A steadfast herb named sorrel

Contributor May 7

Before the first daffodil, long before the first spear of asparagus, the sorrel was up in all its green glory. Not much was happening in my herb garden except for a scattering of bright blue chionodoxa and scilla — tiny spring bulbs that had spread by seed. Not even the chives were big enough to snip.

Sorrel is a salad green, but it’s more often treated as an herb, partly because of its pleasantly sharp lemon flavor, and partly because, unlike most edible greens, it’s a hardy perennial. As such it wouldn’t fit in a vegetable plot that’s tilled each year.

Barbara Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of “The Garden Primer.” View Archive

Gardeners grow several kinds of sorrel. There’s the classic French type, with its little shield-shaped leaves, and garden sorrel whose leaves point upward like a quiver of arrows. Both are tender and zesty in salads, especially if you divide and replant them every spring to renew them. There’s sheep sorrel, a wild form that invades acidic garden soil by means of threadlike runners — a pest but admittedly good to eat. Then there’s Profusion, which is the one that caught my eye on that particular day when I longed for a fresh spring taste.

Profusion is a patented variety from Richter’s Herbs, which you must buy as a plant, because it is sterile and does not produce seeds. This trait prevents it from bolting, so you can keep picking its outer leaves while tender new ones form in the center. Mine has sat in the same spot for years, so its foliage is a bit coarse and I treat it as a plant to eat cooked, not raw.

This treatment has one drawback: As soon as moist heat is applied, the leaves turn army green, an unappetizing shade verging too closely on brown.


Profusion sorrel in early spring in Barbara Damrosch’s garden. (Barbara Damrosch/Barbara Damrosch)

This color has never stopped people from cooking sorrel, because it is so delicious, especially in a soup. And on this particular day the planets aligned just right for the best sorrel soup to ever come out of my kitchen.

First, there were the last leeks of the winter season, dug the week before and stored in the fridge. There was good homemade chicken stock in the freezer. The fridge also yielded a bit of leftover mashed potato — so much better for thickening a soup like this one than flour would ever be. And finally, there was parsley, bunches and bunches of it that had wintered over in our small home greenhouse and not yet gone to seed.

One of parsley’s best traits is that it keeps its bright green color when cooked. So in it went, in an amount equal to that of the sorrel, simmering in the broth along with the leeks. I pureed it, using the blender instead of the food processor, for a velvety texture. An egg yolk, beaten into a little cream, was stirred in at the end. A dash of salt, a grinding of pepper, and it was perfect. The sorrel flavor was there, but the color was pea-green, not khaki, a green true enough to usher in spring

Tip of the week:

Mulch should be applied as a thin layer — no more than two inches deep — to conserve moisture and minimize weeds. It should not be used to smother the garden. Thick layers become a growing medium for plant roots, with disastrous results as the mulch rots away. Mulch must not be mounded against the trunk of a tree; this common but misguided practice damages vital bark. — Adrian Higgins

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Damrosch is author of “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”

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