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Health Benefits and Side Effects of Sheep Sorrel Herb

Health Benefits and Side Effects of Sheep Sorrel Herb

Tannin and rumicin, the main components of sheep sorrel, are highly therapeutic. Besides its possible side effects, here's how sheep sorrel benefits one's health.
Leena Palande
Did You Know?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 38% of adults (about 4 in 10) and approximately 12% of children (about 1 in 9) were using some form of CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) in 2007.

Sheep sorrel, or Rumex acetosella, is commonly known by various names, such as sour dock, sour grass, sore weed, red top, and field sorrel. It is a member of the buckwheat family, and is quite common in the northern hemisphere. It is a perennial herb that sprouts from a spreading rhizome. With aggressive roots, the plant spreads wildly on acidic, sandy soil. It is found in heaths, woodlands, and grasslands. You must have seen it along roads and fields. It grows well even on abandoned mining sites. Other herbs with similar names should not be confused with Rumex acetosa; for example, roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), which is known as Jamaican sorrel or Guinea sorrel. It does not have the medicinal properties that wild sheep sorrel has.

The plant has small (about 1 inch long), smooth, arrow-shaped leaves. The slender stem can be 18 - 24 inches tall. Because of the reddish color and upright structure, it is easy to identify even from a distance. The male flowers are yellowish-green, while the female flowers are reddish. It blooms during March-November. On account of its abundance, it is often treated as a noxious weed. Flowers eventually develop into red fruits. All parts of this plant exhibit medicinal properties, but the leaves and the root powder are the ones which are most commonly used.
Health Benefits

As the plant exhibits antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and diuretic properties, it offers several health benefits. Sheep sorrel root powder is also used to prepare a herbal tea. The herb has a long history of medicinal use, but it remained relatively unknown until dietary supplements containing it were introduced by Essiac Products Inc.
Increased Immunity
Sheep sorrel is one of the most active ingredients of Essiac tea. Manufacturers claim that it helps curb the growth of a cancerous tumor growing in the human body. Although there is no scientific evidence that Essiac tea slows down the growth of cancer tumors, the herb can be used to strengthen the immune system and fight cancer. The antioxidants in the herb help cancel the effects of free radicals in the body. Thus, they help boost the immune system.

Healthy Intestines
The tea prepared from the leaves of the plant helps kill intestinal worms or parasites. Thus, it helps improve the function of the digestive system. The tea contains certain chemicals that are toxic to worms.

The tea prepared from the leaves and twigs of the plant exhibits mild diuretic properties. It helps increase the urine flow. Thus, it acts as a detoxifying agent and promotes fast expulsion of toxins. This helps improve functioning of various organs and systems in the body.

Easy Digestion
The anthraquinones present in the herb enhance muscular activity. They bring about an increase in the fluid that is secreted in intestines. All these activities help the food move smoothly through the digestive tract. Therefore, regular consumption of the weed can help prevent constipation.

Tightening of Soft Tissues
The herb acts as a good astringent, as it promotes tightening or constriction of soft organic tissues in the body. The high tannin content is responsible for this. So, it is used to treat diarrhea or heavy menstrual bleeding.

Treating Various Conditions
The tea exhibits antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. Hence, it is used to treat various conditions, like fevers, scurvy, and inflammatory conditions like sinusitis. Tannins present in the herb help lower sinus pressure and inflammation of the nasal passages and respiratory tract. They have a drying effect, and they help reduce mucus production. Thus, they help relieve annoying sinusitis symptoms. The antibacterial compound 'rumicin' present in the leaves helps kill bacteria like Escherichia, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus. Thus, the herb minimizes the chances of infection. As a home remedy, it is used to treat viral infections too. Topical application of the tea, tincture, or poultice helps curb the growth of cysts or tumors, and helps alleviate the symptoms of irritating skin conditions like eczema, rashes, and herpes.

Anti-aging Properties
Certain elements like beta carotene present in the herb help slow down the process of aging. They also prevent macular degeneration related to aging.

Helpful for Diabetics
Studies conducted by German and Spanish scientists show that oxalic acid present in the herb helps lower blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels. It helps maintain the uniform supply of insulin. It reduces inflammation and promotes weight loss.

Culinary Uses
As the leaves contain high amount of tannin, they have a lemony or tangy flavor. They act as a curdling agent during cheese-making process. They can be used as an astringent agent in various recipes. You can add them to salads for a nice tart flavor. You can even use them for garnishing. As the plant contains vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E, and K, minerals like potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc, along with the antioxidants (phytochemicals, flavonoids such as quercetin, and anthraquinones), it increases the nutritional value of the dish.

Side Effects
✦ Excessive consumption of the herb can create a laxative effect. Diarrhea can lead to loss of nutrients present in the body.
✦ There isn't enough proven information about the safety of this herb. So, pregnant and lactating women should stay away from it.
✦ As it contains oxalic acid, it may not be safe for children. Excessive oral consumption of the supplement can be life-threatening.
✦ Excessive intake of the weed increases the risk of kidney stones.
✦ As no reliable information is available on how it interacts with other medicines, one should consult his/her physician before taking the herbal supplement.
✦ Those diagnosed with rheumatism, kidney stones, arthritis, high acidity, etc., should stay away from this herb. Consumption of the supplement can worsen their symptoms.
✦ Oxalic acid that is present in high amounts in this herb can affect the levels of nutrients obtained through food, especially calcium. It can cause mineral deficiencies.
Sheep sorrel herb, a common weed throughout the U.S., may not cause any major side effects when taken in moderation. Rather, it can help improve one's health in several ways. However, one should consult a physician for correct dosage.
Disclaimer: This HolisticZine article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a physician/nutritionist.