Sheep’s Sorrel plant - Rumex Acetosella (Polygonaceae)

Medicinal Use of Sheep’s Sorrel – Rumex Acetosella (Polygonaceae)


Slender low-growing perennial. Has arrow-shaped leaves and terminal spikes bearing small green flowers that turn red as their seeds ripen.

Habitat & Cultivation

Sheep’s sorrel is found in most temperate regions of the world. It grows in open areas and in meadows, and is gathered in early summer.

Parts Used

Aerial parts.


Sheep’s sorrel contains oxalates and anthraquinones (including chrysophanol, emodin, and physcion).

History & Folklore

Apart from its role as a salad vegetable, sheep’s sorrel is an ingredient of an anticancer remedy known as essiac. A Native American formula, essiac also includes burdock (Arctium lappa) and slippery elm (Ulmus rubra). Western herbalists learned of it early in the 20th century, after a Canadian nurse observed the recovery from breast cancer of a patient who had taken the formula. Essiac has since had a checkered history. Despite attempts to initiate proper clinical trials, none has yet been undertaken.

Medicinal Actions & Uses

Sheep’s sorrel is a detoxifying herb, the fresh juice having a pronounced diuretic effect. Like other members of the dock family, sheep’s sorrel is mildly laxative, and holds potential as a long-term treatment for chronic disease, in particular that of the gastrointestinal tract.

Related Species

Sorrel (R. acetosa) is a European relative that is also taken for its detoxifying effect. See also yellow dock (R. crispus) and Chinese rhubarb (Rheum palmatum).


Sheep’s sorrel should not be taken by anyone with a tendency to develop kidney stones.