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Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description


Rumex crispus (curly dock, curled dock, yellow dock or simply the dock) is a perennial flowering plant in the family Polygonaceae, native to Europe and Western Asia.

It is regarded as a weed, although my Aunt used to make lovely dried flower arrangements from it, and as children we were taught how to use dock leaves to help with nettle stings.  But it is a medicine in other ways too.

Rumex crispus has a number of subspecies with distinctive habitat preferences. Rumex crispus ssp. crispus occurs on waste and cultivated ground. Rumex crispus ssp. littoreus has a coastal distribution, and Rumex crispus ssp. uliginosus occurs on tidal estuarine mud.



The plant produces an inflorescence or flower stalk that grows to about 1 m high. It has smooth leaves shooting off from a large basal rosette, with distinctive waved or curled edges. On the stalk flowers and seeds are produced in clusters on branched stems, with the largest cluster being found at the apex.

The seeds are shiny, brown and encased in the calyx of the flower that produced them. This casing enables the seeds to float on water and get caught in wool and animal fur, and this helps the seeds to spread to new locations. The root-structure is a large, yellow, forking taproot, the bane of every allotment holder in the UK, as even if you manage to get most of it out of your vegetable garden, it will still produce more from the remaining root.



Being a 'weed',  Dock can be found all over the place, it does not need nurturing. 

It will grow on waste areas, roadsides, allotments, car parks, railway tracks, allotments, verges, fields/meadows, allotments, shorelines, gardens and forest edges. 

It is widely naturalised throughout the temperate world and has according to Wikipedia become a
"serious invasive species in many areas, including throughout North America, southern South America, New Zealand and parts of Australia. It is classified as an 'injurious weed' under the UK Weeds Act 1959".

It might be added for those who live outside the UK that there is an entire police action force dedicated to the  enforcement of this act, they have a special green uniform with flowers carefully embroidered all over and embroidered wellingtons, not to mention a TV programme about them entitled Dixon of Dock Green [I jest].

 Medicinal uses

Dock has been used medicinally for many years.  This extract is an example:


the tap root is very long

Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
The dock roots are decidedly alterative, tonic, and are eminently useful in scorbutic, cutaneous, scrofulous, scirrhous and syphilitic affections, leprosy, elephantiasis, etc.; for which purpose we prefer the Rumex crispus (Yellow Dock) which is principally employed for its alterative and tonic influences in all cases where these are desired.

In bad blood with skin disorders it is exceedingly efficient, acting decidedly upon the glandular system, removing chronic lymphatic enlargements, and especially influencing those conditions in which there is a tendency to indolent ulcerations and low inflammatory deposits.

which means they are strongly anti-bacterial and strongly anti-viral.  And this is born out by analysis, although the result shows that the common Dock is a very complex plant. Not common at all, in fact.

According to Dr. Duke's  Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases, it has over 500 activities, too many to summarise here.  The activities are split between the root and the leaves, but the split is not predictable, as the root has as many antiviral activities as the leaves.  We have provided some observations that group some of those activities, to provide some examples of what it is able to do.



The root seems to exert part of its extremely strong anti-parasitic action via some quite violent mechanisms, one of which is purging. 

Notice how the Purgative and  Trichomonicide activity are found in the same chemical.  There is also quite a lot of fibre to help in any diarrhoeal activity which achieves the same removal of unwanted pests.  Accompanying this, however, is considerable tranquilising and pain relief activity -  it is a COX-2-Inhibitor, Sedative;  and Tranquilizer.

Furthermore, the root has high mineral content which ought to help in restoring any lost minerals from the purging action.

Assistance is also provided via Immunostimulant activity.

There may be an odd symbiotic strategy here at work, as if the plant can encourage animals to dig up its roots after it has seeded, the forager may break up the root and add further to the stock, as each scattered rootlet if buried will produce a new plant.

There is more encouragement to a forager to do this as some of the antiplaque, antiperiodontitic; and antiseptic activity for the teeth is in the root.

On the other had there is also Oxalic acid, whose activity looks so fearsome, it is an immediate halt to using the root.  But the plant’s objective here is to stop a forager eating too much of the root, just enough to cure but not so much that the whole root is eaten.  There are some comments below under method about this problem - and it is a problem - Note that the root could be used externally as well.

