Ripening curled dock: a pink bonnet for each seed

Curled dock, by Maria Merian (1717)

Probably the most general practice in all of folk medicine, occurring throughout the British Isles, is rubbing a dock leaf on the skin to ease a sting.

One Anglo-Saxon recipe for reducing a groin swelling (attention, you sportsmen!) was to pulp dock leaves in grease, wrap in a cabbage leaf that had been warmed in hot ashes, and apply as a plaster. Culpeper (1653) suggested boiling roots in vinegar for bathing itches, scabs and "breaking out of the skin." Modern external uses have added chronic acne, boils, bites, cuts, sunburn, easing rheumatic aches, and soothing inflamed gums (using a powder of dried roots).

The reputation of dock as a "blood cleanser' is also ancient, being known in Chinese medicine, Indian Ayurveda, and in classical Greece, whence comes dock's old family name "lapathum" or blood purifier. It was found that dock transmutes iron in the soil to organic iron in the plant (a real case of alchemy!); old herbalists would add iron filings to soil near dock to "enrich" it. This property makes dock effective for iron-deficiency anemia and for period problems, especially in younger women.

Dock also has a laxative effect in which it stimulates gut motions; indeed it was once used as a purgative. It is a good natural remedy for constipation, reflux, and acid stomach, and has been called a "superlative remedy" for enteritis, colitis, diarrhea, and dysentery.

Dock's twin qualities to cleanse and to lower heat make it an ideal liver detox treatment, including for jaundice and "liver stagnation," when the flow of bile is congested, and for disorders of the spleen and lymph. A healthy liver means a healthy skin, and dock works on both; the advice is to use small quantities over a long period.

Dock root gives a gluten-free flour, once a famine food. The young leaves of curled dock cook as a tasty spring vegetable with a light lemony taste, and are good in nettle soup. Avoid too much raw dock, though, as it contains oxalic

Harvesting dock

Dig up the roots in late summer or autumn. Large older plants are more likely to have a strong yellow color to their roots. Scrub them well, and cut off the tops.

Curled dock tincture

Fill a jar with chopped-up dock roots. Pour vodka in until the roots are covered and put the lid on tightly. Keep in a cool dark place for a month, ideally shaking the jar every day or two.

Strain off, using a press or squeezing through a jelly bag. Bottle the liquid, remembering to label it. This tincture will keep for about five years in a cool dark place.

Dose: Half a teaspoonful once or twice daily as a cleansing tonic.

Take when the bowels are sluggish, for anemia and poor absorption of nutrients (if the edge of your tongue shows scalloping from your teeth), for skin problems, and any time you feel a bit slow and tired.

Curled dock tincture

• poor absorption

• skin problems

• sluggish bowels

• liver congestion

• constipation

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