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Yellow Dock Plants

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Photo of yellow dock seeds. They're an easy way to use to identify the plant.

Photo of dried yellow dock flower-head. This is the easiest feature to use to identify the weed.

David Beaulieu

Taxonomy of Yellow Dock:

Plant taxonomy classifies yellow dock as Rumex crispus.

Plant Type:

Rumex crispus is considered a broadleaf, perennial weed.

Identification of Yellow Dock Plants:

The picture at right helps you identify yellow dock. The image shows the distinct flower-head of the plant, after the blooms have dried and turned brown (click More Images to open the mini-photo gallery, where you'll see pictures of yellow dock's dark green leaves that will further help you identify the plant). Note in particular the lanceolate shape and the curly edges of the yellow dock leaf in photo #2, from which the weed derives the nickname of "curly dock" (sometimes given as "curled dock" or "curley dock"; the species name, crispus is Latin for "curly"). Photo #3 provides some sense of the height the plant reaches at maturity (as much as 4 feet tall).

Weed Control:

Rumex crispus produces a long taproot. If you are going to try to dig it out, you must dig deeply, so as to remove the whole root; otherwise, as a perennial weed, the plant will re-emerge.

Where Yellow Dock Grows:

Indigenous to Europe, Rumex crispus has become naturalized across much of the world. It often grows in disturbed soils and is frequently found along roadsides, although it prefers humusy soils. In some states of the U.S., yellow dock is considered an invasive plant.

Caveat:

Despite its medicinal qualities (see below), Rumex crispus is listed as a plant poisonous to dogs by the ASPCA.

Yellow Dock As Home Remedy Against Stinging Nettles:

Has your skin ever brushed up against stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) while you worked in the garden? If so, you know about the burning sensation caused by their spines, followed by an itchy rash. Fortunately, Rumex crispus often grows near stinging nettle. Just roll a leaf of yellow dock between your thumb and forefinger to crush it, then doctor your wound with the juicy pulp left over and the burning will subside.

Yellow dock has, in fact, been used medicinally (for a number of ailments) for ages; but it's mainly the plant's root, rather than its leaves, that has been used in folk medicine. In fact, the common name, "yellow dock" refers to the yellowish color often found inside the root, when it is sliced open.

The yellowish root notwithstanding, the signature color of Rumex crispus, in my eyes, is brown. That's the color of the dried flower-head in fall; once you're able to use this feature to identify it as yellow dock, you'll never forget this plant. I love its texture: if you grab the coarse brown spike and slide your hand along it, you'll come away with a handful of small, crispy flakes (the seeds and dried sepals). Makes me think of coffee grounds. Which is ironic, since folks have roasted this plant's seeds for use as a coffee substitute.

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