This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The Sorrel Dock with us bears also the names Sour Sabs, Sour Garbs, Sour Suds, Sour Sauce, Cuckoo Sorrow, and Green Sauce. Country people beat the herb to a mash, and take it mixed with vinegar, and sugar, as a green sauce with cold meat. When boiled without water (in its own juice) it serves as an excellent accompaniment to roast goose, or pork, instead of apple sauce. Because corrective of scrofulous deposits, Sorrel is specially beneficial towards the cure of scurvy. Says John Evelyn, in Acetaria (1699): "Sorrel sharpens the appetite, assuages heat, cools the liver, and strengthens the heart; it is an anti-scorbutic, resisting putrefaction; and in the making of sallets imparts a grateful quickness to the rest as supplying the want of oranges, and lemons. Together with salt it gives both the name, and the relish to sallets, from the sapidity, which renders not plants and herbs only, but men themselves, and their conversations pleasant, and agreeable. But of this enough, and perhaps too much! lest while I write of salts and sallets, I appear myself insipid." The sour taste of both Sorrel, and the garden Rhubarb, is due to oxalic acid, or rather to the acid oxalate of potash.
In a gouty person who has lime in the blood, and humours, a combination between it and the Sorrel, or Rhubarb acid, takes place of an irritating character, leading to the formation of oxalate of lime (dumb-bell) crystals, which are voided by the kidneys in the urine. At the same time considerable disturbance of the general health takes place. Dr. Prout says he has seen well-marked instances in which an oxalate of lime kidney attack has followed the use of Garden Rhubarb in a tart, or pudding, likewise of Sorrel in a salad, particularly when at the same time the patient has been drinking hard water. But chemists explain that oxalates may be excreted in the urine without having necessarily been a constituent, as such, of vegetable or other foods taken at table; seeing that citric, malic, and other organic acids which are found distributed throughout the vegetable world are liable to chemical conversion into oxalic acid through a fermentation, or perverted digestion. The term "Sorrel Sops" was given to a fever-drink in the sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. In Ireland fresh Sorrel leaves are eaten with fish, and other alkalescent foods. Applied externally, the bruised leaves will purify foul ulcers.
When dried the root has the singular property of imparting a fine red colour to boiling water; and it is therefore used in France for making barley-water look like red wine, when the object is to avoid giving anything of a vinous nature to the sick person. Sorrel leaves form by their acidity a capital resolvent dressing for taking with stewed lamb, veal, or sweetbread. The Purslane, related to the Portulaccas of Brazil', is used in equal proportion with Sorrel for making that excellent milk soup, bonne femme. For "Sorrel soup" (Potage a l'Oiselle, Cordon Rouge), wash, and pick the Sorrel, and cut it into fine shreds; melt the proper quantity of butter in a stewpan; peel, and slice enough onions, and carrots; dry the vegetables, and put them into the stewpan as soon as the butter is hot; stir over a brisk fire for about five minutes, taking care not to let the vegetables burn. Now add some flour, mix well, and moisten with the milk previously boiled, also a good pint of water; stir until it boils, and then allow it to simmer for about half an hour; add pepper, salt, and nutmeg to taste. When done, rub the whole through a fine sieve, and return it to a clean stewpan.
Mix your cream with yolks of egg, and add this to the soup as soon as it boils; stir long enough to bind the eggs, but avoid its boiling further. Stamp out some thin crusts of bread about the size of a shilling piece; pour the soup into a tureen, and serve with the bread-crusts put in at the last. Ingredients for the above: Sorrel, one pound; milk, one pint; flour, half an ounce; butter, three ounces; one small onion, one small carrot, two egg yolks, half a gill of cream, pepper, salt, nutmeg, and crusts of bread as directed. French chefs call Sorrel Soup "Potage a la bonne femme," perhaps because of its slightly acidulated flavour. Sweet things grow tiresome after a while: for which reason both women, and soup, should have a little spice of - let us not say acid - in their composition. Formerly, on account of its grateful acidity, a conserve of "luluja," or the "Alleluia" herb, Wood Sorrel, was ordered by the London College to be made from the leaves, and petals, with sugar, and orange peel. An anti-putrescent gargle is to be concocted against quinsy with the same parts of this plant. The garden Rhubarb owes its bright red colouring to varying states of its natural pigment, chlorophyll, in combination with oxygen. For culinary purposes the petiole, or stalk of the broad leaf, is used.
Its chief nutrient property is glucose, which is identical with grape-sugar. But the presence of oxalic acid makes these stalks as objectionable for gouty persons as is Sorrel, for the reason already explained. The garden Rhubarb also possesses albumin, gum, and mineral matters, with a small quantity of some volatile essence. The Turkey Rhubarb of medicine is likewise a Dock grown in Western China, and Thibet. Garden Rhubarb is anything but an invariably harmless article of vegetable diet, even for some persons who are not gouty, or with lime in their system. Its free use at table will now and again provoke in susceptible subjects, whether children, or adults, congestion of the kidneys, passage of bloody urine, nettle-rash, colic of the bowels, feverishness, and a general aching of the limbs. But it is chiefly Rhubarb of the rougher sort as grown wholesale for the markets, which thus disagrees, whilst the forced variety of cultivated garden produce does not give rise to such troubles, whether of the kidneys, or of the skin.