Sorrel

(Rumex acetosa) (Garden Sorrel is Rumex scutatus). There is not much folklore recorded for sorrel, none but the fact that Yorkshire children believed that it grew only where dead men had been (Nicholson). But it did have one or two folk uses, one of which was to use the juice to take rust marks out of linen (M McNeill). And of course it was used for dyeing wool. On South Uist, it was used on its own to colour red; mixed with indigo, it could dye blue (Shaw). The roots were used in the Welsh industry, too - two parts of the sorrel to one part of wool, the whole lot boiled up for three or four hours, to produce a brown colour (Jenkins).

The main use of wild sorrel in the past has been culinary, and it is still quite often eaten, always remembering the oxalate in the leaves, which can make it poisonous if a lot of it is eaten. But it was employed as we now do lemons, especially for a green sauce with fish. The usual way of making it was by pulping the leaves and mixing them with sugar and vinegar. The boiled leaves are said to go well with pork or goose in lieu of apple sauce (Grigson), a use well enough known to Gerard, who advised his readers that "the juice hereof in Somer time is a profitable sauce in many meats, and pleasant to the taste: it cooleth an hot stomacke, moveth appetite to meat, tempereth the heat of the liver, and openeth the stoppings thereof". Sour-sab pie (sour-sab being a west country name for wild sorrel) is a Cornish dish made of the tender leaves and stalks. It is eaten with sugar and cream (Jago), and sorrel pie is a favourite in America, as is stewed sorrel (Sanford). In Lancashire, green sauce dumplings were made by chopping Wild Sorrel, mixing it with suet and flour, and boiling, as a dumplings, in broth or water (Crosby).

It is still used in folk medicine externally for skin disorders, or internally as a purge (Schauenberg & Paris). "Externally" must presumably mean the use of a leaf poultice. Corns can be dealt with by a mixture of bruised sorrel and lard, according to Illinois practice (H M Hyatt), but there have been some remarkable claims for its efficacy in most unlikely cases. An Irish cure for cancer, for instance, was to drink a decoction of the dried flowers (Egan). Equally optimistic was a Cumbrian epilepsy treatment, in which all that was needed was to eat sorrel leaves (Newman & Wilson). How many and how often is not divulged, but bearing in mind the oxalic acid content of the leaves, it cannot have been too many at a time.

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