True French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) is one of those things in my garden that’s very underused, but when I do use it, I wonder why I don’t do it more often.
The leafy herb is not to be confused with what’s sometimes called French sorrel, but is really common sorrel or garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa). There is only one French sorrel — True French sorrel, that is — with leaves that are small and shaped like a shield (scutatus is Latin for “armed with a shield”).
Or, shaped like a teddy bear the other way around.
The whole plant grows low to the ground (almost like a creeping vine, but non-invasive) no taller than 6 to 12 inches. You can divide the clump every couple of years and it will re-grow with vigor. As a cold-hardy perennial herb, it stays green and vibrant almost all winter.
It’s also one of the most low-maintenance plants in my herb garden, resistant to pests and nearly indestructible, as evidenced by the plant bouncing back after being nearly chomped to the ground by my chickens. It’s tolerant of my forgetfulness to water on a consistent basis.
On a hot summer day, it’s still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and I’ve never seen a droopy leaf, even hours after I’ve harvested the herb and left it on the counter. For that reason alone, it’s an excellent addition to salads and sandwiches that you want to take to work.
True French sorrel has a tangy lemon flavor — like a milder version of lemon verbena, or as I love to describe it, sour green grapes.
Its tartness comes from oxalic acid, the same chemical that makes rhubarb so sour (in fact, they both belong to Polygonaceae, the buckwheat family). This same chemical is present in other sour dock species (like Rumex sanguineus, also known as bloody dock or red-veined sorrel) and wood sorrel species (like Oxalis triangularis, known as purple shamrock).
(As an aside, the name “True French sorrel” can sometimes be confusing because it’s unrelated to the wood sorrel family, which is Oxalidaceae.)
It’s very high in vitamin C (known to treat scurvy way back when sailors in the 16th to 18th centuries were afflicted with such diseases) and rich in iron and potassium.
I like to toss whole leaves into a salad for a burst of flavor, but you can use it as you would any other herb — minced and mixed into a marinade or dressing, chopped and sauteed into a creamy buttery sauce, or stuffed into chicken breasts or flank steaks. If you have a recipe that calls for lemon zest, try True French sorrel instead.
Recently I’ve been using the herb in what I call the “garden on toast”… a quick and easy breakfast made with that morning’s harvest. All you need are a bagel and a schmear, a few leaves of True French sorrel, and a handful of fresh veggies sliced or diced to your liking.
Your Garden on Toast
Makes as many servings as you want
English muffin or bagel
A few leaves of True French sorrel
Thinly sliced cucumbers
Thinly sliced carrots
Thinly sliced red bell peppers
Fresh cracked black pepper
And whatever else you want (sometimes I’ll add a fried egg or smoked salmon)
Making Your Garden On Toast
This is what I call a freestyle recipe. You can go wild with it and use whatever’s in season in your garden or still lingering in your crisper drawer.
First, toast up your English muffin or bagel. Slather on some cream cheese. Layer your True French sorrel, veggies and other goodies on top, and finish with a few turns of cracked black pepper. Eat it open-faced or make it a muffin-wich (bagel-wich?) for breakfast on the go!