Curly dock (Rumex crispus), sometimes called yellow dock, is mostly known as a nuisance agricultural weed. And with good reason! Curly dock is not only a long-living perennial with abundant seed production, but its seeds also survive in the soil for 50 to 80 years. Sure, curly dock is an invasive, sometimes noxious species of plant, but it is also entirely edible from the seeds to the roots, and the stems and leaves as well.
A member of the buckwheat family of plants, Polygonaceae, curly dock is a species from the genus Rumex. This makes curly dock ‘cousins’ to nearly 200 Rumex species including other wild or cultivated edibles like sorrel and broadleaf dock.
Curly dock grew in popularity during the Great Depression as an easy to identify, widespread wild edible. One of the first greens to sprout up in spring, young greens are highly nutritious. Like sorrel, the leaves have a lemon-like sour taste. Curly dock has better flavor when grown in moist rich soils. Once the plant starts to bolt or shoot up a flower stalk, the young stock can be eaten as well. Curly dock has both internal and external medicinal uses.
Where the Plant is Found
A common sight in fallow fields and roadsides, curly docks are widespread but less prolific than similar tap-rooted naturalized invasive plants like dandelions. With their perennial sturdy tap root, curly docks are drought tolerant but are found in moist areas also. If harvesting curly dock, choose moister sites for improved flavor. As with many wild and cultivated greens, drought leads to bitterness.
A non-native plant, curly dock arrived from Eurasia during the 18th century. Common in waste areas and disturbed sites, curly dock grows in all US states and most Canadian provinces.
How to Identify Curly Dock
Shape: Perennial, 1 to 3 feet tall, forming a basal rosette of leaves with bolting flower stalk that persists through summer, fall, and winter.
- Leaves: Dull green, alternate leaves are 6 inches long and 1 inch wide with ruffled margins.
- Flower: Flowers are scentless, born in whorls on stalks, and tiny at 1/8 of an inch in size.
- Stem: Stalks are round, hairless, and ribbed.
- Fruit & Seeds: Abundant seeds are encased in a papery capsule that is beige, maturing to a reddish maroon color.
- Root: Stout taproot that is pale yellow on the inside.
How to Grow Curly Dock
Potentially, the question might be how not to grow curly dock. This plant boasts seeds that survive in the soil for 50 to 80 years, and tolerates full sun, shade, gravel, clay, loam, as well as flooding, drought, and even mowing.
If you have a spot where curly dock is welcome, try employing measures to improve its flavor by improving the soil and moisture levels. Curly dock is not harmful to humans but is not favorable forage for livestock or poultry. It is best to keep curly dock in check-in areas frequented by farm animals. In addition, it also can host some unwanted agricultural diseases. That being said, curly dock does provide a host wildlife habitat for some butterflies, and the seeds are eaten by a variety of birds.
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How to Harvest Curly Dock
Leaves: It is best to harvest leaves in early spring while the leaves are young and supple. Mature leaves are leathery, easily bruised, and often bitter.
Stems: The stems or flower stalk is edible. Stems can be harvested in late spring or early summer before the flowers begin to emerge. Young stalks can be harvested and eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable.
Roots: In early spring or late fall to winter, when the plants store their energy in their roots, is the best time to harvest curly dock roots. It is said that the roots are too bitter to be palatable which may vary depending on climate and growing condition. Curly dock roots have medicinal uses.
Seeds: Curly dock produces plentiful seeds that are easy to harvest. They persist on plants through winter and are quite attractive in shades of rich browns and reds. The flower stalk is covered in papery encapsulated seeds. They winnow easily from the stems.
I collect the seed in late summer while the seed is still beige. Then I dry it for later use in paper or cloth bags in a dark, dry area with good air circulation. This is mainly to attempt to avoid any little creatures that might nestle into the seed clusters as summer, fall, and winter progress.
It is challenging to remove the paper capsule and separate the chaff from the seed. You can choose to forgo this process, depending on how you want to use the seed. This paper capsule is edible. The seed can be ground into flour with or without the chaff. You might use curly dock seed in place of flax or chia seeds. Below, I attempt to grow microgreens from curly dock seeds in winter.
