R u m e x c r i s p u s

Curled dock and broad-leaved dock are among the five official "injurious weeds" in Britain, but curled or yellow dock has long-recognized redeeming qualities as a detoxifying liver and bowel herb, a laxative, and a blood cleanser. The root is effective for many chronic toxic skin conditions, including acne and boils, eczema and sunburn, not forgetting the most famous use of dock leaves for relieving the burning caused by nettle stings.

Polygonaceae Dock family

Description: A perennial dock growing to a yard tall. Leaves are long and parallel-sided with wavy margins; tap roots have a brown outer covering and are yellow within.

Habitat: Grassland, disturbed ground, farmyards, roadsides, river banks, coastal shingle, and mud.

Distribution: Native to Europe and Africa, curled dock is one of the most widely distributed plants in North America and the world.

Related species: The other common species is common or broad-leaved dock (R. obtusifolius ), with which yellow dock hybridizes. The root can be used interchangeably with curled dock - the thing to look for is a yellow root in either species, as that indicates the presence of the medicinal compounds.

Parts used: Root, dug up in fall; leaves.

We have included dock in this book even though it is the root that is most used, as it is such a common weed across the world. Found in almost every field, garden, and lawn, it is likely you have some growing on your own plot that you can dig up for medicine.

Dock's tap roots are long, slender, and deep, going two feet down; any stray piece left in the soil can sprout into a new plant. Each dock can produce 30,000 or more seeds a year, and these can lay dormant for up to fifty years. It is no wonder it is hard to eliminate. In addition, curled dock and common or broad-leaved dock hybridize freely. It is an almost unstoppable weed, yet one with redeeming medicinal benefits.

Dock's botanical success is official: both common British species are classed as injurious weeds in the Weeds Act 1959 (along with common ragwort, spear thistle, and creeping or field thistle). The Act stipulates that farmers should take steps to prevent the spread of these five weeds: a scene like the one opposite of a fallow field filled with curled dock in fall ought to be harder to find than it still is.

Use curled dock for...

The one thing everybody knows about dock is that you rub its leaves on the skin when stung by nettle. This practice goes back centuries, being mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon leech-books and in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, suggesting docks have always been freely available. Formerly, a chant was sung when applying the dock: in Ireland, it was "docken, docken, cure nettle"; in Cornwall, it was along the lines of "dock leaf, dock leaf, you go in; sting nettle, sting nettle, you come out."

It is a cooling and astringent treatment, especially the sizeable leaves of broad-leaved dock, although we prefer treating nettle rash by plantain leaves. Digging up a few dock roots, pulping them and applying as a poultice, and renewing this every few hours, is another old nettle standby, as is a root tea. In South Africa, Tswana women warm up dock leaves and apply them to swollen breasts during lactation; they also use the root pulp to treat piles.

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