A Forager’s Guide to Yellow Dock

The yellow dock plant is a perennial weed and herb that has long been used as a multi-purpose plant throughout North America. The aerial parts of this plant are used as a food source, and the roots have medicinal properties.

Read on to find out why.

Yellow dock plant profile

Scientific nameRumex crispus
Plant typePerennial flowering plant

Common names include:

  • curlyleaf dock
  • curly dock
  • narrowleaf dock
  • narrow dock
  • sour dock

This perennial herb grows to a height of 4 feet and has big, curly leaves that grow to one foot long, becoming smaller as they branch alternately from the center. Three winged flowers bloom in clusters from the top of the central stem.

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In the fall, it produces small green seeds that turn red. The plant’s above-ground parts turn brick red in the fall and can be easily identified throughout the winter, while the root has an orange-yellow interior flesh and a reddish brown outer bark.

Check out our video on how to identify and use yellow dock in the kitchen and as a tea.

Where does Rumex crispus grow?

The yellow or curly dock is a widespread plant introduced from Eurasia to all of the United States and parts of Canada.

The plant is a wetland species and prefers the following habitats:

  • disturbed soil
  • waste areas
  • roadsides
  • meadows
  • shorelines
  • forest edges

Curly dock grows from sea level to 9,000 ft. or higher.

Rumex crispus, yellow dock
Rumex crispus, yellow dock

What is Yellow dock used for?

Often growing next to the offending plant, the leaves are famously used in tea to soothe nettle stings. In addition to soothing insect bites and stings, blisters, sprains, and scalds, the cooling properties were also used to relieve pain and discomfort.

The juice can be applied as a compress to heal bruises, and they have been used for stopping bleeding and purifying the blood for centuries.

There are many health benefits associated with yellow dock. Traditional healers often use Rumex crispus to treat and correct a variety of diseases and disorders, including:

There is a mild laxative effect associated with the root. In addition to containing iron, it has been used by healthcare professionals to treat iron-deficiency anemia by aiding in iron absorption and utilization. 

The yellow dock root can be used externally as a poultice and salve or dried and used as a dusting powder for:

  • sores
  • ulcers
  • wounds
  • and various other skin conditions

The combination of burdock root, yellow dock, and dandelion makes an herbal extract tincture that may be highly beneficial for the digestive, elimination, and detoxification systems of the body.

Can you eat Yellow dock?

The plant is edible, and it is possible to make flour from the triangle seeds. You can substitute spinach with young Rumex crispus leaves by sautéing them with onion and garlic.

As fresh leaves contain oxalic acid, which can upset the digestive system, it is recommended that the leaves be cooked.

Vitamins and minerals are abundant in the leaves, especially iron and vitamins A and C. The curled dock contains more vitamin C than oranges and more vitamin A than carrots.

Additionally, it contains vitamins B1 and B2, as well as iron.

Yellow dock leaves
Yellow dock leaves

Is yellow dock toxic in any way?

When used in excess amounts, yellow dock contains oxalic acid, which can be toxic and have potentially harmful side effects. According to some sources, they should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding. They can also aggravate asthma or trigger hayfever in some individuals.

When taken in high doses, it can cause dermatitis and nausea and should be avoided by those suffering from gout or predisposed to kidney stones.

The seed heads are an important food source for wildlife in winter, including birds, rodents, and deer; sheep, cattle, and horses should avoid this plant.

Upon consumption, a sudden drop in soluble serum calcium and magnesium is caused by the rapid reaction between soluble oxalates and serum calcium and magnesium.

In the acute phase of oxalate poisoning, a sudden drop in serum calcium impairs normal cell membrane function, resulting in muscle tremors, weakness, collapse, and death.

How to use yellow dock in the kitchen

The leaves of yellow dock have a tart, lemon-like flavor and are similarly used in cooking. While it is often agreed that the youngest plants make the best ‘spinach’, others find the taste ‘sour’ but ‘hearty’.

As a side dish, serve the greens with butter, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, and seasoning. It is also possible to stuff the leaves with rice, herbs, and cheese or dry them and use them as a seasoning for rice, potatoes, seafood, or sandwich spreads.

Fruits and seeds from these trees can be boiled into mush or ground and added to flour or meal for making bread, muffins, and gravies. A substitute for rhubarb pie can be made by chopping young stems, simmering them, and adding honey to make a sweet and sour sauce.

Leafy greens can be added to salads, cooked as a potherb, added to soups, or dried for later use.

It is recommended to only use the very young leaves, preferably before the stems develop, as even these are likely to be bitter. During early spring and autumn, they are often quite pleasant in taste.

Raw or cooked stems should be peeled and the inner portions eaten, while seeds can be ground into a powder and used as flour for pancakes, etc. Roasted seeds can be used as a substitute for coffee.

Can you grow it in the garden?

If you wish to grow your own yellow dock, please be aware that the plant can be invasive and can become a weed.

If you are still interested, you can scatter seeds in autumn, spring, or summer on the soil. It is best to plant yellow dock in moist soil and in either full sunlight or partial shade.

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