Health Care Professional Information

Scientific Name
Rumex acetosella
Common Name

Sorrel, dock

Clinical Summary

Derived from the aerial parts of the plant, Sheep sorrel historically has been used to treat inflammation, scurvy, cancer, and diarrhea. The major constituents include anthraquinones, oxalates, and various vitamins (1). Consumption of large doses may result in diarrhea from the anthraquinones and renal and liver damage from the oxalate content (2). Sheep sorrell is one of the four ingredients in Essiac (1).
There are no published trials evaluating the efficacy of sheep sorrel for any proposed claims.

Purported Uses
  • Cancer treatment
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Inflammation
  • Scurvy
Constituents
  • Glycosides: Hyperoside, quercitin-3d-galactoside
  • Anthraquinones: Emodin, aloe emodin, chrysophanol, rhein, physcion
  • Vitamins: A, B complex, C, D, E, K
  • Other: Oxalates, tannins
    (1)
Mechanism of Action

The anthraquinones, including emodin, rhein, and physcion, stimulate peristalsis and increase the secretion of mucous and water into the intestine. They are also considered to be antioxidants and free radical scavengers.
(1)

Contraindications

Patients with history of kidney stones should not consume this herb.

Adverse Reactions

Reported: Gastroenteritis, abdominal cramps, diarrhea leading to possible hypokalemia, renal and liver damage have been reported.
(2)

Herb-Drug Interactions

Diuretics: Potassium loss due to stimulant laxative effect can increase potential risk for hypokalemia.

Herb Lab Interactions

Anthraquinones can cause discoloration of the urine interfering with urinalysis.
(3)

Literature Summary and Critique

No clinical trials have been conducted to evaluate the efficacy of sheep sorrel for any proposed claims.

References
  1. Tamayo C, et al. The chemistry and biological activity of herbs used in Flor-essence herbal tonic and Essiac. Phytotherapy Res 2000;14:1-14.
  2. Fetrow CW, et al. Professional's Handbook of Complementary and Alternative Medicines. Philadelphia: Springhouse; 1999.
  3. Newall CA, et al. Herbal medicines: a guide for health-care professionals. Pharmaceutical Press. London. 1996.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: There is no evidence that sheep sorrel can treat cancer, diarrhea, scurvy, or any other medical condition.

No scientific research has been performed with sheep sorrel, but scientists are familiar with how some of the natural compounds found in this plant work. The anthraquinones stimulate peristalsis in the gastrointestinal tract and increase the secretion of mucous and water into the intestine. This can cause a laxative effect. These compounds are also considered to be antioxidants and therefore may be able to neutralize free radicals, which can cause cellular and DNA damage in the body.

Purported Uses
  • To treat cancer
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To treat diarrhea
    There are no data to back this claim.
  • To reduce fever
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To reduce inflammation
    This use is not supported by research.
  • To treat scurvy
    Sheep sorrel contains vitamin C, which helps prevent scurvy. But there are no human data.
Patient Warnings
  • Large doses of sheep sorrel may result in diarrhea, and cause kidney and liver damage.
Do Not Take If
  • You have a history of kidney stones
  • You are taking diuretics (Most diuretics cause potassium loss from the body, which can be increased by the laxative effect of sheep sorrel. This increases the risk of hypokalemia, or dangerously low blood potassium levels).
Side Effects
  • Upset stomach
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea, possibly leading to hypokalemia (dangerously low blood potassium levels)
  • Kidney and liver damage
Special Point
  • Sheep sorrel is one of the four ingredients in Essiac.
  • Anthraquinones can cause discoloration of the urine interfering with urinalysis.
E-mail your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.