Rumex crispus, Curly Dock with unripe seeds

Harvard Professor Merritt Fernald

Mainer Merritt Fernald, who was the Harvard wunderkind of botany from around 1900 to 1950, said all of the 17 native Rumex species in North America were edible. He completely failed to mention most of them are so bitter it would take days of boiling to make them palatable, if ever.

Gastronomically there is a great divide in the Rumex family. Most are bitter, a few are tart. Those used for their bitter leaves alone include: Rumex arifolius, Rumex conglomeratus, Rumex crispus, Rumex hymenosepalus, Rumex mexicanus, Rumex occidentalis, Rumex salicifolius, Rumex venosus, Rumex violascens and Rumex patientia (the latter is cultivated in Europe and used like spinach.)  Used for their leaves and seeds are: Rumex rispus, Rumex obtusifolius (also called Butter Dock because it was used to wrap butter) Rumex patientia, Rumex pulcher, and Rumex sanguineus. Eaten for their tart flavor are: Rumex acetosa, Rumex acetosella, Rumex aquaticus var. fenestratus, Rumex articus, Rumex paucifolius, Rumex rugosus, Rumex sagittatus, Rumex vesicarius, and Rumex scutatus. The latter is too acidic to eat but is used for flavoring. It has one cultivar called the Silver Shield.  Rumex maritimus seeds can be made into mush, no ethnobotanical mention of the leaves. A couple of species split the difference, Rumex alpinus, whose stalks are used like rhubarb, and the previously mentioned Rumex hymenosepalus, also called Canaigre.

Rumex hymenosepalus, Canaigre

Canaigre is a large plant. Its stems and petioles were eaten by Native Americans like rhubarb (after much boiling.) They were made into pies and compotes. The boiled leaves are rated as an excellent green once rid of their bitterness. The roots are not edible but are 35% tannin, a good source of that material. The root was also used for mustardy to brown dye. Several attempts have been made to make Canaigre a commercial crop but never succeeded.

Rumex acetosella, Sheep Sorrel Leaf

The bitter Rumexes, or docks, have many medicinal application, from increasing red blood cell count to external use on wounds. Rumex juice is supposed to be good for stinging nettles bites but has not worked on me. The application I am most familiar with is using the long leaves of the Swamp Dock, Rumex verticillatus, as astringent bandages. Here in wet Florida the Swamp Dock — the only native — is the species spied most often except in winter or early spring. That’s when two versions of Sheep Sorrels sprout up , the previous Rumex acetosella, also known as Garden Sorrel, (upper leaves embrace the four-sided stem) and the larger Rumex hastatulus, called Wild Sorrel (the latter lacks rhizomes, produces marge masses of red flowers, and only reproduces by seed.) They are both tart and wonderful trail side nibbles. They can also be used in salads and or made into tart… tartlets. There are at least six cultivars of the Rumex acetosa: Belleville, Blonde de Lyon, Larghe Foglie Bionde, Low Oxalic Acid, Nobel and Profusion.

Many of the docks leaves have curly edges, the Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) being a notable example as well as the Canaigre. Such plants often grow in dry areas and are called self-irrigating. The leaf’s curls capture rain, mist and dew channeling the water towards the central leaf vein then down towards the root.

The seeds of several docks can be harvested, cooked and eaten but they are not high on the foraging list, nor are the roots which are never eaten. However Euell Gibbons, the original Eat-A-Pine-Tree guy, had a use for the roots. In Stalking the Wild Asparagus after discussing forcing greens in the winter from dandelion roots he writes:

Euell Gibbons

“… take the front out of the box you are using, and lay the roots in tiers with the crowns facing the open side, sprinkling soil  between the layers of roots. This will form a stack with a backward sloping top and a rounded face which will bear the colorful leaves. Cover the roots well with soil, and leave outside until after a hard freeze. A few weeks after being brought into the warmth, these roots will begin to produce pale, translucent, curled leaves of all colors. Snip and wash these vegetables rainbows carefully to prevent bruising. Tastefully arranged on top of a salad they make a dish that looks almost too pretty to eat.”

Worldwide there are 190 to 200 Rumex, all in the Buckwheat family. Several are food for butterflies. There are rumblings among botanists to move the tart Rumex into their own and different genus. Don’t hold your breath.  Rumex comes from rumo, which is Dead Latin to suck, referring to the practice among Romans of sucking on the leaves to ease thirst. Modern Greeks call Rumex Lapatho. And now a new twist and an old recipe.

