Sorrel – An overview of traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology

About 200 species of the genus Sorrel (Rumex) are distributed throughout the world (Russia, Europe, Asia, Africa and America). Some species have traditionally been used as vegetables for their flavor and medicinal properties.


Based on traditional knowledge, various phytochemical and pharmacological properties of plants have been the focus of research. This article aims to provide an overview of the current state of knowledge on local and traditional medicinal uses, chemical constituents, pharmacological activity, toxicity, and safety of sorrel species in order to determine the therapeutic potential of these plants and further research directions.


This review discusses the current knowledge in the field of chemistry, pharmacological studies carried out with extracts and main active components isolated from plants of the genus Sorrel, the second largest genus in the Buckwheat family. The article is based on a summary of several dozen articles from the American National Library of Medicine found by the query “Rumex”.


Introduction and general information about sorrel


Although there are about 200 species in this genus, most phytochemical and pharmacological research has been done on no more than 50 species. Aerial parts, leaves and roots of the plant are used as a vegetable and to treat a number of ailments such as mild diabetes, constipation, infections, diarrhea, edema, jaundice, and as an antihypertensive, diuretic, pain reliever, and for skin disorders, liver and gallbladder disorders, and inflammation. Many phytochemical studies of this genus have confirmed that Sorrel is rich in anthraquinones, naphthalenes, flavonoids, stilbenoids, triterpenes, carotenoids and phenolic acids. In addition, studies have drawn attention to the fact that high levels of oxalic acid in some species can cause side effects, mainly kidney stones when consumed in large amounts.


The name Rumex comes from the Latin word for dart, referring to the shape of the leaves. Many accounts of the traditional use of Sorrel species have been published in the ethnobotanical and ethnopharmacological literature. In some regions, sorrel leaves are used (for example, sorrel, passerine sorrel, curly sorrel, blood sorrel, horse sorrel, pyramidal sorrel and blister sorrel) are used in food, mainly in the form of sour soups (usually with milk), sauces and salads. The roots of many species belonging to the genus Sorrel have been used medicinally since ancient times due to their mild laxative effect. Sorrel is listed in the Korean Food Code (Korea Food & Drug Administration) as a staple food and is used in folk medicine as a mild laxative, as well as for the treatment of skin diseases.


The most studied species: are horse sorrel, sorrel sour, and curly sorrel, these plants are most often involved in research by scientists and their main beneficial properties are due to the content of anthraquinones and flavonoids in these herbs.



Beneficial features


Chemical composition

It is known that plants belonging to the Pear family, to which all species of sorrel belong, produce a large number of biologically important secondary metabolites, such as anthraquinones, naphthalenes, stilbenoids, steroids, flavonoid glycosides, leukoanthocyanidins and phenolic acids.
Sorrel is characterized by the accumulation of anthraquinones, naphthalene-1,8-diols, flavonoids and stilbenoids.


Use in medicine


The aerial parts, leaves, roots, and seeds of sorrel are used in traditional medicine to treat a number of ailments such as infections, diarrhea, constipation, mild diabetes, edema, jaundice, and as an antihypertensive, diuretic, and pain reliever, as well as skin conditions, diseases of the liver and gallbladder.


It has been experimentally proven that extracts and compounds isolated from these plants have various pharmacological activities, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activities.




Sorrel appears to be safe to consume, but it can be high in oxalic acid. Oxalates can cause serious problems (calcium oxalate kidney stones, reduced iron absorption) when taken in large amounts.



This review confirms that some species of Sorrel have become a good source of traditional medicine for the treatment of inflammation, cancer and various bacterial infections, and provides new information for further promising research on compounds, especially quercetin, emodin, nepodin, thoracrisone and trans-resveratrol to find new therapeutic funds and assistance in drug discovery. In addition, hepatoprotective, antiviral, and antidiabetic interventions should be prioritized in future pharmacological studies. However, for the use of species for the prevention or treatment of various diseases, additional pharmacological studies are needed to clarify their mechanism of action, safety and efficacy before clinical trials begin.


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