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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
Have you foraged for curly dock? Leave a comment!
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In addition to writing for her own websites, Lisa has contributed articles to The Prepper Project and Homestead.org.
The author lives outside of Chicago with her husband, son, 2 dogs, 1 cat, and a variety of poultry.