You Are What You Eat: Sorrel
The idea behind this column is to promote the culture of eating what we grow and growing what we eat. It goes without saying that a healthy mind can only be found in a healthy body. There is also a saying which appears simple, but is in fact deep in meaning, “YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT”.
“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” -Ancient Earthian Ayurvedic Proverb
Health Benefits of Sorrel (Wonjo/Bissap)
Some of the health benefits of sorrel include its ability to boost eyesight, strengthen the immune system, improve digestion, build strong bones, increase circulation, increase energy levels, help prevent cancer, reduce certain skin conditions, lower blood pressure, increase appetite, slow the aging process, protect against diabetes, strengthen heart health, and improve kidney health.
Sorrel is a fascinating perennial herb that is used all around the world and is cultivated for a wide variety of uses. Although it is primarily grown for use in food, due to its sharp, tangy taste, it also has a vast array of health benefits associated with it. There are a number of varieties of sorrel that grow in different regions of the world, and while many of them have slightly different characteristics and associated health benefits, they are generally the same. Common sorrel, which is the most commonly cultivated and used variety, has the scientific name Rumex acetosa, but is also commonly referred to as sorrel, spinach dock, and narrow-leaved dock. The plant itself has broad green leaves that comprise the majority of the surface area, but the roots stretch deep into the ground. The red and purple flowers that annually bloom are one of the best ways to locate sorrel.
Cultures around the world have been growing and using sorrel for centuries, in everything from soups and salads to vegetable side dishes and the creation of strong tea. The high content of oxalic acid in sorrel makes it poisonous to a small degree, so intake should be regulated. In smaller quantities, eating sorrel is completely harmless. The oxalic acid is also responsible for the tart, tangy taste that is almost reminiscent of wild strawberries or kiwi. The leaves are the major part of the plant that is eaten or used in culinary preparations. Sorrel is also a key element in a number of different tea preparations due to its strong antioxidant compounds, including the famous Essiac tea.
Let’s see what else is found in sorrel that makes it such a wonderful addition to your diet!
Nutritional Value of Sorrel
Along with being a unique flavor in your dishes, sorrel also provides significant amounts of fiber, very few calories, almost no fat, and a small amount of protein. In terms of vitamins, it is rich in vitamin C and also contains vitamin A, vitamin B-6, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. In terms of beneficial organic compounds, sorrel contains polyphenolic acids, flavonoids, and anthocyanins.
Health Benefits of Sorrel
Digestive Health: The high content of dietary fiber that can be found in most varieties of sorrel means that your digestive health can be improved by adding these leaves to your soups and salads. Dietary fiber adds bulk to food as it moves through the digestive system, improving your gastrointestinal health and reducing conditions like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and cramping, as well as more serious gastrointestinal issues. Dietary fiber can also help to reduce total cholesterol in the body, thereby protecting heart health and reducing chances of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.
Blood Pressure: Sorrel has a very significant level of potassium (1 cup contains 15% of your daily recommended intake), which is an essential mineral for human health. Potassium is a vasodilator, as well as being instrumental in maintaining fluid balance throughout the body. This means that potassium reduces the stress on the cardiovascular system by relaxing the blood vessels and arteries. Lowered blood pressure reduces the chances of dangerous clotting and excessive strain on the heart that can lead to coronary heart disease and other complications.
Cancer Prevention: Although the studies looking into the antioxidant components of sorrel are still ongoing, there is good evidence that sorrel contains polyphenolic compounds, flavonoids, and anthocyanins, all of which function as antioxidants in the human body. The wealth of antioxidants that sorrel contains means that it is very effective at seeking out free radicals in the body and neutralizing them before they can cause healthy cells to mutate into cancerous cells. Antioxidants have a wide range of effects in the body, but cancer prevention is their most high-profile benefit.
Eyesight Improvement: Vitamin A, another of the essential vitamins found in sorrel, has been closely connected to the improvement in eyesight and a reduction of macular degeneration and cataracts. Beta-carotene, which is a derivative of vitamin A, acts as an antioxidant, and combined with the other important antioxidant compounds in the body, sorrel can greatly boost eye health and prevent age-related degradation of that vital sense.
Circulation and Energy: The significant levels of iron in sorrel mean that it boosts red blood cell production and prevents anemia (iron deficiency). Increased circulation boosts oxygen levels throughout the body in the vital organs, boosts hair growth, increases energy levels, and speeds up the healing process (in conjunction with the protein content of sorrel).
Immune System Health: The vitamin C content in sorrel is impressive (a single cup of sorrel contains 106% of your daily recommended intake), which means that your immune system can be optimized and brought up to full strength when you add this to your diet. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, stimulates the immune system and increases the white blood cell count in the body, which is the first line of defense against pathogens and other foreign invaders in the body. Vitamin C also helps to reduce swelling, prevent scurvy, and even has analgesic (pain relief) properties when consumed in high quantities.
Skin Conditions: The leaves of sorrel have been used in two ways to treat skin conditions. The leaves, when dried as an herb can be eaten, and this has been connected with a reduction in ringworm and itchy, dry skin. When fresh leaves are ground up, the liquid that is extracted can be applied topically to the area in question to reduce rashes and irritation. This is likely due to the vitamin C and vitamin A content in the leaves, as well as the other nutraceuticals found in this herb.
Heart Health and Diabetes: Aside from the other heart-related benefits, it is important to remember that sorrel belongs to the oxalis family, which has been closely associated with improving the condition of diabetics and boosting heart health in general. Again, this is likely due to the organic compounds and anthocyanins found in sorrel, which interact with almost every system in the body to boost functionality and health.
Kidney Health: Sorrel has been shown to have a diuretic effect, particularly when the leaves are dried and then consumed within a few days. As a diuretic, sorrel stimulates urination, which cleans out the kidneys, taking with it any extra toxins, salts, water, and even a small percentage of fat.
A Final Word of Caution
Oxalic acid is a toxin, so eating sorrel in moderate amounts is important. Also, oxalic acid contributes to the growth of kidney stones, so if that is already a health concern, you should avoid eating oxalic acid-rich foods like sorrel. Also, when cooking sorrel, do not use cast iron or aluminum cookware, as the metal will interact with the oxalic acid and cause the herb to take on a very unpleasant metallic taste.
A columnist for The Chronicle, Modou NS Njie is a young social entrepreneur, techpreneur who owns and manages an online food store called Farm Fresh as well as two other startups. He has a wealth of experience in ICT spanning over 21 years.