The Forager’s Basket: Wild Dock Greens

by Kiva Rose on April 19th, 2010
5 CommentsComments

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.

Harvesting

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.

Processing

None really, just wash well to get any grit out of the leaves.

Food Preparation

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.

Medicinal Notes

  • 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

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  • I love wild dock. We have quite a bit of R. obtusifolius in our yard, and in the past couple of years it has made its way to my front door. Such a sweet thing, in my book. Thank you, Kiva, for another lovely post. You’ve inspired my lunch today! :)

  • Your blog posts are always such a treat, thank you! I love the docks, and here in the southeast we are lucky enough to have fields of them. They are so abundant in my “yard”, that we don’t cut grass, we just eat the weeds :)

  • Dear Kiva,

    Yum! Look at sweet Rhiannon out getting a start on her wild garden :) . We have lots of sour dock that comes into our yard from the neighbor’s pasture. We’ve been using it in salsa to give it a lemony kick, but you’ve inspired me to start cooking with it, as well.

    Love,

    Marqueta

  • I love foraging and I love dock! On my blog I give a recipe for ‘Mock Rhubarb Pie’ using dock. Oh, and if you go back to Jan 12, I talk about you.
    Warmly,
    Heather


  • jaz

    hickory dickory dock… there’s nothing like fresh-picked fresh-cooked dock! the clock strikes “ding” and then sun goes down… hickory dinnery dock! :) (i love dock)

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