Sheep Sorrel

Scientific Name/Common Name: Rumex acetosella / Sheep Sorrel

Part(s) Used: Aerial portions

Constituents/Active Ingredients: rutin, flavone glycosides (i.e. hyperoside or quercitin-3d-galactoside), and hyperin. Sheep sorrel also contains vitamins: C, A, B complex, D, E, K. Total vitamin C of the leaves varies from 750-1200 mg/100 g based on dry weight. The herb also contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, silicon, iron, sulphur, copper, iodine, manganese, and zinc. The leaves and stems contain beneficial carotenoids, chlorophyll, organic acids (i.e., malic, oxalic, tannic, tartaric, and citric), and phytoestrogens. The plant also contains anthraquinones including emodin, aloe emodin, chrysophanol, rhein, and physcion.

Overview: At least ten First Nations tribes of Canada and the United States have used this plant, also known as sour grass or sour weed, as a food and medicine. Sheep sorrel is a popular ingredient of many folk remedies and the tea was used traditionally as a diuretic and to treat fevers, inflammation, and scurvy. Interestingly, even though it is not a legume, sheep sorrel contains significant levels of phytoestrogens with notable estrogen receptor binding activity, similar to the isoflavone phytoestrogens common to red clover, licorice, and soy, all legumes known for their strong health restorative properties. The herb also contains several anthraquinones that are effective antioxidants and radical scavengers. Although research is limited on sheep sorrel, closely related species contain a powerful antibacterial compound called rumicin. The high tannin content of the tea can also provide astringent action, which is useful for treating diarrhea and excessive menstrual bleeding. At low doses, most Rumex species are useful for treating diarrhea; however, at higher doses, they are laxatives due to the presence of anthraquinones that directly affect the neuromuscular tissue, stimulate peristalsis, increase the mucous production of colonic mucosa cells, and stimulate secretion of water into the intestinal lumen, thereby exerting a laxative effect.

Traditional Use/Benefits/Body Systems: At low doses as an astringent for diarrhea; at higher doses as a laxative for constipation; anti-inflammatory; antioxidant; cleansing/detoxifying ; diuretic; as a source of vitamin C to prevent scurvy.

Clinical Studies/Scientific Research/References:

Foster S, and Duke JA. 1990. Sheep Sorrel in Medicinal Plants. Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, NY, p. 214. Turner N, and Kuhnlein H. 1991.

Traditional plant foods of Canadian indigenous peoples. Nutrition, botany and use. In Food and Nutrition in History and Anthropology Vol. 8. Gordon & Breach Science Publishers, Philadelphia, PA, p. 222.

Disclaimer: This information in our Herbal Encyclopedia is intended only as a general reference for educational purposes. It is not a replacement for medical advice. This content does not provide dosage information, cautions/contraindications, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Please consult any relevant product labels for detailed information on use and with a medical practitioner for individual health advice.