Yellow Dock

Rumex crispus


Also known as curly dock, yellow dock is an ancient member of the buckwheat family. It is an indigenous American plant and a wild cousin of garden rhubarb, sharing rhubarb's general characteristics and its rich stores of tannins. Dock is a name given to a wide-ranging tribe of broad-leafed plants with especially astringent roots, and flowers that contain both stamens and pistils. So coarse that cows will not eat the leaves, yellow dock is often considered a troublesome weed. Yet yellow dock was a favorite nourishing, healing herb of First Nations people, early settlers and old-time doctors.

Yellow dock roots contain concentrated iron along with other vitamins and minerals necessary for optimum iron absorption. A blood-enriching tonic, yellow dock roots ease digestive woes and help eliminate constipation, indigestion and gas.

A liver tonic of high regard, tincture of fresh yellow dock root nourishes and strengthens liver function, helping restore health to this important organ. Its abundant and readily available iron make it an excellent ally for anyone with anemia. Regular consumption raises the hematocrit levels by several degrees. Pregnant women need extra iron but are easily constipated by harsh iron supplements.  When I was pregnant, I found that taking yellow dock had a gentle laxative effect that kept bowels moving while supplying plenty of easily assimilable iron. I benefited from yellow dock's iron resources by taking 20-30 drops of fresh root tincture daily. One could consume half a cup of yellow dock root infusion instead, but a syrup is a more palatable way of ingesting this herb and a teaspoon twice daily will significantly increase iron stores. I love to have my students make yellow dock syrup. They all take home a strength-building tonic they can feel the effects of almost immediately.

Our grandmothers used this powerful blood tonic and alterative for relief of rheumatism and chronic skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis. They also used yellow dock roots to restrain the spread of cancer in the body and as a daily blood-building and strengthening tonic for those weakened by cancer or other wasting diseases such as chronic fatigue, HIV or AIDS. A suggested dose is to drink a daily cup or two of the dried root infusion, or take a teaspoon of yellow dock syrup three times daily, or use the fresh plant vinegar freely on salads. Combine yellow dock with burdock root and a bit of slippery elm and drink a quarter-cup twice daily as a strength building, blood-nourishing tonic.

First Nations people in Vermont use yellow dock roots as a remedy for cancer, and Cherokee apply a poultice of the roots to tumors and sore throats. Paiute, Chippewa, Ojibwa, Delaware and Shoshone apply poultices of yellow dock roots on boils, swellings, sores and bruises. Navajo use yellow dock as a panacea for all ailments. Micmac and Malecite employ it to relieve bladder ailments. First Nations widely use yellow dock roots as a yellow dye.

Flower Essence Yellow dock flower essence roots us firmly in the strength of our convictions allowing us to take on a role of leadership.

Magical Lore Yellow dock is associated with the masculine principle in magical lore and also with healing, fertility and money. Old wives used its rusty brown seeds in money spells, burned them as an incense to attract prosperity or made them into an infusion to be sprinkled around a place of business to attract customers. An ancient legend says to tie yellow dock seeds onto a woman's left arm to help her conceive.

Culture Yellow dock grows wild in fields, hedgerows, garden edges, and roadsides. Its long green, reddish-tinged pointed leaves are curled on the edges. Yellow dock's thick root is covered by a brown bark and is yellow on the inside. The dramatic stems are sought by flower arrangers, and can extend up to three feet high with greenish flowers that turn a brilliant rust color by fall. You can start yellow dock seeds inside in early spring and transplant hardy plants into the garden six weeks after they germinate. I gather yellow dock leaves while they are tender and young and cook them as potherbs. In the fall, after a few frosts, new leaves begin to grow at the base of the stems. These fresh, frost-nipped leaves are especially tender and delicious to cook or infuse in vinegar. I dig yellow dock roots in fall, tincturing them fresh in alcohol or vinegar, or infusing them in honey. I dry yellow dock roots on screens for infusions.

Wild Weeds Vinegar Tonic In the fall, after a frost or two, as described above, we go around the gardens and their wild edges and gather the fresh green growth of many cultivated and wild plants. Dandelion, yellow dock, echinacea, mint family plants, red clover, angelica leaves, plantain, the sorels, you name it…if it’s green and vibrant, we gather them up and put them in our baskets.

These fall greens are especially mineral rich and brimming with all kinds of nutrients. Since vinegar is the best menstruum for extracting the mineral richness of plants, we put all the leaves we’ve gathered into gallon jars and cover them with apple cider vinegar.

We let the herbs macerate in the vinegar for at least six weeks, sometimes until the following fall. We strain out the herbs, maybe add a little honey to the vinegar, or not, and bottle it for kitchen use. There are a myriad of ways to use this deeply nourishing wild weeds vinegar tonic.

A shot a day in hot or cold water will be strengthening and invigorating to the entire body; it is exceptionally bone building, and excellent for the teeth, hair and nails. It’s an excellent stomach tonic, and if gout or arthritis are conditions you face, this is a wonderful tonic to cool the joints and clear the blood. We use it for marinades; to make our salad dressings, even as a final rinse for the hair after shampooing! 

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