Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Since this is a day in the French Republican calendar that ends in a 5, the 5th of Vendimiare to be exact, there is an animal rather than a plant for today: the horse.
So I’m going to take my plant of the day from Flora’s Dial which lists the Dock as the flower for September 26. This seems appropriate as the dock in my neighborhood has reached a glorious stage of rusty redness. In my neighborhood, it grows in vacant lots and untended parkways and is considered a weed. But the roots have been used in medicine and the leaves consumed for centuries.
Dock is the common name for a plant (Rumex) in the Buckwheat family., which also contains buckwheat, sorrel and rhubarb. The name Rumex comes from the Latin for “to suck,” because the leaves of the plant were eaten to relieve thirst, according to Silverman. Mrs. Grieve says the plants were originally members of the Lapathum genus, from the Greek word meaning to cleanse. The name dock comes from the Anglo-Saxon docce.
Look at the Wikipedia article on dock for a staggering list of varieties:
Docks generally grow three to four feet tall. Flowers bloom on spikes at least twelve inches tall from June through September in the eastern United States, according to Silverman. These spikes become rusty brown in the autumn. Silverman recommends looking at the flowers and seeds of Dock through a magnifying glass. She writes: “Each tiny flower dangles on a short stalk as thin and fragile as a thread. As the seed develops, the calyx, resembling a frilly miniature bonnet, encloses the seed much as an old-fashioned bonnet enclosed a person’s head.”
Paghat in one of her wonderful garden articles describes the conditions under which she grows Bloody Dock in the Northwest:
Paghat also grows Western Dock (Rumex occidentalis)::
Round-Leaved Dock (Rumex obtusifolius) was sometimes called Butter Dock because the broad leaves were used to wrap butter. Dock leaves have a sour or lemony flavor because of the presence of oxalic acid. Paghat uses the young leaves like chard or spinach. Silverman quotes Julia Morton in saying that dock is a favorite pot herb in the Southern United States, preferred over collard and turnip greens.Because oxalic acide can interfere with the absorption of minerals, it should not be eaten in large quantities or by people with rheumatism, arthritis, gout or kidney stones.
The oxalic acid is neutralized when cooked. Paghat recommends frying dock leaves in oil with dandelion leaves. The stems can be used as a substitute for rhubarb (to which it is closely related) and the seeds can be ground like buckwheat and used to make flour.
Healing with Dock
Perhaps because of the reddish color of the stems (and the veins in the leaves of Bloody Dock), dock was recommended for treating blood diseases and jaundice.
According to Paghat, Native Americans used Western Dock to treat rheumatism by steaming with it in a sweat lodge. Roots and leaves were roasted and mashed then applied as a poultice to treat wounds and sores. According to Silverman, the Pennsylvania Dutch made a tea from the root and drank it as a tonic and to treat liver problems. Dock was also an ingredient in a tenth-century Anglo-Saxon recipe for treating people afflicted with Elf Disease.
Dock leaves are often been recommended as a great way to relieve the sting of nettles, and fortunately, they often grow near each other. There is a little rhyme to say when applying it a nettle sting:
Nettle in, Dock out,
Dock in, Nettle out
Nettle in, Dock out,
Dock rub Nettle out
Chelsie Vandaveer in her article, “What was Green Sauce?” describes a herbal remedy, recommended by Gerard, the Elizabethan herbalist, made from dock or sorrel, vinegar and sugar, and used to soothe the stomach, quench thirst and cool a fever.
Mrs. Grieve says that Rumex Crispus (so named for the curliness of its leaves) is the one most often used medicinally.
The leaves should be dug up in spring. She suggests making a syrup by boiling ½ pound of crushed root in a pint of syrup and then taking this by the teaspoon. Alternatively, you can make an infusion by pouring boiling water over 1 ounce of the powdered root and taking this by the wineglassful. She also recommends a homeopathic remedy, made of the plant before it flowers, which is effective in treating tickling coughs. Michael Moore uses dock to treat sluggish digestion or constipation.
The seedheads are attractive in dried flower arrangements and a yellow-gold to tan dye can be made from the roots. Silverman recommends leaving the seedheads on the plant as food for the birds during the winter (they do look like those long spikes of millet you buy in the store, except these are rusty red).
Plants of the Future has articles specific to many different varieties of dock:
The great photograph of Rumex Crispus under a stormy Northwest sky was taken by Ronald Taylor for his book, Northwest Weeds.
deWit, H.C. D., Plants of the World, The Higher Plants I, Dutton 1966
Moore, Michael, Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, Red Crane Books 1993
Silverman, Maida, A City Herbal: Lore, Legend and Uses of Common Weeds, Ash Tree Publishing 1997
Taylor, Ronald J., Northwest Weeds, Mountain Press Publishing Company 1990