Early in spring, its raggedy, bespeckled leaves first emerge in a basal rosette from the tough, deep taproot that has wintered below. The edges of the elongated leaves are wavy and somewhat crinkled, giving definition to its other well-known moniker, Curly Dock. Gardeners as a rule are not particularly fond of this tenacious garden interloper, knowing full well that the profusion of seeds it produces late in every growing season will spell disaster for their carefully tended beds. Each root must be carefully dug out from its firm grip on the earth far below the surface, for even a small piece of the brittle root, snapped off in an attempt to extricate it from the soil, will produce an even sturdier offspring. Hoeing is out of the question; the best thing to do is to make peace with the rugged invader and relentlessly continue to harvest this valuable herb for its medicine.
The name “Dock” which refers to a broad leafed weed sometimes causes some confusion; another useful wild plant called Burdock (Arctium lappa) is actually of no direct relation to Rumex crispus. The environment they favor tends to share many similarities however; waste places, overgrown meadows or pastures, roadsides, ditches, abandoned farmland and cultivated ground such as your garden are all locales where one may find Yellow Dock languishing. Be sure to use common sense when harvesting any wild plants and avoid places where toxic chemicals may be present in the ground, particularly by the side of roads and landfills.
Rumex crispus (also known as Sour Dock) is considered to be cold and dry, a restoring, bitter astringent that decongests and dissolves accumulations. Its effects are felt most strongly in the intestines, the liver, the lymphatic system and the kidneys. It can help to reduce inflammation and promote healing both topically and internally. It has been prescribed for a variety of ailments including herpes, syphilis, vaginitis, ovarian cysts and fibroids, tumors, boils, acne, thrush, ulcers, dysentery, hemorrhoids, urinary tract infections, kidney and gallstones, acidosis, and as an adjunctive support for diabetics.
As its name suggests, the root of this perennial herb is yellow which can be a signature or a reminder for some of its medicinal effects. Well known as a spring tonic, Yellow Dock is hepatic in nature, supporting and restoring the functioning of the liver. As a boost for the liver and gall bladder, Rumex crispus assists the digestion of fatty foods by enhancing bile production. Historically, its use in spring was truly revitalizing after a long season of mostly meat and fats in the winter diet. The judicious use of this herb can be of great benefit to people who frequently indulge in the rich and over processed foods of a modern diet as well.
The root of Curly Dock is known to help the intestines increase its absorption of minerals; therefore it has been used effectively in the treatment of malabsorption issues, including Crohn’s disease. Herbalists sometimes prescribe the remedy to people with various food allergies because this symptom generally indicates an imbalance with the liver. Other conditions that may point toward Liver imbalance include gout, certain skin diseases, congestive dysmennorhea, and of course jaundice. When used to help decongest the liver, we frequently will pair Yellow Dock with Dandelion root.
Because of its ability to increase mineral absorption, and the significant amount of iron it contains, Yellow Dock has been used extensively for building blood in the treatment of anemia and has even been used successfully in extreme cases of leukemia. It is wise to remember however, that this is a cold and decongesting herb and by itself is not appropriate for the treatment of blood deficiency. When used for anemia it is excellent in combination with nettles, peony root, dang gui, red clover and molasses. These herbs, prepared as a decoction and taken at a dose of one cup three times daily most often will resolve anemia within three months. Following this method from time to time will help keep blood levels balanced and prevent the reoccurrence of anemia.
The bioflavonoids Yellow Dock contains also have a strengthening effect on the capillaries and the herb can be of great benefit where there is portal congestion. It can actually help to regulate menstrual blood when there is a tendency toward early flooding or slow, heavy and delayed menstruation. Slow, heavy menstrual blood can often be a sign of congestion; I frequently see a correlation between such conditions and uterine/ovarian cysts or fibroids. In these cases, Yellow dock can be helpful when part of a carefully constructed formula.
Perhaps the most common use for this Sour Dock is as a safe laxative for chronic constipation, especially if there is concurrent liver imbalance. Its purgative function is due the presence of anthraquinone glycosides that stimulate peristalsis. It is less irritating than other herbs like senna, cascara sagrada or rhubarb because of the high tannin content. Combining it with a carminative like cumin or fennel seed to make the remedy even more harmonious to the body is a good idea; often Yellow Dock will stimulate a bowel movement within a few hours of ingestion. A tincture of the herb can be taken starting with a low dose of ¼ teaspoon two to three times daily, up to one teaspoon for each dose, but do not exceed taking the remedy for more than one week.
Like all peristaltic herbs, laxative dependency is possible, so use only when necessary and if constipation persists, seek out an experienced herbalist to get to the root of the problem. It is also important to note that Yellow Dock also contains a considerable amount of oxalic acid, a compound found in many plants and foods such as spinach, strawberries, rhubarb, beets, Swiss chard, wheat bran, nuts, chocolate, and tea. An excess of oxalic acid in the diet can interfere with calcium absorption and increase the risk of kidney stones, so although herbs are frequently much safer to use than pharmaceuticals, it is wise to seek the expertise of a professional herbalist when embarking on an herbal regimen.
The sour leaves of Yellow Dock are a tasty and refreshing young leafy green to add to an early spring salad, but eating too much may cause gastric upset for some people. Because the newly emerged leaves contain a small amount of chrysophanic acid that can irritate the mouth and cause a tingling numbness that lasts for a few hours, be sure to wash the young leaves well before eating them which will remove all traces of the irritant. Curly Dock can also be cooked as a vegetable; some sources say to cook in several changes of water, but personally, I prefer to simply steam it or boil it briefly in a small amount of water. The leaves are also a valuable source of many vitamins and minerals, particularly iron.
The seeds are prolific, and as a rich source of riboflavin, can help the body absorb Vitamin C more efficiently. Although some wild food enthusiasts find hulling them to be too labor-intensive, others simply don’t bother to do more than sift through trays of seeds to remove insects, pieces of stem, twigs and leaves before grinding the seed, hull and all in a spice mill to use as a coffee substitute, or grind them extra fine for use as flour. I found at Natureskills.com a recipe for Yellow Dock Seed Crackers that combines equal amounts of Rumex crispus seed flour and any other type of flour you like with, salt and water to make a dough to be rolled out and baked. Simple enough, I plan to make some next fall!
Lastly, the magical uses of Yellow Dock are to attract success, commerce and prosperity; perhaps it is the profusion of seeds the plant produces, or the opportunistic habits of this common plant that bring abundance to mind. Whatever the reasoning, if you want to experiment with drawing in wealth by utilizing a wash of this weed on the doorknobs of your business, what could it hurt? Just let me know how it works out!
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