, salt, pepper, onion and tomatoes. In many countries sorrel is used to make sour soups, stewed with spinach, added fresh to lettuce and spinach in salads or in open sandwiches. It is sometimes used with mashed potatoes, or as part of a traditional dish containing eel and other green herbs. In rural Greece it is used with spinach, leeks, and chard in spanakopita. In the Flemish speaking part of Belgium pureed sorrel is mixed with mashed potatoes and eaten with sausages, meatballs or fried bacon, as a traditional winter dish.
If you’re looking for a perennial herb that does double duty as an ornamental and a food plant, check out sorrel.