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Herbal Monograph

Herb:   SHEEP SORREL  (Rumex acetosella) 

Other Names:   Field Sorrel  (35); Field sorrel (57)


Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:  vascular system, heart function, intestines, lungs, uterus digestive assimilation (22)

Part(s) used:                                                                                                          

Identification & Harvesting:    A 1 m shrub with leaves alternating on erect, grooved stems which are unbranched up the panicles.  Leaves are fleshy, grass green, spear-headed.  Stem is red-tinged.  Has a sour taste.  Contains the same sour tasting chemicals as in rhubarb.  Small greenish flowers in narrow loose panicles.  Fruit is a triangular, dark nut.  Common in Europe.    (2)

Sheep’s Sorrel is much smaller than either French or Garden Sorrel, and is often tinged, especially towards the end of summer, a deep red hue. It is a slender plant, the stems from 3 to 4 inches to nearly a foot high, often many and tufted, decumbent at the base. The leaves 1/2  to  2 inches in length, have long petioles and are variable in breadth, mostly narrow-lanceolate, the lower ones hestate and the lobes of the base usually spreading and often divided.

It grows in pastures and dry gravelly places in most parts of the globe, except the tropics, penetrating into Arctic and Alpine regions, and is abundant in Britain, where it is sometimes called Field Sorrel.  Like the other sorrels, it is highly acid, though is less active in its properties than the French or Garden species.   (35)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Stem is 6-10 inches high.  Leaves are halberd-shaped, about 1-1/2 inch long and 1/2-3/4 inch broad.  Flowers small, greenish, turning red when in fruit, borne in leafless whorls, the male and female flowers on different individuals.  Tastes acidic, with no odor.    (57)

Active Constituents:    Oxalates incl. oxalic acid, calcium oxalate;  tannins 7-10%;  flavonoids;  anthracene derivatives incl. aglycones, physcion, chryosphanol, amodin, aloe-emodin, rhein, and their glucosides, as well as aloe-emodin acetate  (2); chlorophyll, oxalic acid     (22)

Oxalic acid does not occur free in nature, but is fornd in combination with sodium, potassium, calcium, iron and manganese in the juices of many plants, such as rhubarb, sorrel, oak bark, cinchona, yellow dock, etc.   (33)

Actions:    diuretic, stimulates secretion.    (2)

alterive, diuretic, anthelmintic, antineoplastic, antilithic, antiseptic, astringent, carminative, parasiticide, stomachic, tonic     (22)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

diuretic, refrigerant, diaphoretic  (35)

Diuretic.  Fresh juice is refrigerant and diaphoretic.    (57)

Conditions & Uses:    Used for acute and chronic sinus inflammation and respiratory tract inflammation.  Used as an additional measure in antibacterial therapy.    (2)

Works especially well as a remedy for kidney trouble well. Also expels gravel from the kidney.     ((1))HCBL blurb 11/94))

Throughout the centuries, the sorrels have appeared in historical archives as a folk remedy for cancer in both Europe and America. In the late 1740s, legislation was introduced in Williamsburg, Virginia that permitted Mrs. Mary Johnson to use this plant as a treatment for cancer. In the 1868 Canadian Pharmacy Journal, the leaves of both the sheep sorrel and the taller common sorrel  (Rumex acetosa) were included in the list of Canadian medicinal plants. In 1926, the National Cancer Institute received a recipe from Canada citing an old Indian cure for cancer using a paste made from bread and the juice of sheep sorrel, applied externally. Thus, it would appear from early literature that the sorrels were used to treat cancer.  Sorrel contains a high amount of nutrients including chlorophyll. Chlorophyll closely resembles hemoglobin, the red pigment in human blood, but has at its center a magnesium atom, whereas hemoglobin has an iron atom, and both carry oxygen to every cell of the organism. The chlorophyll molecules that carry oxygen through the bloodstream may do the following: inhibit chromosome damage to effectively block cancer, reduce the damage of radiation burns, kill germs and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, strengthen the cell walls which may improve the vascular system, heart function, intestines, lungs and uterus, aid in the removal of foreign deposits from the walls of blood vessels, remove inflammation of the pancreas, purify the liver and increase the body’s ability to utilize oxygen by raising the oxygen level in the tissue cells. Sheep sorrel is also high in oxalic acid. Dr. N.W. Walker tells us that the human body produces a small amount of oxalic acid every 24 hours and is excreted through the kidneys. Dr. Edward E. Shook believes that oxalic acid is a powerful oxidizing acid that rouses the human system into activity. It readily combines with calcium to aid in its digestive assimilation and stimulates the peristaltic action of the intestines, thus helping sluggish, prolapsed intestines to regain their normal functions. Oxalic acid also seems to promote faster blood coagulation time, which makes it valuable for hemorrhages. Sheep sorrel has been known to prevent the spread of contagious diseases such as the plague and has overcome fevers caused by cholera and malaria. Its most important healing elements may be chlorophyll and oxalic acid, there is however, much research still to be done to discover the hidden mysteries that make this ubiquitous little plant so vital. This herb is also included in Rene Caisse’s herbal formula.    (22)   

Sheep sorrel, as it is commonly called, has also been used for reducing adipose tissue, in treatment of foul and sloughing ulcers and for cancer. It belongs to the family known as Polygonaceae or the Buckwheat family    (33)

The whole herb is employed medicinally, in the fresh state. the action is diuretc, refrigerant, diaphoretic, and the juice extracted from the fresh plant is of use in urinary and kidney diseases.   (35)

Fresh juice is refrigerant and diaphoretic, and is of use in urinary and renal disease.    (57)


Precautions:    No known hazards or side effects with designated dosages.  Possible oxalate poisonings with the consumption of very large quantities, as in salad.    (2)                                                                                                                               

Tincturing Process:



Dosage:  15 to 30 drops 2-3 times daily    (22)


General Notes:



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, “Sheep Sorrel” file

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 1105-06

(22) Herbs and Herbal Formulas (booklet) by Mark Hershiser, pg. 17

(33) Advanced Treatise in Herbology by Dr. Edward E. Shook, pg. 14

(35) A Modern Herbal (Vol. 1 I-Z) by Mrs. M. Grieve, pg. 754

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., pgs. 318-19