The links between Dock and the manipulation of the forager’s reproductive system seem very clear.  This plant quite clearly manipulates the sex lives of its predators.  The root has Spermigenic; Testosteronigenic; Anticervicaldysplasic, Anticlimacteric; Antimenopausal; AntiPMS;  Antidysmenorrheic; Antiendometriotic;  Uterorelaxant, Antiimpotence; Antiinfertility, Antiprolactin; and Antiprostatitic activity.  

Chemicals and their Biological Activities in: Rumex crispus L. (Polygonaceae) -- Curly Dock, Lengua De Vaca, Sour Dock, Yellow Dock Root

  • BETA-CAROTENE - Vitamin 225 ppm; Antipapillomic
  • CALCIUM Mineral 10,000 ppm;  ; Antidote (Aluminum); Antidote (Lead);
  • CHROMIUM Mineral: Antidote (Lead); mineral
  • COBALT Mineral 35 ppm;
  • EMODIN: Antibacterial; Anticytomegalovirus ED50=1.1 ug/ml; AntiMRSA MIC 2-64 ug/ml; Antiviral EC50=1.1 ED50=1.1 ug/ml;  Purgative ED50=>500 mg/kg orl mus; Trichomonicide;
  • FIBER 122,000 ppm;
  • IRON Mineral 760 ppm;
  • MAGNESIUM Mineral 3,200 ppm; AntiLyme 400-1,000 mg;
  • MANGANESE Mineral 145 ppm;
  • OXALIC-ACID: Antiseptic; CNS-Paralytic; Fatal; Hemostatic; Irritant; Pesticide; Renotoxic; Varroacide
  • NIACIN Vitamin : AntiLyme 50 mg/day;
  • PHOSPHORUS Mineral 7,570 ppm;
  • PHYSCION: Antiseptic; Purgative ED50=>500 mg/kg orl mus
  • POTASSIUM Mineral 12,200 ppm;
  • RIBOFLAVIN Vitamin 10.8 ppm; AntiLyme 50 mg/day;
  • RUMICIN Plant: Parasiticide
  • SELENIUM Mineral: Antidote (Mercury); AntiHIV; Immunostimulant 100-200 (-400) ug/man/day;
  • SILICON Mineral 13 ppm;
  • SODIUM Mineral 77 ppm;
  • TANNIN 30,000 - 60,000 ppm   Antibacterial; Antidysenteric; Antihepatotoxic; AntiHIV; Antiviral; Chelator;
  • THIAMIN Mineral 8.1 ppm; Antiherpetic; AntiLyme; Antipoliomyelitic;
  • TIN Mineral 24 ppm; Antibacterial;
  • ZINC Mineral: Antidote (Cadmium); Antiherpetic? 25-60 mg/day; AntiHIV; Antilepric; Copper-Antagonist; Immunostimulant; Trichomonicide; Vulnerary



Just as the root had very clear reproductive system manipulation activity, so do the leaves .  The links between Dock and the manipulation of the forager’s reproductive system is thus achieved via leaves and root.  The leaves have Anticervicaldysplasic;  Anticlimacteric;  Antiendometriotic;  Antiinfertility; AntiPMS; Antimenopausal; AntiPMS;  Antiestrogenic and Estrogenic [implying it can manipulate on both directions];  Antiprostanoid; and Antiprostatitic activity.

There is again activity which helps a forager with teeth problems – it is antigingivitic; antiperiodontitic, anticariogenic ; antiperiodontal; and antiplaque. 

There is also simple and general pain relief for the forager, whether the pain is caused by bad teeth or parasites, viruses or bacteria.  Dock has Analgesic; Antiinflammatory; Antiseptic; Immunostimulant;  COX-2-Inhibitor;  Tranquilizer; Antinociceptive;  and Sedative activity.

It also has sugars to help boost energy, and essential vitamins.

Chemicals and their Biological Activities in: Rumex crispus L. (Polygonaceae) -- Curly Dock, Lengua De Vaca, Sour Dock, Yellow Dock Leaves