Twisted Dock

Twisted Dock

Fermenting Dock, by Pascal

I think I’m making some interesting new culinary discoveries with our humble Curly Dock. I bought this “Aveluk” from our local Middle Eastern store and it is a traditional Armenian dish. They basically sell dehydrated dock leaves which they
use to make soup. BUT…a simple dehydration does not really work, my own “avaluk” was still green after dehydration and did not taste the same. I think I know what the difference is. By making large strands and leave them hanging for a while, there is a fermentation going on before full dehydration giving it a special flavor. So with my next strands, I’ll just leave them hanging in the kitchen until dry. I did a quick test and I got the smell of cabbage after 3 days. Interesting… it’s all about details…

Aveluk Salad

From Food Planet

Ingredients: 
1 "tail" of aveluk,
1 garlic clove,
1 bunch of each: parsley, coriander, basil,
2 teaspoon white vinegar,
1 tablespoon of minced walnuts,
1 onion,
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil,
salt, pepper. 

Soak aveluk for 1 day in cold water, then boil it in salted water for 10 minutes, take out of water, let water flow down.

Fry onion with vegetable oil, then add aveluk, fry for 5 more minutes. Cool this mixture, lay out on the plate, add vinegar, green, garlic, salt, pepper, thoroughly mix, garnish with walnuts.

Curly Dock Nori

Curly Dock Nori

Also by Pascal, curly dock nori

100 gr (3.5 oz) Curly Dock Chopped
1 Garlic Clove
½ cup Water
2 Teaspoons Soy Sauce
¼ Teaspoon Salt
Blend everything and spread using a spatula on a silicone sheet.
Dehydrate at 160 degrees until fully dry.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Tina Driskell July 7, 2016 at 18:07

My dock seeds are incredibly bitter. Collect them. Bake around 350 until dark. Rub to remove material around the seeds. Blow off the chaff. Grind into flour. Lots of work, but so plentiful it’s worthwhile. Tastes pretty good.

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H. C. Foster June 19, 2016 at 23:19

Just sneering if the seeds collected for floor are the mature dried seeds when they are brown/ maroon or the green seeds? Thanks in advance for any reply. I’ve always been an amateur survivalist and have been studying in depth edible weeds for the last few years and trying to teach my wife and children, nieces and nephews and other relatives about what to look for, what to avoid and how to use.

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nordic botanist June 17, 2016 at 13:47

Does anybody know something about possible use (food, medicin) of Rumex confertus, a rather new species in Finland. It has big fresh leaves. It is very expansive and could produce very much, both leaves and seeds. The leaves are bitter though. Anyhow, it is worth to have it already for its own sake, a beautiful background in the wild garden.

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Tom Mace March 8, 2016 at 14:45

It’s late Winter on the Front Range (Boulder CO) and hardly anything is growing yet except Curly Dock (or possibly Canaigre Dock, I’m not 100 percent sure) which grows abundantly here and for some reason is already putting out full rosettes of tender leaves. I’d never tried dock, turned off by its reputation, but thought I’d give it a whirl. Very pleasant surprise. Young leaves, maybe no more than three inches, have a good flavor, delicate texture, and no trace of sourness cooked maybe a total of 5 minutes in two changes of water. For me, these were the first fresh greens of the season so it was doubly nice. The leaves are so young that most have not developed the ‘crispy’ edges, so the ID depends in part on last year’s dead seed stalks.

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ElleEats February 19, 2016 at 20:58

Thanks so much for ideas on how to eat my dock! I’m trying the aveluk braid-making technique in the hopes that traditionally fermenting the leaves helps with the oxalic acid concentrations. There’s a neat link here http://www.eatthatweed.com/oxalic-acid/ all about oxalic acid in foraged plants; what it does and how to lower concentrations.

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Marco Caetano January 17, 2016 at 15:37

Here in my country (Portugal) in the region where I live Rumex pulcher and Rumex crispus are used in traditional soups. I can give the recipe so you can try! It’s a very simple soup but I love it! I’m showing you my version. I use kidney beans instead of fava beans because I prefer and there are traditional recipes with this kind of bean too. This soup is often used as a complete meal, if you put bread in the plate before serving.

Ingredients:

– 1 bunch dock leaves (I use Rumex pulcher and sometimes Rumex crispus)
– 350g (12oz) kidney beans (or fava beans)
– 1 onion, minced
– 2 garlic cloves
– 1 buch pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) (you can use cilantro if you can’t find pennyroyal)
– 50ml (1.7 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
– 1 goat or sheep milk fresh cheese (or any fresh cheese) (you can make the soup without the cheese), broken into pieces
– salt
– bread slices

1. Prepare the dock. Use only the leaves. If the leaves are big cut them in half. IMPORTANT: blanch the leaves (put them in boiling water for some seconds) so they loose the bitterness, and discard the water. Reserve the leaves. With a mortar and pestle grind the pennyroyal, salt and garlic cloves.

2. In a pan put the olive oil and heat it, then sauté the onion until soft. Add the grinded pennyroyal, salt and garlic to the pan, and then the beans. Stir it for 1 or 2 minutes

3. Add water until you have the amount you want. Taste and add salt if needed. When the beans are cooked (you take a shortcut if you use canned beans 😉 ) add the dock leaves and cook on low heat for 5 to 10 minutes (don’t let it overcook!). Finaly add the cheese and turn of the heat.

