Rumex spp. – Dock and Sorrels
Dock and Sorrels – Rumex spp.
Rumex = ru-meks, from the Latin name for Rumex acetosa;
Identification: These coarse, perennial herbs, usually have thick roots. They can stand from 10 cm to 2 m tall, depending on species. The leaves are alternate, with the lower ones often being large, oblong to broadly lanceolate, varying between species. The flowers are small, greenish with a red-tinged edge, found in compound inflorescence; calyx has 6 sepals, found in two whorls of 3.
Distribution & Habitat: Docks are found throughout North America, many being introduced. They are usually found in waste land, many preferring saline or moist areas.
Preparation & Uses: The leaves and petioles of docks are quite tart and can be used as rhubarb substitutes. The tartness is due to oxalates and like rhubarb leaves could be toxic in large amounts. If the tartness is too strong, boil the herb first, with a change of water. No human toxicity has ever been reported, but some livestock problems have been recorded. Because of the tartness, the leaves are often used as a spinach (and vinegar) substitute, both raw and cooked. As an ingredient in salads they are great. It means you don t need any salad dressing as dock conveniently brings its own “vinegar” with it! I prefer the curled dock (Rumex crispa) which does not need a change of water when cooked like spinach. I try to use as little water as possible and it gives it a better taste, not at all watery. The leaves have more vitamin C than oranges and more vitamin A (Beta-carotene) than carrots. It is also very high in calcium, iron, potassium and a minor scattering of some B vitamins.
As a relative of buckwheat, the seeds can be used as a flour.
Sheep Sorrel (R. acetosella) was a common European herb. The fresh leaves are considered a cooling diuretic and a good poultice for sebaceous cysts and even skin cancer and tumors. Leaf teas were used for fever, scurvy and inflammation. The roots can be used for diarrhea and excessive menstruation.
Yellow or Curly Dock (Rumex crispa) root is a famous blood cleanser, used for liver problems, swollen lymphatic glands, skin sores, warts and rheumatism. Varying doses can both cause and relieve diarrhea. Its use for the liver is particularly appropriate in cases of poor digestion of fatty foods (such as dairy products and meats). The root has often been used to treat jaundice and post-hepatitis flare-ups. The root tea has been used for ringworm and other fungi.
The docks were heavily used by Amerindians for the same general ailments listed above. Many Amerindian tribes used the roots to produce a yellow dye.