Red sorrel

Prepared by Jennifer L. D’Appollonio, Assistant Scientist, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469. Updated February 2018.

Scientific name: Rumex acetosella L.

Common name(s): red sorrel, common sheep sorrel, sheep dock

Links: USDA PLANTS Profile, Go Botany

Images: (to see enlargements [PC]: click on image, then right click and choose “view image”)


– perennial

– flowers May-September.

Stems slender 6″-18″ arising from a crown.  Alternate leaves distinctly arrow-shaped with broad lobes and bitter taste, 1″-4″ long.  Red to yellow flowers at top of the plant, small and clustered in a whorl, male and female flowers on separate plants.

-Produces large quantities of pollen

-may be confused with R. acetosa; see left sidebar on Go Botany webpage


  • Enjoys moist, low in fertility, acidic, fast draining soils
  • open grasslands or meadows, and gravely or recently burned areas

Natural History

  • Introduced from Europe and in the 19th Century
  • Edible to humans and used as a green or to make tea
  • Found toxic to livestock if eaten in high amounts
  • Historic medical uses
    • treating kidney problems, skin disorders and sore throats
    • inflammation, scurvy, cancer, diarrhea
    • An antidote for poisons by indigenous people


  • hand pulling
  • Mulch and Fertilizers
    • suppression by mulch
    • altering pH
  • Herbicides/chemicals
    • pre emergence suppression
    • growth regulators
    • aromatic amino acid inhibitors
    • photosynthetic inhibitors


DiTomaso, J.M., G.B. Kyser et al. 2013. Weed Control in Natural Areas in the Western United States. Weed Research and Information Center, University of California. 544 pp.

Peacock, Charles. “Red Sorrel: NC State Extension Publications.” Red Sorrel | NC State Extension Publications, 2017,

“Red Sorrel (Sheep Sorrel).” University of Maryland Extension, 2020,