4. If you want the soup to be a complete meal add some small bread slices to a soup plate and then add the soup on top. I usually eat this soup this way.

Hope you like it! Let me know if you try this recipe and if you liked it.

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Tina Rock October 30, 2014 at 01:20

Rumex crispus seeds are a laxative. If you are going to grind them and use them as flour, don’t put in too much. I made curly dock seed crackers from a recipe I found on the Internet and ate 10 of them. Within a few hours I was excreting from every orifice in my body including some I never knew I had. So be careful and be sparing in use if you’re putting it in your baking as a flour. Let it be one kind of flour among several.

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Charzie June 10, 2015 at 23:31

Not to belittle your bad experience, but your post gave me a big giggle! Orifices you never knew you had! LOL, thanks for the humor, and effect duly noted!

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Spencer Petri February 21, 2014 at 18:45

I have curly dock here in East Texas and I love the lemony flavor. Sheep sorrel grows rampant and can overtake a cultivated area.

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Paulo June 25, 2013 at 16:25

Somehow here in Iceland, I wonder if docks could be one of the future alternatives to grain. They grow so rampant and produce so much grain-like seeds, just like their cousin, the buckwheat.

Has anyone used the seeds? Do you add them raw or do you cook them?

I only have rumex longifolius here, northern dock.

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Neale July 19, 2013 at 16:55

As with buckwheat the papery husks should be removed and and the seed could be ground for a very whole ‘grain’ flour. The flour and the seeds though are somewhat bitter to the taste this is due partly to saponins in the seed coat and also to the high protein and partly to its unique amino-acid composition (i.e. the high lysine content). You may wish to leach the flour to try to reduce the levels of saponins. Rhubarb is somewhat closely related and can be used similarly though there is some question as to whether allowing rhubarb to go to seed will exhaust the roots or not. Both Rumex and Rheum Rhubarbum are very heavy feeders though so you’ll want to manure them well every year.

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Keith December 10, 2013 at 19:50

rather than “manure” every year, i would say “replace what you take out”. Manure is just one way to grow plants, and I wouldn’t even count chemicals.

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Sarah June 24, 2013 at 22:37

Thanks for all of these ideas on what to do with rumex. I have a fondness for the plant when it goes to seed, as its brown combines well in my garden with purples and blues, so I keep some going. Now I’ll have to try some of these culinary ideas. I read the dried herb is used on epithelioma of the face, which I had never heard of til I looked up “rumex” online. I guess epithelioma covers a wide variety of skin conditions, many related to cancer. Anyone heard or know anything about that?

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Helen P April 16, 2013 at 03:19

I’m an amateur soap maker, and I’ve come across references for colouring soap (and cloth) with both the root and leaves of dock leaves.
I grated some dock root over the weekend and will let it sit in olive oil for a month, before trying it out on a batch – apparently it will turn the soap a lovely pinky-blue.
I will definitely be trying out the seeds now too – thanks for all the great info.

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Dr. Ahmet Ali Arslan, Ardahan University - Turkey August 31, 2012 at 04:43

Rumex crispus.L, (Evelik), Curly dock, is very useful medicinal plant in Kars region of Turkey and cures catching-winter cold. Ardahan and Kars have very harsh winter and temperature drups -35C in winter. We do cook dishes with Curly dock; using onion, rice or whole weat, graunded beef, salt, black pepper, chily pepper and olive oil. .. Besides Curly dock we do use Rumex alpinus (Dağ pazısı), Monk’s rubarb, in our traditional cuisine. We add Sheep Sorrel leaves to our soups and salads and eat raw.

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Neale July 14, 2012 at 21:17

Rumex species are distantly related to buckwheat, and are actually a superior plant in terms of suitability to modern agriculture for “grain” production. Clutivated buckwheat is a farily spindly plant that can lodge, doesn’t ripen its seeds all at once, tends to be very difficult to combine, and produces fairly unreliable and small yields of “grain”. Rumex on the other hand has a strong central stalk, flowers and ripens its seed all at once, certain species grow wild in the Mohave desert, it is perennial, has comparable lysine content to buckwheat (i.e. very high), and has the potential to produce upwards of 50bu/ac with a little improvement. Oh and rumex (the noxious weed) is native to the US, buckwheat (the wonder crop) is from china. So there’s alot more to this plant than just bitter leaves.

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Sa'Nap Nikki April 30, 2012 at 16:15

Greetings Green Deane,
I live in central Wisconsin and collect the Curly Dock seeds to use for flour, they work great and give my breads a nice maroon coloring. Well worth the effort of gathering and grinding into flour in my book.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us, very nice site.
Sa’Nap Nikki

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Gladys July 30, 2012 at 07:02

Thanks for the information Sa’Nap Nikki, Please enlighten me on how to make curly Dock (which in particular) into flour.
Thanks.

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Green Deane August 13, 2012 at 09:10

Collect the seeds and grind away.

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