Curly Dock - (Rumex crispus)


Common Name: Curly Dock
Scientific Name: Rumex crispus
Family: Buckwheat/Smartweed Family (Polygonaceae)
Other Common Names: Curled Dock, Yellow Dock, Yaller Dock, Sour Dock, Bitter Dock, Bloodwort, Coffee-weed, Garden-patience, Narrowdock, Out-sting, Winter Dock
Flower Color: Green
Habitat: Fields, highway ditches, waste grounds, disturbed soils, riverbanks, found coast to coast in North America
General Bloom Dates: June - September

General Characteristics:
The tiny green flowers grow in dense heads up a spire. Each flower has six sepals that are light green/white/pink in color. Curly dock is a biennial plant, which means it takes two years to reach the flowering stage.
Alternate. The leaves have a coarse texture and wavy leaf margins with noticeably curled edges. Small veins curve out towards the edge of the leaf and then back in towards the central vein. Older leaves have a red primary vein. At the base of the stalk there is a basal rosette of leaves. The leaves grow in a circular pattern and are long (up to 2 ft) and narrow (3 1/2 in wide). There is a papery sheath that covers the seed and the leaf axil, a common characteristic of the Buckwheat family.
The winged seeds are dark brown. Seed wings are described as triangular shaped or heart shaped. There are up to 40,000 seeds per plant!
The plant grows 3-5 feet tall. New growth can be observed in the spring alongside last year's brown stalks. The new plant is green, 12 - 18 inches high with wavy green leaves.
Taproots are long, stout, and yellow. A plant can regenerate from only the roots.

Plant Lore:
Curly dock is an alien species from Europe.
The species name, crispus, means "curly" in Latin. The word "dock" describes the solid part of an animal's tail, and "to dock" a tail means to remove it. Doberman Pincher and Cocker Spaniel's tails are commonly docked. Undesirable plant species (weeds) are also called dock, perhaps because people would "dock the weeds" by cutting and removing them.
The plant has been used since 500 B.C. and has many medicinal properties, most of which are based in the plant's roots. A poultice of the roots has been used to treat iron-deficiency anemia for centuries. It's also a blood purifier and liver decongestant because the poultice stimulates the liver to produce bile. It remedies constipation while strengthening the colon, was employed to treat syphilis, and the powered roots were used as a tooth powder.
Curly dock acts as an astringent to treat wounds and bleeding. Application of a dock compress helps with skin irritations and rubbing the leaves on your skin can relieve the itchy symptoms of a stinging nettle rash.
The seeds were once roasted and used as a coffee substitute (hence the name Coffee-weed). Other edible plant parts continue to be used today (see Modern Uses).

Modern Uses of this Plant:
The primary human use of this plant is for food. The leaves, stalk, and even seeds are edible. The leaves have a slightly sour flavor and are collected in the early spring. Leaves are served as a raw vegetable in salads, a cooked vegetable or added to soups. Baking the leaves isn't recommended because they turn gooey. Be sure to wash the very young leaves before eating them because they contain chrysophanic acid that can irritate and numb your tongue. The leaves become bitter by mid-spring which is when the flower stalk is collected. Peel off the tough outer layer and then eat the stalk raw or boil it for a few minutes to soften. The seeds are collected when they are dry to the touch and then ground to create flour, which has a flavor similar to buckwheat.
Curly dock is surprisingly nutritious and can easily compete with known vegetables in terms of nutrition.
"Curled dock is high in fiber and has more vitamin A in its leaves than an equal amount of carrots: 12,900 I.U. of Vitamin A for a 100 gram portion. This portion contains 2 grams of protein, 119 milligrams of vitamin C, and only 28 calories (Plantworks page 79)."
When compared to spinach, curly dock has "... 1/3 more protein, iron, calcium, potassium, beta carotene and phosphorus." Plus, it has "... more than double the vitamin C (Steve Brill book p238)." The roots provide the consumer with potassium, manganese, and a lot of iron.
Sources: Peterson Wildflower guide, Plantworks, Wildman Steve Brill's Edible book, History and Folklore of N.A. Wildflowers.