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Docks

Family: N.O. Polygonaceae

The name Dock is applied to a widespread tribe of broad-leaved wayside weeds, having roots possessing astringent qualities united in some with a cathartic principle, rendering them valuable as substitutes for Rhubarb, a plant of the same family.

Although now, in common with the Sorrels, assigned to the genus Rumex, the Docks were formerly ranked as members of the genus Lapathum, this name being derived from the Greek word, lapazein (to cleanse), an allusion to the medicinal virtues of these plants as purgatives, the word still surviving in the name of one of the species, Rumex Hydrolapathum.

All the Docks resemble our Garden Rhubarb more or less, both in their general characteristics and in possessing much tannin.Most of them furnish rumicin, or crysophanic acid, which is useful in chronic scrofulous disorders.

The young leaves and shoots of several species of Dock may be eaten as pot-herbs, but are not very palatable, and have a slight laxative effect. 'Sour Docks' were considered formerly a good accompaniment to boiled beef, either hot or cold, but this was a popular name, not for the ordinary kinds of Docks, but for the closely allied Sorrel or Sorrel Dock (Rumex acetosa), whose herbage has a somewhat acid flavour. This, with its French variety, R. scutatus, has been much cultivated as a pot-herb.


PATIENCE DOCK

Botanical: Rumex alpinus

---Synonyms---Herb Patience. Monk's Rhubarb. Passion's Dock.

This, although not considered a native plant, grows wild in some parts of the country, mostly by roadsides and near cottages, being originally a garden escape. It is a large plant, about 6 feet high, with very large, long, pointed leaves on thick hollow footstalks. The long stout root was also formerly used medicinally for its slight astringent qualities. It was considered good for jaundice.

It has a gentle laxative action. There are about ten or eleven kinds of native Docks.

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ROUND-LEAVED DOCK

Botanical: Rumex obtusifolius

---Synonyms---Common Wayside Dock. Butter Dock.
---Description---It is a large and spreading plant, its stout stems 2 to 3 feet high, the leaves 6 to 12 inches long, with rather slender foot-stalks, the margins waved and the end or apex of the leaf rounded. The flowers are small, green and numerous, arranged in whorled spikes at the ends of the stem. In this, as in all the Docks, the flowers contain both stamens and pistils - the nearly-related Sorrels, on the contrary, having their stamens and pistils on different plants. This Dock is so coarse that cattle refuse to touch it. It is a troublesome weed, all the more because it prefers growing on good land, not thriving in poor soil. Its broad foliage serves also to lodge the destructive turnip fly. The leaves are often applied as a rustic remedy to burns and scalds and used for dressing blisters, serving also as a popular cure for Nettle stings.
The cure was accompanied by the words:
'Nettle in, Dock;
Dock in, Nettle out
Dock rub Nettle out,'
and is the origin of the saying: 'In Dock, out Nettle', to suggest inconstancy.
A tea made from the root was formerly given for the cure of boils. The plant is frequently called Butter Dock, because its cool leaves have often been used in the country for wrapping up butter for the market.

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SHARP-POINTED DOCK

Botanical: Rumex acetus

---Description---A common plant like the Common Dock, but handsomer, and distinguished by its sharp-pointed leaves being narrower and longer. It grows about 3 feet high, having erect, round, striated stems and small greenish flowers, turning brown when ripe. The root has been used in drinks and decoctions for scurvy and as a general blood cleanser, and employed for outward application to cutaneous eruptions, in the form of an ointment, made by beating it up with lard.

Both the Round-leaved Dock and the Sharp-pointed Dock, together with the BLOODY-VEINED DOCK (Rumex sanguineus) (which is very conspicuous on account of its veins and footstalks abounding in a bloodcoloured juice), make respectively with their astringent roots a useful infusion against bleedings and fluxes, also with their leaves, a decoction curative of several chronic skin diseases.

THE YELLOW DOCK (Rumex crispus), the RED DOCK (R. aquaticus) and the GREAT WATER DOCK (R. Hydrolapathum) are, however, the species more generally used medicinally.

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YELLOW DOCK

Botanical: Rumex crispus

---Synonym---Curled Dock.
---Description---The leaves are crisped at their edges. It grows freely in our roadside ditches and waste places. The roots are 8 to 12 inches long, about 1/2 inch thick, fleshy and usually not forked. Externally they are of a rusty brown and internally whitish, with fine, straight, medullary rays and a rather thick bark. It has little or no smell and a rather bitter taste. The stem is 1 to 3 feet high and branched, the leaves, 6 to 10 inches long.

---Medicinal Action and Uses---The Yellow Dock is applicable to all the purposes for which the other species are used. The root has laxative, alterative and mildly tonic action, and can be freely used as a tonic and laxative in rheumatism, bilious complaints and as an astringent in piles, bleedings of the lungs, etc. It is largely prescribed for diseases of the blood, from a spring eruption, to scurvy, scrofula and chronic skin diseases. It is also useful in jaundice and as a tonic to the stomach and the system generally. It has an action on the bowels very similar to that of Rhubarb, being perhaps a little less active, but operating without pain or uneasiness.

Rumicin is the active principle of the Yellow Dock, and from the root, containing Chrysarobin, a dried extract is prepared officially, of which from 1 to 4 grains may be given for a dose in a pill. This is useful for relieving a congested liver, as well as for scrofulous skin diseases.

