The Forager’s Basket: Wild Dock Greens
The Forager’s Basket: Wild Dock (Rumex spp.) Greens
by Kiva Rose
Botanical Name: Rumex spp. (and here, specifically R. obtusifolius and R. crispus)
The myriad tongue-shaped leaves of Dock are often the very first greens to appear here in the canyon each growing season. With their sour but mild flavor, we’re always thrilled to get a taste of vibrant freshness of Spring and eat dozens of panfuls of this tasty delicacy every year. Neither Rumex species mentioned here are native, both originating in Europe and are sometimes invasive in parts of the US. To me, this means all the better to eat them up and keep their spread under control. If perchance, you aren’t lucky enough to have any yummy wild or feral Rumex near you, they are easy to spread by seed in your garden or even in a pot indoors. In fact, I seem to accidentally be growing some wild Dock in our potted Bamboo right now.
Taste seems to a vary a great deal within the Rumex genus, and I can only comment upon those I’ve actually tried. While Yellow Dock (R. crispus) is fairly abundant here and is one of the Rumexes most often used as a wild green, I actually far prefer the larger and more tender and mild leaves of R. obtusifolius, also known as Round Leaf Dock. Often accused of being unpalatably bitter by popular sources, I find Dock greens to be far less bitter than Wild Mustard or many other often enjoyed greens. While these tenacious plants do quite well without any maintenance at all, we keep our Dock patch well watered to reduce any bitterness and to keep them going strong all Spring and Fall, and even giving us smaller amounts of fresh greens through the hotter Summer. Some species of Rumex are irredeemably bitter, and while they can be boiled in several changes of water, I find this pretty much ruins their texture and prefer to search out the very common species that taste better.
Wikipedia and some other sources will tell you that all Dock is considered slightly poisonous, but this is only true inasmuch as the leaves tend to be sour and somewhat astringent, and thus can give you a bellyache if you try to eat a large amount raw. And while I like a small amount of raw Dock green chopped finely and added to other salad greens, I think it would be difficult to eat enough to cause a problem. Rumex spp. do contain high levels of oxalic acid, which is thought to prevent the absorption of key minerals if consumed to excess. Oxalic acid is much reduced by cooking, which also makes the greens much tastier in my opinion and is the way we prefer to eat almost all of our Dock.
Simply gather the most tender and green looking leaves. I like the extra sour flavor of the stems, so I’m always sure to gather from the stem base rather than just the leaf. Dock greens can remain crisp and fresh if kept in a cool place for many days, making them an easy green to keep on hand. If you don’t have refrigeration, you can also keep them in a bucket of cool water for a few days.
None really, just wash well to get any grit out of the leaves.
My favorite form of Dock greens is to cook the whole leaves until tender in a bit of butter or bacon fat in a cast iron frying pan. When bright green and wilted, we add a splash of vinegar (rice wine vinegar is very nice here) and a pinch of brown sugar to a panful. Stir a few times and remove from heat. Serve with butter and salt. Prepared this same way, you can add some caramelized onions, sauteed garlic, with or without tomatoes or tomato sauce, black pepper and wild game for a simple but delicious meal. Also great with bacon and eggs for breakfast.
If you are using older Dock leaves it can be useful to to place all the leaves in a pile with stems facing the same direction and cut them width-wise down the middle. Add the half with the stems first, and then add the other batch when the stems turn a vibrant green. Doing this allows the tougher stem end to cook thoroughly and become tender while preventing the more delicate end from becoming soggy or overcooked.
The young green leaves can also be chopped well and added to any salad where a crisp texture and tart taste is desired.
- Dock leaves tend to be somewhat astringent, and are well known for stopping the pain of Nettle stings. Crushed and used as a poultice, they are moderately useful for minor scratches, cuts and other abrasions.
- The yellow to orange roots of Rumex crispus have a long history of use in herbal medicine as an alterative, laxative and iron tonic.
- The white roots of Rumex obtusifolius can be used as a moderately strong astringent in a pinch.
All pics ©2010 Kiva Rose & Jesse Wolf Hardin
Categories: The Forager's Basket, Wild Plants & Traditional Healingways