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What Plant Is Good For & The Natural Remedies Made From It
Curly dock root has a yellow root which has a gentle laxative effect and is a useful remedy for constipation. It is soothing for irritable bowels and aids digestion. Well cleaned roots can be dried or used fresh to make a tea or decoction. This treatment may also help stimulate urination, liver function aid urinary tract infections, and help internal inflammation. A tea or decoction of the root may also be used topically to aid skin conditions such as eczema.
What Parts of Curly Dock Are Used In Remedies?
All parts of the curly dock can be used in remedies, but for constipation and digestion, the root is the most medicinally active. The root contains anthraquinones which have gentle laxative activity. As a functional food, curly dock is an herbal food with anti-inflammatory effects. As long-term inflammation can cause a variety of chronic diseases, adding curly dock to the diet may help to suppress the occurrence of body inflammation over time.
A DIY Recipe for Curly Dock Microgreens
I am currently investigating which wild edibles grow delicious microgreens. Since curly dock has a unique lemon-like sour flavor, I thought I would see if the seed collected last summer would germinate at a high enough rate to grow a reasonable crop of microgreens.
Step 1: Identify a curly dock plant. After the plant has flowered and seeds emerge collect seeds for future uses.
Step 2: Use your favorite method for growing microgreens. I use a few different ones. I really like repurposing take-out sushi containers. Yes, I have a weakness for take-out sushi. Anyway, the containers with the snap-close see-through top make perfect mini-greenhouses that fit right on my windowsill. I place a thin, ½ inch layer of organic potting soil in the bottom and moisten well. Then simply smother the top layer with seeds, close the lid, and wait.
Step 3: Germination was visible on day 10. The rate of germination is sparse. I think I could try pressing the seed into the soil a bit more. As a contrast, mustard microgreens are harvested on day 7 and add a nice spicy heat to salads at that stage.
Step 4: And here we are on day 30. Not too big of a meal. Lettuce seeds, started at the same time, are about 30 times this size. I am still going to call it a win though. This is because, if vibrant green things were really hard to come by, you could find seeds in the winter and sprout them for winter greens to aid nutrition.
In winter it is sometimes hard to get enough fresh green vegetables into the diet. Being able to grow even a small quantity of fresh foods at home on windowsills, in sprouting jars, or in dedicated growing areas helps to meet this need. Microgreens are said to have 40 times the nutrient value of full-sized plants. Small in volume, but large in nutrition. Curly dock microgreens are a great addition to sprinkle on salads, soups, sandwiches, or anywhere a little bit of valuable green nutrition is welcome.
According to WebMD, the dose of curly dock depends on a person’s age, health, and other conditions. Currently, there is not enough scientific information to determine the appropriate range of doses for curly dock. They also state to be sure to follow directions on product labels and talk to your pharmacist.
How To Preserve Curly Dock
Curly dock seeds can be kept in a dark dry place almost indefinitely. The root can be preserved by drying. Clean and chop roots into small pieces and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Put the sheet in a dry dark place for 7 to 10 days. Once the root is fully dried, place pieces in an airtight container or glass jar. Use in tea or in a decoction to aid digestive and constipation issues.
What Plants Resemble Curly Dock?
|Feature||Curly dock (Rumex crispus)||Burdock (Arctium minus)||Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)|
|Size||Perennial, basal rosette, with flower stalk 1 to 3 feet tall.||Biennial, basal rosette in the first year, 2 to 6 feet tall in the second year.||Perennial, basal rosette, up to 2 feet tall with flower stalks.|
|Leaves||Wavy margins, pale green, alternate, 6 inches long and 1 inch wide.||Alternate, large, heart-shaped, dark green, with woolly undersides.||Arrow-shaped leaves are 3 to 6 inches long.|
|Flowers||Tiny, 1/8 of an inch born in whorls on tall stalks in early summer.||Prickly bur encasing pink to purple bloom in spring.||Whorled spikes of reddish-green flowers in early summer.|
Warnings And Cautions
According to PFAF, curly dock may contain quite high levels of oxalic acid. This is what gives curly dock its lemon-like sour flavor. In small quantities, oxalic acid isn’t harmful. In excess, oxalic acid may lock up important nutrients and minerals and in extreme cases, may cause mineral deficiencies. Cooking curly dock helps to lessen the amount of oxalic acid. Eating lots of oxalic acid-containing foods may potentially aggravate certain health conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones, or hyperacidity. PFAF also recommends avoiding curly dock during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Always check with your healthcare provider before starting new herbal remedies.
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