Although not in short supply, Yellow or Curled Dock (Rumex crispus) seems to me to be far more localised than its cousin, Broad-Leaved Dock (Rumex obtusifolius), so much so that when I started out as a herbalist I was harvesting the latter because I had not yet located a local source of Yellow Dock. However, once a source is found, it can be easily propagated.
Although this posting is primarily about Yellow Dock, the preference for one plant over the other does pose interesting questions. Certainly, all herbalists have a tendency to resonate with specific herbs, based both on an intuitive level and on a practical level of tried and tested. However, having looked back in many of the old herbals, I do find that fashions change. It is difficult these days to encounter a listing for Broad-Leaved Dock (represented in the lower picture of the three). One of the most recent references I know of is that in Mrs Grieves' herbal. Even then, it is given little attention other than to hint at it having similar properties to Yellow Dock.
Over the centuries, the introduction of non-native vegetables into our diet saw the decline in the diversity of the plants we eat. Along with that shrinking diversity also came a decline in the diversity of phyto-nutrients that we take into our bodies. We have become obsessed with our vitamin and mineral content, but are now greatly lacking in other diverse substances, found in our indigenous plants, that can also benefit our health. It is for this reason that I continue to explore and educate people on our indigenous plants, both as a food stuff and as a form of medicine.
Yellow dock is bitter, and so naturally cooling with its affinity for the liver and gall bladder. We see its nature reflected in its preference for cool and moist meadows. Like plants of a similar nature, this environmental preference is expressed through the varying degrees of mucilage content in their roots. I have seen Yellow Dock survive in dryer situations, but the tendency then is towards a shorter growing season, with the plant quickly going to seed.
The most obvious signature of Yellow Dock is its distinct curly leaves (hence the other common name of Curled Dock). These waves in the edges of the leaves remind me of the similar structure of the villi in the intestines. These villi increase the surface area allowing for greater absorption. Subsequently, it is unsurprising that Yellow Dock has a great influence on this part of the body.
The influence of Yellow Dock on the bowels is also interesting on a chemical level because it contains two, seemingly opposing, substances; Anthraquinone and Tannin.
Anthraquinone has an irritating effect on the bowel lining, initiating peristalsis.
In contrast, the tannin content found in Yellow Dock would tend to have the opposite affect, tannins being binding. It is this binding action that is believed to make it of value in cases of diarrhoea. Moreover, it is suggested by some sources that tannins play an anti-bacterial role, and therefore hasten the demise of microbes that are responsible for some out-breaks of diarrhoea.
In addition to the other consideration, the bitter principle in Yellow Dock gives it an influence on the liver and gall bladder, increasing the production of bile, which in turn has a natural laxative affect on the bowels. In this capacity, the bitter constituents are cooling, while the mucilage content will sooth an inflammed mucous membrane.
The yellowness of the root is the signature that indicates the herbs affinity with the liver and would be the likely source of one of its common names. It is this same influence on the liver that explains the potency of Yellow Dock in cases where skin manifestations are present. Through improved bowel function and an increased ability of the liver, Yellow Dock helps facilitate the removal of toxins from the system by the proper means, relieving the skin of this irregular burden.
Given such seemingly opposing substances it is a wonder that the effects don't cancel themselves out. One suggestion is that Yellow Dock seems to be able to influence the bowels according to the acute need. Thus, it is binding where the stool is too loose and acts as a laxative where there is constipation, essentially balancing the system. Such duality is commonly present in herbs. This is in part due to the complexity of their bio-chemical make-up, influenced by the elements and the environment that shaped them. It is this aspect, I believe, that makes them far more superior for purpose than pharmaceutical drugs. Naturally, such duality is more clearly evident when herbs are used as simples. However,specific blending is another approach that will allow one nature to dominate over another. For example, at a bio-chemical level, if we wanted the tannin to dominate then an addition of such herbs as oak bark or lady's mantel leaf, depending on the individual case, added into the mixture allows the tannin to dominate Yellow Docks action.
Modern society and the diets that sustain it, put an incredible stress on the function of the liver and the bowels. Obviously, it is vital to create awareness and change with respect to the underlying cause...but the remedies that will help restore these organs to a balanced function are all around us. Yellow Dock is one of them....and it is free for the taking. Should we not begin to see this Weed of Wonder in a different light!
Health and Happiness
The Green Man