Docks have grown in Britain since three ice ages ago, and remains of dock have been found in places where people once farmed, such as the ancient Celts. Broad-leaved dock and curly dock has been used in food and medicine for centuries.
R. crispus as the name suggests has wavy, curled leaf edges with wedge-shaped leaves. Small, greenish white flowers appear on tall spikes.
R. obtusifolius has long, broad, oval- to lance-shaped leaves with small greenish flowers that turn red as they mature.
Both plants are native to Britain and Ireland and naturalised in North America.
Habitat and distribution
They can be found on lawns, fields, disturbed or waste grounds.
Parts used for food
Young leaves, stems, seed.
Spring and Summer.
Food uses of dock
They have a tart, lemon-tasting leaves and are used similarly in cooking. It is often agreed that the youngest plants are best and make a tasty ‘spinach’, while others find the taste ‘sour’ but ‘hearty’.
Serve the greens with butter, bacon, hard-boiled eggs and seasoning. The leaves can also be stuffed like vine leaves with a rice, herb and cheese filling. Dried they can be used as a seasoning for rice, potatoes, seafood or sandwich spread.
They produce large quantities of fruits and seeds, which can be boiled into a mush or ground and added to flour or meal for making bread, muffins and gravies. The stems of young plants can be chopped, simmered and sweetened with honey as a substitute for rhubarb pie.
Nutritional profile of dock
Both plants are very nutritious. Curly dock, for example, contains more vitamin C than oranges and more vitamin A than carrots. It also contains vitamins B1 and B2, and iron.
Herbal medicine uses of dock
The leaves are famously used to soothe nettle stings and often grow nearby the offending plant. The cooling properties were also used to soothe insect bites and stings, as well as scalds, blisters and sprains.
They were a popular remedy for staunching bleeding or for purifying the blood. The juice from the leaves can be applied as a compress to heal bruises.
The seeds have been used to treat coughs, colds and bronchitis, and the roots used as a remedy for jaundice, liver problems, skin ailments, boils, rheumatism, constipation and diarrhoea.
Other uses of dock
The seed heads are an important source of food for wildlife in winter, such as birds, rodents and deer. The seed heads are also decorative and can be collected for ornamental flower arrangements.
Both plants contain oxalic acid which can be toxic if used in excessive amounts. Some text suggests they should be avoided during pregnancy and when breastfeeding. They can also trigger hayfever or aggravate asthma in some people.
Photo identification – Broad-leaved dock
Photo identification – Curly dock
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