Bitter Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects

Bitter Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects

Bitter Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius) Overview

Bitter Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius) other names : Bitter Dock , Blunt-leaved Dock , Broad-leaved Dock , Common Dock , Red-veined Dock , Round-leaved Dock.

The bitter dock is a perennial non-woody aromatic herb that grows up to anything between two feet and five feet. This European dock with broad obtuse leaves and bitter rootstock has a straight stalk that is greenish in color usually with red streaks. The herb produces large leaves at the bottom that may be up to 14 inches long and have rounded or heart-shaped bases, while the leaves on the higher branches of the plant are usually smaller and leaner. Between the period June and September, the bitter dock produces petite green colored flowers in crowded bunches that appear on tall stems at the top of the plant. After the flowers are gone, tiny fruits having a solitary seed appear on the calyx.

Bitter Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Bitter Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius) plant

These fruits are covered by three deeply jagged valves resembling wings. These seeds possess jagged wing arrangement enabling them to be scattered by wind or water for propagation. Their jagged or toothed configuration also enables the seeds to attach to the animal hides or machinery and be taken to far away places for dispersal. Bitter dock seeds have the capability to remain dormant for several years before they can germinate under suitable conditions. As a result it is necessary to pull or till the areas where the seeds lie dormant so that they are able to come up to the top soil for germination. The plants can produce seeds in the very first year of their growth and this make it important for detecting them early on for purging.

The scientific name for bitter dock is Rumex obtusifolius and the plant can be easily recognized owing to its extremely big leaves and also because of the fact that some of the leaves at the base of the plant have red stalks. The borders of the bitter dock leaves are crispy or wavy to some extent. The stalks of the plant have joints or nodes that are covered by a thin membrane resembling paper and called ocrea. It may be mentioned here that such nodes and ocrea are typical of the plants belonging to the Polygonaceae family.

The herb bears large clusters of flowers enclosed in racemes (cone-like structures) that are initially green in color, but transform into reddish hue when they mature. These racemes are held on a solitary stalk that develops higher than the leaves and blossoms right from June to September. The plants bear fruits each of which enclose a single reddish-brown color seed. Even the seedlings of the bitter dock are easy to recognize as they have egg-shaped or oval leaves with reddish stems.

The bitter dock is a familiar plant in North America where it is usually known as the garden weed that is especially obstinate and spreads outrageously. Presently there are over 20 different species of dock in North America and South America (also known as New World) and some of these were brought in from Europe. Among these different varieties of dock, the bitter dock, yellow dock and patience dock are prominent. Although these plants differ from one another in terms of size, leaf, flower and fruit, the therapeutic and cookery uses have common characteristics. 

However, the traditional usage of these plants and their different parts are not evidently differentiated. However, herbal medicine practitioners were aware of the dock's therapeutic value as a laxative since the ancient times. Several hundred years later, medical practitioners in England during the Anglo-Saxon period often made use of a blend of dock leaves, other herbs, ale and holy water to treat people who were supposed to have been ailing owing to ‘elf sickness' allegedly caused by witchcraft.

Bitter Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Bitter Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius) leaves

With the turn of the 17th century, ingestion of a tea prepared with bitter dock roots was considered to provide relief from toothache and treated inflammation when it was used as a wash. 

The bitter dock is indigenous to Europe and, hence, is also often referred to as the European dock. However, over the years, the plant has been naturalized all over the United States where it is regarded as a common weed for its vigorous and uncontrolled growth.

Bitter Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius) Health Benefits

Modern day scientific researches have corroborated the practice of the traditional herbal medical practitioners whereby they used a tea prepared with bitter dock to cure constipation or clear bowel movements. In fact, the bitter dock serves as an effective laxative. The young and tender leaves of the plant may be consumed fresh as a green salad or even be prepared in the same manner as spinach is cooked. On the other hand, the bitter dock root also produces a yellow colorant.

Bitter Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Bitter Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius) picture

The juice or ‘milk' extracted from the bitter dock leaf is said to enclose tannins and oxalic acid that are basically astringents. In a number of places in the United Kingdom herbalists treat nettle stings (the irritating sensation caused by ‘nettle', an herbaceous flowering plant found in Europe, Asia, northern Africa and North America) by forcefully massaging a dock leaf on the area of the sting. Interestingly enough, the ‘dock leaves' as the bitter dock leaves are often called are frequently found growing in the vicinity of the nettles. A tincture prepared with the bitter dock leaves is useful in treating menopause problems. And, going by the prescriptions of traditional herbal treatment, roots of the bitter dock plant has a marked detoxifying effect on the liver and it also helps to cleanse the skin of all its blemishes.