For hundreds of years, herbalists have been recommending the root of various species of dock for diseases of the blood and liver. These recommendations are repeated, using slightly different terminology, in modem herbal writings that describe yellow dock, Rumex crispus L. (family Polygonaceae), as a helpful alterative and laxative. The term alterative refers to a medication intended for the treatment of syphilis and related venereal diseases; it is often used synonymously with "blood purifier."
Yellow dock is a perennial herb, growing up to about four feet in height, with slender leaves characterized by wavy-curled margins. This accounts for another widely used name for the plant, curly dock. Yellow dock is a native of Europe but is found growing abundantly in waste places throughout most of the United States. The deep yellow, underground parts (rhizome and roots) make up the medication, but dock greens are also eaten as a potherb. Actually, a number of closely related species are similarly employed, and when Rumex was listed in The National Formulary, R. obtusifolius L. was also designated as a source.
A number of anthraquinone derivatives, including chrysophanic acid, emodin, and physcion, among others, have been identified in yellow dock. These account for the medication's laxative action, which is well substantiated. In fact, one study showed that the total anthraquinone content of this plant's root, 2.17 percent, exceeded the 1.42 percent concentration of these principles in medicinal rhubarb (not to be confused with garden rhubarb, which contains only small amounts of anthraquinones). Incidentally, rhubarb belongs to the same plant family as yellow dock; many members of the Polygonaceae contain anthraquinones accompanied by significant amounts of tannin.
It is difficult to understand how a simple laxative medication could have retained its ancient reputation for being of value in the treatment of venereal disease and its various symptoms, especially the skin conditions. This can only emphasize how uncritically the attributes, or lack of them, of various vegetable medications are still assessed by their fans. There is absolutely no physiological or chemical evidence to support any claim of this kind of therapeutic ability for yellow dock. However, because of its content of tannin and anthraquinones, the medication's astringent and laxative properties are well established.
Yellow dock is considered by some to be a troublesome weed in many fields and waste places throughout Europe, the U.S. and southern Canada. Its spindle-shaped, yellow taproot sends up a smooth, rather slender stem, 1-3 feet high. Lanceolate to oblong-lanceolate in shape, the pointed light green leaves have predominantly wavy margins. The lower leaves are larger and longer-petioled than the upper. The numerous pale green, drooping flowers are loosely whorled in panicled racemes. The seed is a pointed, three-angled and heart-shaped kind of nut.
To make a useful decoction, just bring 1 qt. of water to a boil. Reduce the heat and add 1 cup of chopped, fresh or dried root, cover and simmer for 12 minutes. Remove and steep 1-1/2 more hours. Strain, sweeten with honey and drink up to 4 cups a day, especially during a short-weekend, mild-food fast in which much of your nourishment is derived only from liquids.
Many different kinds of skin afflictions may also be judiciously bathed with this same tea, when it's cool, to relieve some of the itching and inflammation. Equal parts of yellow dock's root and sage make a great tea to drink while using a sauna or sitting in a Jacuzzi (those with hypertension, however, should avoid excess heat like this).
A cup of warm tea improves digestion when consuming a particularly heavy meal or rich foods. Yellow dock tea also stimulates the liver and colon as well.
Yellow dock syrup is a good remedy for relieving upper respiratory problems such as emphysema. A half-pound of the root is boiled in a pint of distilled water until the liquid is reduced to a mere cupful. Strain and discard the spent root, and to the liquid add 1/2 cup dark honey, 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses and 1 tbsp. pure maple syrup, then a dash of genuine vanilla flavor. Mix everything together by hand until you have an even syrup. Take 1 tsp. at a time for bronchitis, asthma and the like to stop tickling sensations in the throat or lungs.
Yellow dock has a powerful cleansing effect in the body. Yellow dock provokes a bowel movement within a few hours of taking it, while also reducing any excess activity of the gut, and soothing any irritation of the gut lining, making dock a gentle bowel cleanser for long term treatment of sluggish bowels. Yellow dock can also be used for bowel infections and to heal peptic ulcers. Yellow dock soothes irritation in the respiratory tract. Its bitter glycosides stimulate the liver, enhancing bile production, making it a good remedy for a sluggish liver, a weak digestion, distension and wind. Yellow duck's root has diuretic properties, increasing urine production and elimination of toxins via the urinary system. Yellow duck's root can be used for gout, cystitis, water retention, urinary stones and gravel.
Yellow dock makes an excellent remedy for skin problems such as weeping eczema, psoriasis, nettle rash, boils and abscesses. Yellow dock has the effect of mobilizing congested blood and lymph and pulling toxins out of the tissues, as well as ensuring their elimination and can be used wherever there is congestion, heat and inflammation. Yellow dock makes an excellent addition to prescriptions for arthritis, gout, rheumatism, and chronic lymphatic congestion. Yellow dock has also been used for irregular periods, heavy bleeding and menstrual pain, as well as fibroids in the uterus.
Yellow dock's roots contain iron and provide an excellent remedy for anemia. This, with its tonic effect on the liver, has given dock a wide reputation as a revitalizing remedy, for general debility, mental lethargy, headaches, convalescence, low spirits and irritability.
The cooling and healing actions of dock make it an excellent external remedy for all kinds of inflammatory skin conditions.
Root, leaves, seeds.
Laxative effect - The herb's gentle laxative action makes it an important remedy in mild cases of constipation. This action is enhanced if the fiber content of the diet is increased. By stimulating the colon, feces are eliminated more efficiently, reducing reabsorption of toxins.
Bile stimulant - Yellow dock is thought to improve the flow of bile, which further contributes to its detoxifying action. (Waste products are removed through the bile ducts.)
Cleansing herb - Generally combined with other cleansing herbs such as burdock and dandelion, yellow dock is used to treat a wide range of conditions resulting from high levels of toxins in the body. These include skin conditions such as acne, boils, eczema, and psoriasis, as well as fungal infections, sluggish digestion and constipation, and arthritic and rheumatic problems, especially osteoarthritis.