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All About Sheep Sorrel

When you think of Sheep Sorrel, you probably think it’s a plant that sheep enjoy eating. But it’s quite the opposite, as they shouldn’t eat it at all!

Weed varieties like Sheep Sorrel can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, this weed will provide beautiful flowers and invite pollinators to hang out in your yard. But on the other hand, it can be toxic to animals (especially sheep) and spread its roots rapidly.

Keep reading to learn more about this weed, its uses, and how to remove it if it’s causing issues.

wildflower.  Sheep's Sorrel

History of Sheep Sorrel

Sheep Sorrel, or Rumex acetosella, is an invasive species in the United States, meaning it didn’t originate here. It comes from Europe and Asia and eventually came here many years ago. It is now a naturalized weed in North America. So, it learned and adapted to the continent’s climate and growing conditions.

This broadleaf weed from the buckwheat (Polygonaceae) family was a common additive in Native American cooking. And Native Americans may have also used it in poison antidotes. It offered a strong citrus taste to cuisine, and some people still use it for this reason today.

Other common names for Sheep Sorrel include Red Sorrel, Field Sorrel, and Sour Weed.

How to Identify Sheep Sorrel

Sheeps Sorrel growing on a pebble beach, England

When Sheep Sorrel begins growing, it’ll grow as a clump of green leaves very close to the ground. From there, stems (sometimes with a red tint) will grow upwards into a branch-like shape. The leaves will usually mix rounded arrow shapes and elongated spade shapes.

Arrow-shaped leaves are typically up to three inches long and grow at the base of the plant.

Field Sorrel is easiest to identify when it begins growing flowers. Tiny flowers will appear in elongated clusters on the stems. They will look like lavender. When the flowers bloom, they’re usually a mix of bright red and pink.

After the blooming season, each flower will leave behind one tiny, oval-shaped, brown seed from spring to fall.

Why is Sheep Sorrel Considered a Weed?

Pink flowers of a flowering plant Sheep Sorrel Rumex acetosella close up

While Sheep Sorrel can be a beautiful perennial plant in your yard, it can still wreak havoc. It is an aggressive weed that can easily take over areas if you don’t intervene.

The root systems of this weed are obnoxious due to their horizontally-growing nature. So, they can stretch outward and tangle with the roots of your other plants. This horizontal growth makes it difficult to remove. And it’s hard to control due to rapid seed-spreading.

Sheep Sorrel’s unwanted and damage-causing growth pushes it into the weed category.

Does Sheep Sorrel Cause Any Issues?

This Sour Weed variety can cause problems in your yard, garden, and flower beds. Its underground, horizontal, strangling root system can easily steal nutrients from other nearby plants. You may notice your other beloved plants start to die or have stunted growth.

Besides causing an underground mess, Sheep Sorrel is toxic to animals like livestock and other pets. The seeds are especially toxic to sheep and horses. And it is also poisonous to humans if ingested in large doses.

The toxicity is due to its high amounts of oxalic acid, also in rhubarb. Oxalate can irritate the kidneys, causing inflammation and even renal failure.

How Does Sheep Sorrel Spread?

Red Sorrel is a self-seeding plant. Once the flowers finish blooming, the seeds will drop into the soil. The weed can also spread through its rhizomes (the horizontal root system).

How to Get Rid of Sheep Sorrel

Sheep Sorrel is a difficult weed to get rid of. But you do have two options:

1. Natural Ways

The only natural way to get rid of this weed is by hand-pulling the weeds out of the ground. This means you need also to get the entire root system out. It may take some time, as these horizontal roots spread far and are very strong.

2. Weed Killers

This type of weed doesn’t respond to natural weed killers, so your only option is to use a chemical-based herbicide. Follow the directions on the bottle and spray the affected areas in your yard. Be careful not to spray your other plants.

Does Sheep Sorrel Have Any Good Uses?

Red Sorrel does have some good uses, which you’ll need to weigh out with the bad things it can do. Consider the following before terminating it from your yard completely.

Pink flowers of a flowering plant Sheep Sorrel Rumex acetosella close up

Aesthetic Benefits

If you need some color in your yard, this plant can provide beautiful blooms for about three seasons. The reds and pinks will instantly brighten your outdoor space. And the flowers will also attract butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.

Medicinal Benefits

Sheep Sorrel has high amounts of vitamins A, C, and B. With these vitamins, it can do the following:

Just be sure to contact your doctor before using it for medicinal uses.

Sheep Sorrel FAQs

Where does Sheep Sorrel grow in the United States?

Field Sorrel is widespread throughout the United States. Currently, you can find it in every state. You’ll often find it in fields, livestock pastures, on the side of roads, and in other grassy areas. The growing season starts in the spring and ends in the fall.

Who shouldn’t ingest Sheep Sorrel?

You shouldn’t consume this weed variety if you have a history of kidney issues. It usually can only cause kidney damage in high doses. But, if your kidneys have had any prior issues, they may already be weakened.

Is Sheep Sorrel toxic to dogs and cats?

Yes, Red Sorrel is toxic to both dogs and cats. Any part of the plant can be toxic to your furry friend if ingested. So, keep them away from it if they have a habit of chewing on or eating plants when outdoors.

Wrapping Up Sheep Sorrel

Sheep Sorrel can be a bothersome weed due to its horizontal root system, seed spreading, and toxic nature to animals. But it can also offer beautiful flowers and medicinal benefits if you keep it around. Consider weighing this plant’s good and bad aspects before using herbicides and hand-weeding.

If you feel like you need to learn more about these pesky garden tenants, check out our weeds page to learn all about different weed varieties, treatment options, and surprising information.