Docks – Rumex SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Yellow Root of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, oza’widji’bik meaning “yellow root” refers to bitter dock (rumex obtusifolius), a nonnative here in Ontario. The nonnative yellow rooted docks, sour and bitter, have a long history of medicinal use. We have a couple dozen (native and nonnative) edible and medicinal docks.

Last week’s sheep sorrel is a rumex too, but docks stand alone. There are at least 26 species spotted on iNat for Ontario. The three docks listed in Haliburton Flora are introduced species. They’re the two most popular: curly/sour dock (rumex crispus), growingly common on grassy roadsides, and bitter dock (r. obtusifolius), which is fairly common in lake edges and nearby ditches. These two both get referred to as “yellow dock” for their yellow roots. And the third is patience dock (r. patientia).

Checking iNat, the more up to date tally for Haliburton includes native docks. The ones noted so far include greater water dock (rumex britannica), willow dock (rumex salicifolius), and swamp dock (rumex verticillatus). iNat includes a couple more rare nonnative docks than Haliburton Flora, but I won’t bother listing them as current observations could be outdated fast with so many docks moving around the province.

I see native greater water dock often, near water of course, and especially in ditches alongside wetlands. The huge basal leaves really stand out in the springtime.

I see the nonnative curly/sour dock very often along roadsides. In summer, when they are in seed the tall red, later rusty brown clusters really pop. This particular nonnative is also the one most referenced for both foraging and herbal medicine!

Curly/Sour Dock (Rumex Crispus)
Curly/Sour Dock (Rumex Crispus)

Edible Uses of Sour Dock

All docks are edible. The nonnative curled/sour dock is generally considered the most palatable.

Spring’s tender young leaves are edible but very sour. The lemony leaves can be cooked like spinach, and you can use a change of water or two if the taste is too strong. They are also yummy creamed. As summer nears, the young peeled flower stalks are edible too. Both leaves and stalks can be blanched and frozen.

Docks – Rumex SPP.
Docks – Rumex SPP.

Once the red fruit turns a rusty dark brown it can be stripped from the plant and rubbed or winnowed to remove the outer hulls. The seeds can be boiled or ground into a buckwheat like meal. However, most folks prefer to just leave the chaff, grinding the pods and all into a flour. To supplement flour in a recipe for brownies perhaps. Dried seeds can last a year in storage.

Higher in vitamin C than oranges, and higher in vitamin A than carrots.

Medicinal Uses of Sour Dock

Curly/sour dock is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary
  • Lymphatic
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Alterative, Astringent, and Laxative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes as a supplement. The yellow root has high levels of iron as is often mixed with stinging nettle and given in capsule form for treating anemia.

But that’s hardly it! The powdered leaves or pulverized roots of curly dock have an antiitch effect on itchy cuts and sores. It’s used to treat stings from nettle plants. Various parts of dock are combined with other herbs for specific treatments for skin issues like psoriasis or eczema.

Liver related support is as popular as skin support with dock, which stimulates the flow of bile. And that’s not the only digestive use. It is also used in remedies for reflux, Crohn’s, colitis, etc. Combined with licorice it makes a gentle laxative.

And on top of all that, there’s a dock syrup for tickly coughs. Dock is fairly popular ingredient in herbal remedies.

Greater Water Dock (Rumex Britannica)
Greater Water Dock (Rumex Britannica)

Alternative Uses of Docks

A yellow dye can be obtained from the roots of bitter dock and curly/sour dock. You’ll need a shovel!

You can use the fruited red stems in floral arrangements, using a hair spray or varnish to preserve them.

Growing Rumex SPP.

Plant curly/sour dock seeds early spring to later harvest for food or medicinal uses. Outside of the garden, for native planting I’ll tag this article specifically for greater water dock.

If you have a rich wetland, a wet ditch or any low wet area you could sow greater water dock. Make sure it’s r. britannica, because there’s a European greater water dock too. Many insects feed on this wetland dock including copper butterflies, ruby tiger moth and other moth larvae, to name a few. Some of our native birds who like the same habitat feed on the seeds including some sparrows and red-winged blackbirds.


Don’t consume in large quantities.

Contains oxalates, which you may want to limit or avoid if you have gout, kidney problems, or rheumatism.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Stalking the Healthful Herbs (Field Guide Edition)

Sacred Plant Medicine: The Wisdom in Native American Herbalism

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries (Regional Foraging Series)

The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them

The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism: Basic Doctrine, Energetics, and Classification

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

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