Interesting facts about dock leaves

by Mars

Dock leaves are present in almost every field, garden and lawn, and it is extremely likely that you have them growing or in a dormant state in your garden. In fact, dock seeds were found in soil samples from over a third of UK gardens. Home Farm certainly isn’t short of a few.

This post has been motivated by a chat we had with Darlac on Twitter recently, where they shared some interesting facts about dock leaves, which prompted me to look into them. I hit the books to find out more and have put together my findings below.

There are a number of common weedy docks, and from a gardening perspective they’re all equally plentiful, annoying and unsightly.

They are abundant in cultivated ground, wild fields, farm yards, river banks and lawns. What makes them so prolific is their deep, tough taproot and ability to produce ridiculously high quantities of seed. Under favourable conditions, a single dock plant can produce an astonishing 30,000 seeds.

I’ve checked several gardening books and The Book of Weeds cites that dock seeds can survive in the soil for up to a century. Other sources state that seeds can lie dormant in soil between 25-50 years. Whichever source is correct there’s no denying that docks have a survival and preservation mechanism that’s built to last.

dock leaves

Uses

Just about everybody in the UK knows that you rub dock leaves on the area of skin where you’ve been stung by nettles. I’ve done it and it does help a little bit.

Some people eat young dock leaves that are harvested in early spring. From what I’ve read, it’s light lemony flavour is an acquired taste. They can also be added to nettle soup. Maybe I’ll try them next year.

Used correctly, docks can have a laxative effect that stimulates gut motion, making it a good natural remedy for constipation, reflux and stomach acid issues.

You can also use curled dock leaves to make a vodka based tincture that some believe helps with skin problems and constipation.

Dock leaves in history

The practice of using dock leaves to alleviate stinging nettle burn goes back centuries where it is mentioned in Chaucer′s Troilus and Criseyde.

Historical records show that dock leaves helped cure Julius Caesar’s soldiers of scurvy.

In 1653, Culpeper suggested boiling dock roots in vinegar for “bathing itches, scabs and breaking out of the skin.”

There are also numerous references to dock leaves in traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and Classical Greek texts.

These numerous historical references suggest that docks have grown in abundant quantities for millennia.

How to get rid of dock leaves

Seedlings can simply be killed off by hoeing or delicate hand picking, but as soon as taproots have been allowed to develop they become a nightmare to get rid of. Established plants can only be killed by digging out the top 15-20cm of the taproot because the plant will not be able to resprout from a deeper point.

With long-term control and removal in mind, it’s critical to stop seed production. You can do this by cutting down the flowering stems to stop them from spreading.

9 comments

Steve Elliott 12 July 2020 - 08:15

I’m sure there used to be a tool called a Dock Spade which had a long, narrow, tapered blade. That’s how they got rid of them before the modern chemicals. I couldn’t find any but they still make a spade called a drainer or a drain spade which looks the same.

Reply
Mars 12 July 2020 - 08:27

That’s a top tip. Thanks Steve. I’m going to have a look online because we don’t want to use chemicals in our field.

Reply
Steve Elliott 12 July 2020 - 11:47

Hi Mars, I came across this one –
https://www.fruithillfarm.com/dock-ragwort-digger.html

Which is a double pronged fork rather than a spade. It’s got a good review. Be worth a try.

Reply
Mars 12 July 2020 - 12:54

That’s awesome Steve. Great find.

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Diana Peach 12 July 2020 - 16:15

These things are so hard to get rid of. I just try to chop them down each year before they seed. 🙂 Too bad they don’t have pretty flowers!

Reply
Mars 12 July 2020 - 16:26

You’re spot on. The fact that they’re ugly and don’t contribute aesthetically to any setting is part of the issue.

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Brijesh 31 July 2020 - 14:32

Very informative..great post

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Sheila Murrey 24 August 2020 - 20:32

So true about dock leaves taking the sting out of stinging nettle! It happened to me (I got stung by the stinging nettle), while going into St Kevin’s well in Glendalough last July! And again out back of Rosslyn Castle (on our way to visit the Yew tree there), and thankfully, one of the guides with us grabbed me some dock leaves to rub on the sting! I will never forget that! ❤️🦋🌀

Reply
Mars 24 August 2020 - 21:57

Thanks for the comment Sheila. I can also vouch that rubbing dock leaves alleviates the burning sensation of stinging nettles. It’s a useful trick to know.

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