  • ASCORBIC-ACID Vitamin C  300 - 4,054 ppm - Antibacterial; Anticold 1-2 g/man/day; Antidote (Aluminum); Antidote (Cadmium); Antidote (Lead); Antidote (Paraquat); Antihepatitic 2-6 g/man/day; Antiherpetic 1-5 g/day; Antilepric 1.5 g/man/day; AntiLyme 500-2,000 mg; Antimeasles;; Antipneumonic; Antipoliomyelitic; Antishingles; Antiviral 1-5 g/day; Cold-preventive 1-2 g/day; Vulnerary
  • AVICULARIN Antibiotic;
  • BETA-CAROTENE Vitamin  10.38 - 140 ppm  Antipapillomic;
  • CALCIUM Mineral  740 - 10,000 ppm  Antidote (Aluminum); Antidote Lead)
  • FIBER 9,000 - 121,612 ppm
  • HYPEROSIDE: Antibacterial MIC=250-500 ug/ml; Antiflu; Antiviral;
  • NIACIN Vitamin 4 - 54 ppm AntiLyme 50 mg/day;
  • PHOSPHORUS Mineral 560 - 7,568 ppm 
  • QUERCETIN: Antibacterial; Antiescherichic; Antiflu; Antiherpetic 48-150 ug/ml; AntiHIV;; Antileishmanic IC50=64; Antileukemic 5.5-60 uM IC50=10 uM IC50=>10 ug/ml; Antimalarial IC50=1-6.4 ug/ml; Antiplasmodial IC50=13-64; Antipolio; Antistreptococcic ID50=120 ug/ml; Antitrypanosomic IC50=13; Antiviral 48-150 ug/ml IC50=10 uM; Bacteristat 10 mg/ml; Copper-Chelator; HIV-RT-Inhibitor IC50=<1 ug/ml; Metal-Chelator (Copper); Plasmodicide;
  • QUERCITRIN: Antibacterial; Antiflu; Antiherpetic; Antistaphylococcic 0.412%; Antiviral;
  • RIBOFLAVIN Vitamin 0.8 - 10.8 ppm AntiLyme 50 mg/day;
  • RUMICIN: Parasiticide;
  • RUTIN: Antibacterial; Antiherpetic; Antimalarial IC50=>100 ug/ml; Antiprotozoal; Antitrypanosomic 100 mg/kg; Antiviral; Protisticide; Radioprotective;
  • THIAMIN Vitamin 0.6 - 8.1 ppm Antiherpetic; AntiLyme; Antipoliomyelitic;

How it works


Dock is not a vegetable, you don't munch on it with your Sunday roast, it needs to be treated with a great deal of respect. 

There are already commercial firms producing extracts of dockroot, but there are no tests  on what these extracts contain, nor very clear instructions on what they are good for.  If you don't have the viruses and bacteria that dock acts on this may be a very uncomfortable way to get nowhere.

You really need to know what you have, before this plant is used, as when it says purgative it means purgative. 

And when it says oxalic acid it means oxalic acid. 

It may be worth knowing that people have been poisoned after ingesting rhubarb leaves, which contain oxalic acid, and this was a particular problem during World War I when the leaves were mistakenly recommended as a food source in Britain.  But according to Wikipedia " the oxalic acid is removed by treatment with precipitated chalk".

A very useful plant, but one  which you should treat with respect.

A case of fatal poisoning due to ingestion of the plant Rumex crispus (curled dock) is described. The patient, a 53-year-old male, presented with gastrointestinal symptoms, severe hypocalcemia, metabolic acidosis and acute hepatic insufficiency. Despite therapeutic measures, the patient died 72 h after ingestion of the plant material. Noteworthy among the pathological findings were centrolobular hepatic necrosis and birefringent crystals in the liver and kidneys that were identified by histochemical techniques and scanning electron microscopy. These observations are compared with other reports in the medical literature, with an emphasis on the risk involved in the use of these plants for culinary or medicinal purposes. PMID: 2238449


References and further reading

  • Vet Hum Toxicol. 1990 Oct;32(5):468-70. Fatal poisoning by Rumex crispus (curled dock): pathological findings and application of scanning electron microscopy.  Reig R1, Sanz P, Blanche C, Fontarnau R, Dominguez A, Corbella J.1Department of Public Health, School of Medicine, University of Barcelona, Spain
  • J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1990 Jun 15;196(12):1981-4.  Acute oxalate poisoning attributable to ingestion of curly dock (Rumex crispus) in sheep.  Panciera RJ1, Martin T, Burrows GE, Taylor DS, Rice LE.  1Department of Veterinary Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater 74078
  • Antimalarial activity of nepodin isolated from Rumex crispus.-Lee KH, Rhee KH. Arch Pharm Res. 2013 Apr;36(4):430-5. doi: 10.1007/s12272-013-0055-0. Epub 2013 Feb 26. PMID: 23440579
  • Anthocyanin formation as a response to ozone and smog treatment in Rumex crispus L. Koukol J, Dugger WM Jr. Plant Physiol. 1967 Jul;42(7):1023-4.PMID: 6047104

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