Yellow Dock (rumex crispus)

The scientific name of this green-yellow native European perennial refers to the shape of the plant’s leaves: Rumex means “lance” and crispus means “curly.” The genus consists of cultivated species (the sorrels) used mainly in cooking and wild species (the docks) used mainly as medicinal plants. Dock roots have been used throughout history as a laxative, a remedy for anemia, and a blood “purifier.”

Native Americans applied the crushed roots and leaves to cuts, swellings, itchy areas, and boils. They also cooked and ate the leaves, often together with other greens. Eating yellow dock as a vegetable isn’t recommended, however: Although the leaves are nutritious, they’re also high in oxalic acid, which can damage your kidneys and liver if eaten in large amounts. Eating the leaves can also irritate your mouth.

Yellow Dock

Plant profile

Common Names: Curly Dock, Yellow Dock

Description: Flowering stem, 1 to 3 feet tall, emerges from a basal rosette of leaves; dull green, oblong leaves up to 6 inches long; 6- to 18-inch-long panicle of small, yellow-green flowers

Hardiness: To Zone 1

Family: Polygonaceae

Flowering: Early summer

Parts Used: Roots and leaves

Range/Habitat: Native to Europe, naturalized throughout North America; found along stream banks, in meadows, and along roadsides

Medicinal use

Yellow dock root has been taken internally as a laxative and to strengthen blood and used externally to provide relief from inflammatory skin conditions, boils, rashes, and burns. A poultice of the leaves can be used to treat ringworm and other skin fungi. When applied to an area touched by stinging nettle, it is said to relieve the irritation and pain.

In the mid-1800s, practitioners of Eclectic medicine — a branch of medicine based on botanicals and natural healing that developed in the United States — prepared an ointment from the roots to treat irritated skin sores and swellings. The plant’s roots contain iron, calcium, and tannins that are astringent and antibacterial.

How to grow it

Considered an invasive weed throughout North America, yellow dock thrives in rich, heavy soil in full sun. Buried seed can remain viable for 50 years or more. Wild plants can be found in disturbed sites, such as ditches and roadsides, as well as in moist clearings, along stream banks, and in meadows. If you harvest wild dock, be sure it has not been treated with herbicides.