Rumex acetosella | Sheep’s Sorrel | Blood Spill


Scientific Name: Rumex acetosella
Common Name(s): Sheep’s Sorrel, Red Sorrel, Sour Weed, Field Sorrel, Common Sorrel, Garden Sorrel, Meadow Sorrel, Red Top Sorrel, Sourgrass
Nickname: Blood Spill
Introduced: L48
Group: Dicot
Family: Polygonaceae
Duration: Perennial
Growth Habitat: Forb/herb
Known Human Hazards: See Miscellaneous
Poisonous Look-Alikes: See Miscellaneous


IDENTIFYING CHARACTERISTICS:  weedy / arrowhead-shaped leaves with bottom lobes pointing to the side (not down); they develop in basal rosette / red-tinged flowering stems / acidic lemon-like flavor. TIME OF YEAR: blooms May to September. ENVIRONMENT: fields / grasslands / fields / meadows / woodlands / waste ground / roadsides / railroads / generally found in open, unshaded areas on disturbed areas, such as abandoned mining sites / lower terraces and gravel / old pastures / sandy areas / can tolerate a dry conditions / favors moist soil, so it thrives in floodplains and near marshes. METHOD OF PREPARATION: leaves raw or cooked; as thickeners in soups etc; great stuffing for fish; boil to make a lemonade-like drink / root cooked / seed raw or cooked.


FORM: weedy / up to 2 feet tall / slender stems grow out of a rosette of arrowhead-shaped leaves. FLOWERS: develops at top of the occasional stem / tiny / in clusters / yellowish-green (male) or reddish (female) on separate plants. SEPALS: 6 / initially green, but become red or reddish brown while flowers are in bloom / about the same length as the fruit, but they do not fully enclosed it. PETALS: none. LEAVES: green / have stem / hairless / distinctive arrowhead-shape due to 2 lobes at the base of the leaves / 1 to 4 inches long (including leaf stem, which is about as long as leaf blade) / 0.4 to 0.8 inch wide / smooth around edges (toothless) / most form a basal rosette (about 4 to 6 inches across); some form on the occasional flowering stem and alternate along that stem, flowering stem leaves are usually lance-shaped or linear in outline (not usually arrowhead-shaped), greatly reduced in size and without distinctive leaf stems (attached directly to the stem) / have a thin, reddish, dry and membranous sheath (ocrea) surrounding the stem where it meets the leaf. ROOT: taproot and rhizomes / slender / almost fibrous / up to 5 feet deep. STYLE: divided into long narrow lobes and has a frilly appearance. STEMS: occasional occur / erect / slender / red-tinted / deeply ridged / 4 to 24 inches tall / branched at top. FRUIT: achene / shiny / golden brown / 3-angled / 1.5 mm long / enclosed by cuplike sepals but not fully enclosed by them. SIZE: 4 to 24 inches tall.


• None


• Rumex comes from rumo, which is Dead Latin to suck, referring to the practice among Romans of sucking on the leaves to ease thirst.

• The juice of sorrel leaves was used as a stain remover on linen cloth. An ancient Chinese belief was that sorrel juice could remove freckles.


• Poisonous Look-Alikes: The leaves of this plant can be distinguished from other arrowhead-shaped leaves (edible and non-edible) by it’s reddish stems and/or 2 bottom leaf lobes that point to the side (not down). It also, like all edible Sorrels, has an acidic taste like lemon or vinegar and has no white pattern on leaf blade.

• Similar Species: This Sorrel plant can be distinguished from other edible Sorrels by it’s reddish stems and/or 2 bottom leaf lobes that point to the side; giving it the arrowhead look. Other Sorrels have very wavy/curly leaves and leaf edges (Curly Dock [Rumex crispus]),  their inner sepals become winged and heart-shaped with maturity (Rumex hastulatus [Wild Sorrel]), the bottom lobes (2) of each leaf will point down (Rumex acetosa [Garden Sorrel]) rather than to the side or their leaves will be more broad, plus the bottom lobes (2) of each leaf will be more shallow/shorter and rounded (Bitter Dock [Rumex obtusifolius]).

• Human Hazards: Sorrels contain high levels of oxalic acid, which is what gives the leaves an acidic-lemon flavor. Perfectly safe in moderation but large amounts of oxalic acid can lock-up other nutrients in the food, especially calcium, thus causing mineral deficiencies. However, the oxalic acid is broken down in cooking and doesn’t interfere with the absorption of calcium present in other foods that you might eat at the same time. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition. NOTE: Other foods with high levels of oxalic acid are parsley, rhubarb, spinach, cocoa, chard, parsley and cassava.


MEDICINAL PROPERTIES: Antiscorbutic, Astringent, Diuretic, Laxative, Febrifuge, Anthelmintic

PARTS USED: Leaves, Seeds, and Roots

COMMON CONDITIONS: Boils – Leaf infusion compress • Bruises – Leaf poultice • Diarrhea –  Root decoction • Fever – Leaf infusion • Inflammation (External) – Leaf poultice • Inflammation (Internal) – Leaf infusion • Parasites (Intestinal) – Leaf infusion • Sores – Leaf poultice or leaf infusion compress • Stings – Leaf poultice. NOTE: Sorrels are alkaline and will neutralize the acidic stings of the nettle plant, bees and ants. Sorrels will not work against the alkaline sting of a wasp. To neutralize those you need an acid such as vinegar, citric acid, pickle juice even tomato juice • Stomach Ache – Leaf infusion • Stomach Acid – Chew fresh leaves and swallow juice. The leaves are alkaline and will neutralize the acid.


• For better memory and to personalize the story a bit; embellish it by incorporating your five senses as much as possible. Mnemonic techniques rely on the fact that your brain uses information from all your senses — touch, sight, smell, hearing, and taste — to form memories. Create images that are clear, pleasant, funny, exaggerated or sensual as long as it can help you remember the information. It will also help your memory retention to act out each part of the mnemonic over and over again.

• Mnemonics, shared in the course, are designed to have the distinguishing plant parts trigger the mnemonic when you spot them in the field. This is called the “trigger effect”. If ever you have trouble recalling the complete mnemonic, after spotting a distinguishing plant feature, study all of the plant parts closely; they will remind you.

VIVIDLY IMAGINE: In the distance, seeing blood spilled out on the ground. Upon taking a closer look you see the arrowheads, which drew the blood, litter the ground.

MNEMONIC EXPLAINED: In the distance, seeing blood spilled out on the ground (female flowers are reddish in color; yellow-green male flowers are within a few feet). Upon taking a closer look you see the arrowheads (leaves are arrowhead-shaped), which drew the blood (leaves/arrowheads can also have a reddish tint/stain; with or without the reddish tint or the occasional flowering stem, seeing an arrowhead on the ground will remind you of blood being spilled), litter the ground.

11. October 2012 by Carrnell Dixon
Categories: Medicinal Plants, Wild Edible Plants, Wilderness Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 comment

One Comment

  1. Sheep sorrel , specifically the roots, is believed to be the main cancer fighting ingredient in the herbal formula essiac tea.

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