Dock plants are persistent perennials, which means you can forage it throughout the year. In the spring, the greens are edible and in the fall the plant produces buckwheat like grain that can be ground into wild foraged flour. The root grows large and deep, and it can be harvested for potent herbal medicine anytime.
There are a number of rumex species, but the most common and well known is Rumex crispus. It goes by the common names Yellow Dock and Curly Dock. Other common rumex species include:
- Rumex obtusifolius – Bitter Dock or Broad Leaf Dock, as the name suggests, this type is generally quite bitter and has large broad leaves.
- Rumex patientia – Patience dock or Monk’s Rhubarb, this species is mild and is eaten as a vegetable in southern and eastern Europe.
- Rumex triangulivalvis – White dock, willow dock or narrow-leafed dock is identified by it’s long, flat, narrow leaves that vaguely resemble willow leaves in shape (only much larger).
- Rumex longifolius – Yard dock, door yard dock or northern dock, this species looks very similar to curly dock, but the flavor is considerably more bitter.
While some dock species taste slightly better than others, they’re all edible and eaten in the same ways.
Wild Dock Range
One of the lovely things about wild dock is that they grow just about everywhere. Like dandelions, dock just isn’t picky about where it’s seed lands. If it finds soil, it’ll try to grow, simple as that. They’re common in urban environments, roadsides, abandoned fields, gardens, and woods edges. Just about anywhere the sun reaches the earth.
The best known edible portion of wild dock, the leaves are a tasty spring green. They need to be harvested very young in the early spring before they turn bitter. Young leaves look a bit slimy and are curled tightly inward before they’ve unfurled. They should stretch when you pull on them, indicating they’re still very flexible and supple.
These young leaves can be eaten raw, or cooked in all the same ways you’d eat spinach or kale.
Here are a few ways to prepare young dock leaves:
- Dock Leaf Dolmas from Fat of the Land
- Spring Wild Vegetable Soup (Midwest Vingarola) from Forager Chef
- Double Dock Dip with Burdock Root and Curly Dock Leaves from Foraged Foodie
- Baked Dock Chips from Wild Food Girl
Slightly later in the season the leaves dry out and tear when pulled, and they’re no longer good eating.
Beyond the tender green leaves, Samuel Thayer talks a great deal about eating the stalks of various dock plants. I’ll admit when dock stalks sprout I often have other wild edibles on my mind, and I’ve never actually cooked these. He makes a distinction between two different vegetables here:
- Dock petioles (or leaf stems) are the small stalks that attach each individual leaf to the base of the plant. These are eaten raw and supposedly taste like rhubarb.
- Dock Flower Stalks are available in the spring and early summer, before they become tough and dry later in the season. According to Nature’s Garden, “cut the shoots at the base, or later, cut the tender top portion that bends easily…Strip the leaves and peel the tough astringent outer layer. You should end up with a light green shoot that has a mild tangy flavor and an agreeable texture that is not fibrous at all.” They can be eaten raw or cooked.
One of the best wild vegetables I tried last summer was burdock stalks, and from this description, I think dock stalks sound about as tasty. They’re on my list to try this year…
The most commonly used medicinal portion of wild dock is the roots. The roots are generally considered far to woody for eating, and beyond that, they taste pretty horrible (in my opinion). We’ve made both a vinegar extract from yellow dock root, and it was honestly one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted. Medicinal or not, you’d have to guarantee me that it’d cure cancer to get me to choke it down again.
My husband absolutely loves burdock all manner of bitter herbs, so he volunteered to try it first. The smell of dock is pretty intense, but it’s nothing compared to the taste. A small sip, and he immediately began spitting. A few seconds later he was at the sink trying to wash his tongue.
Of course, not being one to let a man suffer alone, I gave it a tentative try. Then both of us were at the sink trying to wash our mouths out.
In short, it tastes better than bleach, but only by a hair. Since then, even years later, anytime we’re taking a particularly abrasive tincture, reishi mushroom tincture or echinacea tincture, for example, he’ll grimace while drinking it but say, “At least it’s not yellow dock…”
That said, it’s supposed to have some pretty impressive medical benefits. Yellow dock is best known as a bitter digestive herb, and as a liver detoxifier. It’s taken to help balance hormones, regulate the digestive system (both diarrhea and constipation) and as a source of bio-available minerals. I generally use burdock tincture for most of those uses, so after that first attempt at yellow dock extract, I haven’t ever used yellow dock roots again.
Plenty of people are not bothered by the taste, and it’s actually included in a number of popular detox teas, including:
I’ll admit I’ve actually had 2 out of the three of those teas, and they’re really good. Until I was doing research for this article, I had no idea that they included yellow dock root. Perhaps a vinegar extract isn’t’ the best way to take yellow dock root, and it may just pull out all the worst flavors. If you do harvest yellow dock root, dry drying it for tea rather than making an extract.
One of my favorite parts of dock to forage, wild dock seeds are related to buckwheat and the seeds resemble buckwheat grain. They mature in the fall, but you can still forage them in winter since the seeds will hang onto the tough stalks for months, and they’re still around to harvest in the early spring. Since dock plants are perennial, the same plant will sprout under last years stalk in the spring. This gives you the unique opportunity to harvest young dock leaves and last years dock seeds at the same time.
I wrote a primer on harvesting and using dock seed flour, including half a dozen recipes too. I included it in a batch of pine bark cookies, made with both dock and pine bark flour. They also had home rendered squirrel fat, but that’s another story…
What do you think? Have you tried foraging yellow dock or any other dock species? How’d you use them? Leave me a note in the comments.
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