1. Family: Polygonaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Rumex L.
      1. Rumex acetosa L.

        Rumex acetosa, also known as common sorrel, is a herbaceous plant native to the British Isles. It was once cultivated as a vegetable but is now merely a wild food plant; it is also used in herbal medicine for its diuretic properties.


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    Common sorrel is today used in sauces and as a spinach or salad leaf; the sap can be used as a laundry stain-remover.

    Rumex acetosa, also known as common sorrel, is a herbaceous plant native to the British Isles. It was once cultivated as a vegetable but is now merely a wild food plant; it is also used in herbal medicine for its diuretic properties.

    The species belongs to a group of plants commonly known as docks. They can be bisexual or have male or female flowers on separate plants. The leaves of the common sorrel are acidic to taste and contain high levels of oxalic acid. The larvae of several species of butterflies and moths, including the blood-vein moth, feed on the leaves of sorrel.

    The leaves are used in herbal medicine for their cooling and diuretic properties. They were once eaten to prevent or treat scurvy. Sorrel is also used to treat sinusitis and cancer.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Common sorrel is native to the British Isles.


    Common sorrel is a herbaceous perennial growing to a height of about 1 m, with stems arising from a short underground one. The leaves are large, ovate in outline and have characteristic, pointed basal leaf lobes that direct backwards; the leaves are sour to taste. The small pinkish flowers are unisexual (either male of female) and are sometimes only present on separate plants. They are in whorls on the flowering stems and have six rounded tepals with a small tubercle near the base; the inner three enlarge when the fruit matures and envelope it. The fruit is a triangular achene.

    Variations in certain characteristics related to particular habitats reveal three subspecies. One of these is found on coastal dunes of north-west, west and south Ireland, north Scotland, south-west England and south-west Wales and is restricted to these regions; the second is found on sea cliffs in west Cornwall; the third is of unknown origin and is introduced. This subspecies is grown as a vegetable but can be found naturalised in Hertfordshire and East Suffolk.


    Common sorrel was a popular cultivated vegetable in Europe until the Middle Ages, when improved varieties of related species replaced it. Today, it is gathered from the wild for use in sauces, and as a spinach or salad leaf. The sap can be used as a laundry stain-remover.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Three

    Seed storage behaviour: Orthodox (the seeds of this plant survive being dried without significantly reducing their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB)

    Germination testing: Successful

    United Kingdom
    Grassland, coastal dunes and cliffs.
    Least concern; common and widespread.

    The presence of oxalic acid in the plant may pose risks for people with rheumatic-type complaints, kidney or bladder stones.

    Food, herbal medicine.



    Found In:

    Albania, Austria, Baleares, Baltic States, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Central European Rus, Corse, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, East European Russia, Finland, France, Føroyar, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kirgizstan, Korea, Krasnoyarsk, Krym, Morocco, Netherlands, North European Russi, Northwest European R, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sardegna, Sicilia, South European Russi, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey-in-Europe, Ukraine, Yugoslavia

    Introduced Into:

    Aleutian Is., Chad, Haiti

    Common Names

    Common sorrel

    Rumex acetosa L. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Jan 1, 1936 Nuttall, T. [s.n.], Northwestern U.S.A. K000831366
    Cope, T.A. [RBG 49], Great Britain K000914104

    First published in Sp. Pl.: 337 (1753)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] Chang, C.S., Kim, H. & Chang, K.S. (2014) Provisional checklist of vascular plants for the Korea peninsula flora (KPF) . DESIGNPOST
    • [2] (2013) Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 5: 1-451. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève
    • [3] (2013) PhytoKeys 23: 1-18
    • [4] Akeroyd, J.R. (2013) Docks and Knotweeds of Britain and Ireland . Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland
    • [5] Dimpoulos, P., Raus, T., Bergmeier, E., Constantinidis, T., Iatrou, G., Kokkini, S., Strid, A., & Tzanoudakis, D. (2013) Vascular plants of Greece. An annotated checklist . Botanic gardens and botanical museum Berlin-Dahlem, Berlin and Hellenic botanical society, Athens
    • [6] (2012) Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192
    • [7] (2012) Turczaninowia 15(2): 44-48
    • [8] (2011) Norrlinia 24: 1-166
    • [14] Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1993) Flora Europaea ed. 2, 1: 1-581. Cambridge University Press


    • [9] Jellin, J. M., Gregory, P. J., et al. (2008). Pharmacist’s Letter/Prescriber’s Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. 10th ed. pp. 1350. Therapeutic Research Facility, Stockton, California. Pp. 1350.
    • [10] Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book. A Portable Dictionary of Plants their Classification and Uses. 3rd Ed. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
    • [11] Davidson, A. (2006). Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press, New York.
    • [12] Allen, D. A., Hatfield, G. (2004). Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: An Ethnobotany of Britain and Ireland. Timber Press, Cambridge.
    • [13] Williamson, E. M. (2003). Potter’s Herbal Cyclopaedia. C. W. Daniel, Saffron Walden.
    • [15] Hultén, E.O.G. (1960) Flora of the Aleutian Islands and westernmost Alaska Peninsula: with notes on the flora of Commander Islands , ed. 2: 1-376. Weinheim : J. Cramer ; New York : Hafner Pub. Co.


    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
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    Kew Species Profiles
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