Found in all fifty states and on six continents, yellow dock (Rumex crispus) is an edible, medicinal plant that has naturalized in many parts of the world. In other words, it’s a weed, and one that folks often spend a lot of effort eradicating from their lawns and gardens. Yet, like many underappreciated weeds, yellow dock has a lot to offer in both nutritional and health benefits.
Photo by Sarah Baldwin
Health Benefits of Dock
Yellow dock is an important digestive ally, with bitter properties that activate the liver and gall bladder, aiding in the digestion of fats and absorption of nutrients. The root is often used as a gentle, but effective laxative. Meanwhile, the plant’s cooling properties ease inflammation of the digestive tract.
This herb has a long history of use as an alterative, a term that can be a little confusing. This is what folk healers might call a “blood cleanser,” and it indicates a plant that improves the metabolic functioning of the body to encourage the breakdown and elimination of toxins and waste. Thus, yellow dock is indicated in chronic skin conditions like acne and eczema, which often have an underlying cause in liver congestion.
How to Identify Yellow Dock
Yellow dock’s genus name, Rumex, means “lance-like” and describes the narrow shape of the leaves, while crispus means “curly” and refers to the undulating leaf margins. Although most modern herbalists prefer R. crispus, several dock species have historically been used interchangeably. Narrow leaves with very wavy edges and pale green stems are a couple of ways to differentiate R. crispus from other Rumex species. When in doubt, you may need to dig up a plant and take a cross-section of the root, which has a yellow hue--hence the moniker, “yellow dock.”
Dock can tolerate infertile soil and tends to thrive in waste areas. However, we must take care not to harvest this plant from polluted areas, as it accumulates heavy metals such as cadmium and lead from the soil. (In fact, this principle goes for all wild plant foraging!)
Kitchen and Apothecary
A great addition to your home apothecary, yellow dock is easily extracted into a tincture or herbal vinegar. Vinegar is especially good for drawing the abundant minerals from this nutrient-dense plant. Dock is high in vitamins A and C and a variety of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. The plant is also helpful for anemia due to its iron content as well as its ability to promote better absorption of iron. Try adding yellow dock or dock vinegar to iron-rich foods, such as nettle, chickweed, and seaweed.
A word of caution: yellow dock also contains oxalic acid, which may contribute to kidney stones and other health conditions. But before you panic, consider that many common foods like spinach and rhubarb also contain oxalic acid. Most folks can tolerate eating some raw spinach, but it’s a good idea not to over-consume. To reduce oxalic acid levels, avoid harvesting during very dry conditions and blanch the greens for a few minutes before eating.
Yellow dock leaves make a tangy, delicious addition to omelets, frittatas, quiches, soups, curries, stir-fries, and pasta dishes like lasagna. Stems of larger leaves can be tough, so it’s best to remove them before cooking. You can also add the plant’s root to various recipes, such as soup or roasted roots.
Dock Leaf Chips
One of my favorite things in life is taking advantage of nature’s bounty—weeds—to make inexpensive, healthful culinary delights. As a substitute for kale chips, dock leaf chips are a weedy alternative that are equally chock full of nutrients. The process is simple:
- Harvest dock leaves, the younger and more tender the better. Remove larger stems.
- Toss lightly with oil and place in a single layer in food dehydrator trays. Salt to taste.
- Dehydrate until dry and crispy, which usually takes a couple of hours.
- Store in a paper bag to preserve freshness.
Note: I prefer the dehydrator because it tends to preserve the color better, but you can also use an oven. Bake at 250 degrees for just a few minutes until crispy.
Sarah Baldwin is immersed in the world of herbalism, writing and teaching about the physical and spiritual benefits of healing plants. She is the author of The Herbal Healing Deck, an earthy and mystical oracle deck featuring guidance and wisdom from medicinal plants. Sarah is a regular contributor to Plant Healer Magazine and The Herbarium and has also written course material for The Herbal Academy. Her interests include gardening, yoga, meditation, dance, and music.