Wildcrafting & Foraging

How to Harvest and Use Curly Dock

How to harvest and use curly dock graphic
How to harvest and use curly dock graphic

How to Harvest and Use Curly Dock

Curly dock (also known as yellow dock, sour dock, and butter dock, as well as other names) is one of the first wild greens ready to harvest in spring. This relative of rhubarb is a hardy herbaceous perennial weed native to Europe that has naturalized in the US. Look for it along roadsides, ditches, edges of wooded areas, and in fields. The lance shaped leaves grow in a basal rosette and have ruffled, or ‘curly’ edges, often with a reddish tinge. As the season progresses it sends up a flower stalk that looks similar to rhubarb flowers. The papery seeds and flower stalk mature to a reddish brown in late summer and are easy to spot in the landscape.

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curly dock omelette
My lunch yesterday – an omelette made with curly dock leaves and Egyptian walking onions…with shaved Romano cheese.

Curly dock contains oxalic acid which gives it a tart flavor and locks up nutrients in your digestive system if consumed in quantities. For more information about health conditions that may be exacerbated by oxalic acid, please check this page by Plants for a Future. Curly dock should not be consumed by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It is toxic to livestock, although they tend to avoid the bitter leaves and would have to eat quite a bit to be poisoned.

curly dock seeds
Seeds in summer, before they mature and dry out.

How to Use Curly Dock Leaves

Harvest leaves when young and tender for best flavor. They will have a slimy texture…this is good. These leaves are not as bitter. Use them raw or cooked. The flavor is often described as lemony. I’m not sure about lemony, maybe my taste buds are weird. But I do find the flavor tart and earthy.

Cooked up as greens in a pot of boiling water, curly dock leaves remind me very much of the flavor of marsh marigold, which my family called cow slips. My grandparents took me ‘cow slipping’ in early spring as a kid. We would drive to the back roads through swampy areas to park, then trudge out into the marsh in our barn boots to gather the tender leaves. My Gram cooked up the greens in boiling water and we would pour on a little apple cider vinegar. Even as a picky kid I learned to enjoy the flavor. Cow slips aren’t plentiful in our area, so I leave them and harvest curly dock as an alternative…and I savor the flavor in spring!

curly dock rosette of leaves
Rosette of Curly Dock in spring.

Wash thoroughly and use leaves raw in salads or in place of lettuce on a sandwich. Chop into hummus or sour cream dip for a ‘lemony’ flavor. 🙂

Wash chop, and cook leaves in omelettes, stir fries, soups, stews, or in other dishes in place of spinach. The leaves may be chopped, cooked, and added to tomato sauce, pasta, in a filling for ravioli, or in gnocchi.  Cook up a “mess ‘o greens” in boiling water and drizzle with vinegar like we did when I was a kid.

curly dock dried seeds
Collect mature seeds, winnow, and grind to make flour. This is very time consuming but it’s good to know for survival situations.

Eating The Seeds

Mature seeds may be harvested and used to grind flour, although this is a time consuming task. Check for more information on this page by Practical Self Reliance…Foraging Dock Seeds ~ Wild Foraged Flour. It is reputed to taste similar to buckwheat, another related plant.

I haven’t tried eating the seeds of curly dock yet. We don’t have enough growing in our area to collect the quantity of seeds needed to make flour. I’d like to try it someday.

Using Curly Dock Roots

The branched taproots are yellow in color and may be harvested. I’ve read several comments that curly dock roots may be eaten as a substitute for potatoes, but I’m pretty sure that they don’t taste the same. Another foraging goal of mine is to harvest some and at least give them a try.

For information about preparing curly dock root for potential medicinal uses, check out How to Harvest, Prepare, and Use Yellow Dock Root Medicinally by Survival Sherpa.

curly dock leaves, blanched and ready to freeze
Curly dock leaves, blanched and ready for the freezer.

Preserving Curly Dock Leaves

Blanch leaves for 1 minute, cool, and freeze or dehydrate and store in a cool, dry, dark place until ready to use.

I spent several hours yesterday harvesting, cleaning, chopping, and blanching curly dock and stinging nettles for lunch, dinner, and for freezing. These tasty greens will be much appreciated in the winter while the garden and wild areas sleep under a blanket of snow.

Before You Eat Wild Edibles

Before you eat any wild plants, make sure you have identified them correctly and you’re preparing them properly. This post is not intended as a identification guide and you should use a reliable source to identify wild foods before consuming. You are responsible for your own health and well being!

This website has some interesting information about curly dock…

Curly Dock ~ Eat the Invaders

Have you foraged for curly dock? Leave a comment!

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21 Comments on “How to Harvest and Use Curly Dock

    1. You’re welcome, David! I noticed the curly dock is starting to sprout here in northern Illinois. I’m looking forward to cooking up a mess of greens. 🙂

  1. I have what has become a large patch of curly dock.. I have never eaten them. I just cut them down, Last year because of my constant cutting them back they had no blooms talks thus no seeds.. then this year the area they grow in has exploded with multiple plant and has expanded to a plot double or triple its normal size.
    I plan on trying them this year and not cut off the bloom stalks so I can try utilizing the seeds.

    1. Hi Nancy,
      You should notice that the roots have a yellow coloration on the surface if you dig some up. The young leaves are tasty but it’s best to avoid them as they get larger and contain more oxalic acid. Thanks for stopping by and sharing. I hope you enjoy them!

    1. Hi Caylea,
      I have read differing opinions on this. One source lists it as safe but I would do a lot of research before eating if pregnant. Curly dock has oxalic acid in it and should be eaten in moderation.

  2. Hi there! Thank you for the information. Do you know why it is not advised for pregnant women?

  3. Hi Lisa, thanks for sharing our link in your fine article! I’ll have to cruise around your site for a bit. The self-reliance challenge sounds fun!

    1. Happy to share, Todd…I’m impressed by all you do and the educational service you provide on the Survival Sherpa. Thanks for sharing so much great information.

      I think that you take the self reliance challenge to a new level!

    1. Thank you very much, Frank! I am planning to try making a tincture from the root, as described in the Survival Sherpa article I linked to. I’m always interested in natural medicines from the wild.

    2. I have it growing all over my yard and I have tryed to kill it but it comes right back. I am afraid to eat stuff that I don’t know what it’s for can you tell me what kind of meds is it used for?
      I need to get rid of this plant it’s everywhere in my grass my flowers ,how can I get rid of it. And to keep it from returning?
      Thanks Nancy

      1. Hi Nancy,
        I don’t use this plant medicinally so I can’t offer advice about that. To get rid of it, you will need to mow it, dig it up, or use an herbicide. I don’t like to use herbicides and I opt for a natural method, such as digging the roots up. I hope this helps.

  4. Thank you, Lisa, this is an excellent post. I have curly dock growing in abundance; the only use I’d ever heard of was grinding the seeds for flour, something I’ve never tried. The leaves in my field are probably too big already to try this year.

    1. Thank you, Kathi! You could check in the center of the rosette for new leaves. I have actually used the medium aged leaves too and cooked them like spinach. I just don’t eat a big plateful to avoid overdoing it. Of course, you are farther south than I am so you might be right about the leaves being too big!

  5. I can attest that the curly dock omelet was very tasty! (I’m not always home at lunchtime, but I got home just in time yesterday when Lisa was working on this.)

    And I had some of the curly dock greens mixed with stinging nettle with dinner. I added a little salt and a vinaigrette dressing, but I’m sure it would be good with just vinegar and salt. However you eat spinach – do the same for these greens.

    1. Happy to share, ShawnaLee! Since your livestock can’t eat it…you may as well make good use of it. 🙂

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