Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism, she still has a garden and studies plants. This post is fifth in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…
Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.
Botanical Name: Rumex crispus
Common Names: Yellow Dock, Curly Dock, Curled Dock, Narrow Dock, Rumex
History: Native to Europe and western Asia, dock gets the common name “yellow dock” from its large root, which is bright yellow when cut, and the name “curly dock” from its slightly ruffled leaves. Traditionally the leaves and seeds were eaten, while the leaves and roots were used medicinally as a general health tonic and to improve digestion, as well as to treat jaundice, skin diseases, and scurvy. Although naturalized in temperate areas, it’s considered an invasive species in the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand, and an “injurious weed” in the UK.
Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Patience
Cultivation: Perennial in zones 4 to 7. Plants can grow to 1.5 m (about 5 ft) tall. Because it can be easily found growing wild (including in waste areas, roadsides, fields, and along shorelines) and is invasive in many areas, consider foraging for dock rather than cultivating it. If you’d still like to grow it (after checking to make sure it isn’t invasive where you live), scatter seed over prepared soil in spring, summer, or fall. Dock prefers full sun to part shade and moist soil (but will tolerate most conditions). Dock will self-seed and can also re-grow from a piece of root left behind. Harvest leaves before the plant flowers, roots in autumn, and seeds after they turn brown.
Medicinal: The root is high in iron and is used to treat anemia, often in combination with stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). The root is also mildly laxative, although it isn’t always effective. Taken internally or applied externally, the leaves may be helpful for skin conditions such as itching, rashes (including the stings from nettles), and sores. It’s also used to ease pain and inflammation in nasal passages and the respiratory tract. It can be applied to the skin to stop bleeding.
Culinary: Leaves are high in vitamins C and A, iron, and potassium, but are also high in oxalic acid, which can cause kidney stones and blood mineral imbalances. Young leaves should be boiled in several changes of water to reduce the oxalic acid (although that will also reduce nutrients). Serve leaves like spinach (after boiling, drain, and heat with olive oil or butter and garlic, or add to any dish you would use spinach in). They can also be eaten raw in small amounts. Older leaves are too bitter to be palatable. Once seeds have turned brown they can be eaten raw or cooked. The seeds can also be roasted and used as a coffee substitute.
Host Plant: Dock is an ideal host plant for some species of moth, which lay their eggs on the curled leaves.
Caution: Leaves are high in oxalic acid, which can irritate the urinary tract and cause kidney stones. Dock should not be used by people taking anti-coagulants or drugs that decrease blood calcium, like diuretics. Avoid if you have bladder, liver, or kidney problems, or ulcers; otherwise, consume in moderation. Limit or avoid using while pregnant and breastfeeding, as dock can have a laxative effect (which gets passed through breast milk). Those allergic to ragweed may also be allergic to dock.
Caution 2: The oxalic acid in dock makes it toxic to dogs (I’m assuming to cats too). Do not let your pets eat or chew on dock.
Possible Side Effects: The leaves and root may cause intestinal discomfort and skin irritation. Taking too much can result in low blood levels of calcium and potassium–a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Mara’s Uses: Mara uses dock in tinctures and capsules (along with other herbs) as an iron-rich tonic for bloodletters (human blood donors used by vampires). Dock is among the herbs she experiments with for her blood substitute.
-Aspasía S. Bissas