Curly dock (Rumex crispus) is a plant in the buckwheat family. Many people consider curly dock to be a weed, and some people consider it to be a nuisance because of its toxicity to animals. It grows quite tall, with many reaching about six feet in height. It has one main stalk, and long flowers comprised of smaller florets. These florets have no petals and appear in early summer. The flowers slowly lose their seeds to the wind and rain. The leaves come in varying shades of green, but in the fall, as the plant loses its leaves and the flowers change colors, the plants’ appearance becomes a very reddish brown. Curly dock is found in pastures, fields, clearings in the woods and forests, along stream beds, and in abandoned urban lots across the United States and Canada. It was introduced by accident from Europe or Asia as early as the 1600s. It is now found worldwide, on every continent.
The leaves and seeds are edible by humans. Some individuals find the plant to be quite palatable and others say that the taste is too lemony. Because caterpillars are often found eating curly dock leaves, it is important to check to see that the leaves are whole and intact, instead of chewed on if you are going to eat them.
For individuals and families who enjoy consuming curly dock, the plant contains many different vitamins and minerals, especially beta-carotene, vitamin C, and zinc in the leaves. It can be consumed raw when the leaves are still curled or cooked. The seeds, if lightly toasted, can be used as a coffee substitute and are high in calcium. They can also be ground into flour and added to bread dough, cookies, crackers, and many other things.
In addition to its culinary uses, it also is known as a cure for nettle stings. Curly dock has also been used as a homeopathic medicine as a laxative, an astringent, and a tonic for rheumatism. It has also been used to treat blood diseases, skin diseases, and also jaundice. Some use it to relieve sore throats and coughs. Even though people can eat the plant and use it as a medicine with no problem, it is highly toxic to animals such as cows, sheep, and horses.
This plant’s toxicity to animals can be quite problematic. Curly dock comes back each year, both from the few seeds that drop close by, before they are carried away by the wind, and also from their root system. Each year, these plants must be cleared away from areas where livestock and other animals can reach them. Because the root is exceptionally long, the plant is difficult to remove. Herbicides are often needed to eliminate plants found on land that will be used to graze animals. Because the root is often not completely removed, the plant can return in future years. Special herbicides can prevent this plant from returning later. The hiring of a lawn service to deal with this weed is recommended so commercial grade weed control products can be used to eliminate it.