Sheep Sorrel

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Sheep Sorrel

Common Names

  • Sorrel
  • Dock

For Patients & Caregivers

How It Works

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

Sheep sorrel is a flowering plant considered a perennial weed. It is native to Europe, Russia, the Middle East and North Africa as well as being prevalent in all parts of the United States. Sheep sorrel has been historically used to treat inflammation, scurvy, cancer, and diarrhea. It is also one of the four ingredients in Essiac, an alternative cancer treatment.

Scientific research has not been performed on sheep sorrel, but scientists are familiar with how some of the natural compounds found in this plant work. 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
    Evidence is lacking to support this claim.
  • To treat diarrhea
    Evidence is lacking to support this claim.
  • To reduce fever
    Evidence is lacking to support this claim.
  • To reduce inflammation
    Evidence is lacking to support this claim.
  • To treat scurvy
    Sheep sorrel contains vitamin C, which helps prevent scurvy, but there are no clinical data to support use.
Do Not Take If
  • You have a history of kidney stones: The oxalate content in sheep sorrel can contribute to kidney stone formation.
  • 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 dangerously low blood potassium levels
  • Kidney and liver damage
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For Healthcare Professionals

Scientific Name
Rumex acetosella
Clinical Summary

Sheep sorrel is a flowering plant considered a perennial weed. It is native to Europe, Russia, the Middle East and North Africa as well as being prevalent in all parts of the United States. Sheep sorrel has been historically used to treat inflammation, scurvy, cancer, and diarrhea. It is also one of the four ingredients in Essiac, an alternative cancer treatment (1).

The major constituents include anthraquinones and oxalates (1). But there are no clinical data to support use of sheep sorrel for any of the proposed claims. Consuming large doses may result in diarrhea from the anthraquinones, and renal and liver damage from the oxalate content (2).

Purported Uses
  • Cancer treatment
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Inflammation
  • Scurvy
Mechanism of Action

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 (2).

Herb-Drug Interactions

Diuretics: Potassium loss due to stimulant laxative effect of sheep sorrel may increase the potential risk for hypokalemia.

Herb Lab Interactions

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

Dosage (OneMSK Only)
References
  1. Fetrow CW, et al. Professional’s Handbook of Complementary and Alternative Medicines. Philadelphia: Springhouse; 1999.

  2. Newall CA, et al. Herbal medicines: a guide for health-care professionals. Pharmaceutical Press. London. 1996.

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Email your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.

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