A syrup can be made by boiling 1/2 lb. crushed root in a pint of syrup, which is taken in teaspoonful doses. The infusion administered in wineglassful doses - is made by pouring 1 pint of boiling water on 1 OZ. of the powdered root. A useful homoeopathic tincture is made from the plant before it flowers, which is of particular service to an irritable tickling cough of the upper air-tubes and the throat. It is likewise excellent for dispelling any obstinate itching of the skin. It acts like Sarsaparilla for curing scrofulous skin affections and glandular swellings.

To be applied externally for cutaneous affections, an ointment may be made by boiling the root in vinegar until the fibre is softened and then mixing the pulp with lard.

The seeds have been given with advantage in dysentery, for their astringent action.

The Yellow Dock has also been considered to have a positive effect in restraining the inroads made by cancer in the human system, being used as an alterative and tonic to enfeebled condition caused by necrosis, cancer, etc. It has been used in diphtheria.

---Preparations---Fluid extract, 30 to 60 drops. Solid extract, 5 to 15 grains. Rumin, 3 grains.

The roots are collected in March, being generally ploughed up.

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RED DOCK

Botanical: Rumex aquaticus

---Synonym---Water Dock

The Red Dock, or Water Dock (Rumex aquaticus), has properties very similar to those of the Yellow Dock. It is frequent in fields, meadows and ditches. Its rootstock is top-shaped, the outer surface blackish or dark brown, the bark porous and the pith composed of honeycomb-like cells, with a short zone of woody bundles separated by rays. It has an astringent and somewhat sweet taste, but no odour. The stem is 1 to 3 feet high, very stout; the leaves similar to those of the Yellow Dock, having also crisped edges, but being broader, 3 to 4 inches across.

---Medicinal Action and Uses---This Dock has alterative, deobstruent and detergent action. Its powers as a tonic are, perhaps rather more marked than the previous species. For internal use, it is given in an infusion, in wineglassful doses. Externally it is used as an application for eruptive and scorbutic diseases, ulcers and sores, being employed for cleansing ulcers in affections of the mouth, etc. As a powder, it has cleansing and detergent effect upon the teeth.

The root of this and all other Docks is dried in the same manner as the Yellow Dock.

---Preparation---Fluid extract, 30 to 60 drops.

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GREAT WATER DOCK

Botanical: Rumex Hydrolapathum

The Great Water Dock (Rumex Hydrolapathum), the largest of all the Docks, 5 to 6 feet high, is frequent on river banks. It is a picturesque plant with several erect, furrowed stems arising from its thick, blackish root, each of which are branched in the upper part, and bear numerous green flowers in almost leafless whorls. The leaves are exceedingly large - 1 to 3 feet long, dull green, not shiny, lance-shaped and narrow, tapering at both ends, the lower ones heart-shaped at the base. It is much like Rumex acutus, but larger.

This Dock, also, has some reputation as an antiscorbutic, and was used by the ancients. The root is strongly astringent, and powdered makes a good dentifrice. It is this species that is said to be the Herba Britannica of Pliny. This name does not denote British origin - the plant not being confined to the British Isles - but is said to be derived from three Teutonic words: brit (to tighten), tan (a tooth), and ica (loose), thus expressing its power of bracing up loose teeth and spongy gums.

Miss Rohde (Old English Herbals) says:
'It is interesting to find that Turner identifies the Herba Britannica of Dioscorides and Pliny (famed for having cured the soldiers of Julius Caesar of scurvy in the Rhine country) with Polygonum bistorta, which he observed plentifully in Friesland, the scene of Pliny's observations. This herb is held by modern authorities to be Rumex aquaticus (Great Water Dock).'
As a stomach tonic the following decoction was formerly much in use: 2 oz. of the root sliced were put into 3 pints of water, with a little cinnamon or liquorice powder, and boiled down to a quart and a wineglassful taken two or three times a day. The astringent qualities of the root render it good in case of diarrhoea, the seeds (as with the other Docks) having been used for the same purpose. The green leaves are reputed to be an excellent application for ulcers of the eyes.
Culpepper says of the Docks:
'All Docks are under Jupiter, of which the Red Dock, which is commonly called Bloodwort, cleanseth the blood and strengthens the liver, but the Yellow Dock root is best to be taken when either the blood or liver is affected by choler. All of them have a kind of cooling, drying quality: the Sorrel being most cool and the Bloodworts most drying. The seed of most kinds, whether garden or field, doth stay laxes and fluxes of all sorts, and is helpful for those that spit blood. The roots boiled in vinegar helpeth the itch, scabs and breaking out of the skin, if it be bathed therewith. The distilled water of the herb and roots have the same virtue and cleanseth the skin from freckles.... All Docks being boiled with meat make it boil the sooner; besides Bloodwort is exceeding strengthening to the liver and procures good blood, being as wholesome a pot-herb as any growing in a garden.'
Another species of Rumex may also be termed of indirect medicinal use, for Turkey opium, as imported, comes in flattened masses enveloped in poppy leaves and covered with the reddish-brown, triangular winged fruit of a species of Rumex, to prevent the cakes adhering to one another.

See:
SORREL, COMMON
SORREL, FRENCH
SORREL, MOUNTAIN
SORREL, SHEEP'S
SORREL, WOOL
RHUBARB

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Purchase from Richters Seeds
Bloody Dock (Rumex sanguineus) Seeds
Curled Dock (Rumex crispus) Seeds
Bloody Dock (Rumex sanguineus) Plants

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Bear in mind "A Modern Herbal" was written with the conventional wisdom of the early 1900's. This should be taken into account as some of the information may now be considered inaccurate, or not in accordance with modern medicine.

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