Autumn has arrived--the season for harvesting roots! From root vegetables to the roots of medicinal herbs, the fall offers us gifts from beneath the soil. At this time of year, plants send their nutrients and energy down into their roots for winter storage, enriching them with nourishing and healing elements.
One of my favourite local wild roots is yellow dock (Rumex crispus). Also known as “curly dock”, this dock family biennial is easily found throughout our region. It has leaves that are longer than they are wide (up to about one foot long), with white-reddish midribs and a long stem. The leaf edges have a curly or wavy appearance and come up in a basal rosette formation. In its second year of growth, yellow dock shoots up a tall flowering stalk with a cluster of tiny whitish-green flowers. When it eventually develops seeds, the whole stalk, seeds included, turns a reddish-bronze hue and remains that way throughout the winter. Beneath the ground, yellow dock’s long tap root has flesh that is an unmistakable shade of yellow—hence the name!
The liver and gall bladder are largely supported by yellow dock root. When yellow bile flows freely through the digestive tract, it helps us to break down and absorb fats, allowing further nutrient absorption while also carrying out wastes and toxins so that they don’t build up and burden our organs of elimination. Thus yellow dock root is an excellent herbal digestive aid, helping us to absorb the nutrients we need while clearing out toxicity, keeping us healthy and energized.
Yellow dock also has a strong affinity for the skin, helping to clear eczema and other rashes and irritations that sometimes stem from an inhibited or overburdened liver’s challenged ability to clear toxins. When toxins or immune by-products build up in the system and the liver can’t easily clear them, they will often be cleared through the pores of the skin, causing various skin irritations. Yellow dock root helps to relieve these conditions by working from the inside out.
The deep tap roots accumulate iron, making yellow dock a choice supplement for iron deficiency. The root, infused in apple cider vinegar will readily secrete iron and other trace minerals into the vinegar, which can be strained after three to four weeks, and safely taken daily (one to three teaspoons) until iron levels increase. While many iron supplements tend to cause constipation, yellow dock has mild laxative properties, supporting proper elimination while supplying the needed iron.
All this aid in clearing away wastes and toxins helps to prevent infections, while also freeing up the immune system to stay on strict guard against any potential invading pathogens— thus yellow dock root strengthens immune function too.
This wild plant is so hardy that it is often found breaking through pavement or thriving in neglected, compacted soil. It also comes up as a “weed” in fields and gardens, where it can be dug in the autumn of its first year. The cleaned, sliced root infused in cider vinegar or dried and stored for use as a tea, is an invaluable addition to anyone’s herb cupboard, and should stay viable for two to three years. With all this in mind, in root harvest season...I dig yellow dock!
Originally published: October 12, 2017
Tamara Segal, Contributor and Registered Herbalist
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Tamara Segal is a Registered Herbalist and wild foods enthusiast. She runs an herbal clinic called Hawthorn Herbals at her farm in Prince Edward County. She also teaches classes and gives plant identification walks and workshops throughout the Quinte area.