The term Dock is botanically a noun of multitude, meaning originally

a bundle of hemp, and corresponding to a similar word signifying a

flock. It became in early times applied to a wide-spread tribe of

broad-leaved wayside weeds. They all belong to the botanical order

of Polygonaceoe, or many kneed plants, because, like the wife

of Yankee Doodle, famous in song, they are double-jointed;

though he, poor man! expecting t
find Mistress Doodle doubly

active in her household [158] duties, was, as the rhyme says,

disappointed. The name Dock was first applied to the Arctium

Lappa, or Bur-dock, so called because of its seed-vessels

becoming frequently entangled by their small hooked spines

in the wool of sheep passing along by the hedge-rows. Then

the title got to include other broad-leaved herbs, all of the Sorrel

kind, and used in pottage, or in medicine.

Of the Docks which are here recognized, some are cultivated, such

as Garden Rhubarb, and the Monk's Rhubarb, or herb Patience, an

excellent pot herb; whilst others grow wild in meadows, and by

river sides, such as the round-leafed Dock (Rumex obtusifolius),

the sharp-pointed Dock (Rumex acutus), the sour Dock (Rumex

acetosus), the great water Dock (Rumex hydrolapathum),

and the bloody-veined Dock (Rumex sanguineus).

All these resemble our garden rhubarb more or less in their general

characteristics, and in possessing much tannin. Most of them

chemically furnish rumicin, or crysophanic acid, which is highly

useful in several chronic diseases of the skin among scrofulous

patients. The generic name of several Docks is rumex, from the

Hebrew rumach, a spear; others arc called lapathum, from

the Greek verb lapazein, to cleanse, because they act medicinally

as purgatives.

The common wayside Dock (Rumex obtusifolius) is the most

ordinary of all the Docks, being large and spreading, and so coarse

that cattle refuse to eat it. The leaves are often applied as a rustic

remedy to burns and scalds, and are used for dressing blisters.

Likewise a popular cure for nettle stings is to rub them with a

Dock leaf, saying at the same time:--

Out nettle: in Dock;

Dock shall have a new smock.

[159] or:

Nettle out: Dock in;

Dock remove the nettle sting.

A tea made from the root was formerly given for the cure of boils,

and the plant is frequently called Butterdock, because its leaves

are put into use for wrapping up butter. This Dock will not thrive

in poor worthless soil; but its broad foliage serves to lodge the

destructive turnip fly. The root when dried maybe added to tooth


It was under the broad leaf of a roadside Dock that Hop o' My

Thumb, famous in nursery lore, sought refuge from a storm, and

was unfortunately swallowed whilst still beneath the leaf by a

passing hungry cow.

The herb Patience, or Monk's Rhubarb (Rumex alpinus), a

Griselda among herbs, may be given with admirable effect in

pottage, as a domestic aperient, loosening the belly, helping the

jaundice, and dispersing the tympany. This grows wild in some

parts, by roadsides, and near cottages, but is not common except as

a cultivated herb ill the kitchen-garden, known as Patience-dock.

It is a remarkable fact that the toughest flesh-meat, if boiled with

the herb, or with other kindred docks, will become quite tender.

The name Patience, or Passions, was probably from the Italian

Lapazio, a corruption of Lapathum, which was mistaken for

la passio, the passion of Christ.

Our Garden Rhubarb is a true Dock, and belongs to the many-kneed,

buckwheat order of plants. Its brilliant colouring is due to

varying states of its natural pigment (chlorophyll), in

combination with oxygen. For culinary purposes the stalk, or

petiole of the broad leaf, is used. Its chief nutrient property is

glucose, which is identical with grape-sugar. The agreeable taste

and odour of the [160] plant are not brought out until the leaf

stalks are cooked. It came originally from the Volga, and has been

grown in this country since 1573. The sour taste of the stalks is

due to oxalic acid, or rather to the acid oxalate of potash. This

combines with the lime elaborated in the system of a gouty person

(having an oxalic acid disposition), and makes insoluble and

injurious products which have to be thrown off by the kidneys as

oxalate crystals, with much attendant irritation of the general

system. Sorrel (Rumex acetosus) acts with such a person in just

the same way, because of the acid oxalate of potash which it


Garden Rhubarb also possesses albumen, gum, and mineral matters,

with a small quantity of some volatile essence. The proportion

of nutritive substance to the water and vegetable fibre is

very small. As an article of food it is objectionable for gouty

persons liable to the passage of highly coloured urine, which

deposits lithates and urates as crystals after it has cooled; and this

especially holds good if hard water, which contains lime, is drunk

at the same time.

The round-leaved Dock, and the sharp-pointed Dock, together

with the bloody-veined Dock (which is very conspicuous because

of its veins and petioles abounding in a blood-coloured juice),

make respectively with their astringent roots a useful infusion

against bleedings and fluxes; also with their leaves a decoction

curative of several chronic skin diseases.

The Rumex acetosus (Sour Dock, or Sorrel), though likely to

disagree with gouty persons, nevertheless supplies its leaves as the

chief constituent of the Soupe aux herbes, which a French lady

will order for herself after a long and tiring journey. Its title is

derived as some think, from struma, because curative [161]

thereof. This Dock further bears the names of Sour sabs, Sour

grabs, Soursuds, Soursauce, Cuckoo sorrow, and Greensauce.

Because of their acidity the leaves make a capital dressing with

stewed lamb, veal, or sweetbread. Country people beat the herb to

a mash, and take it mixed with vinegar and sugar as a green sauce

with cold meat. When boiled by itself without water it serves as an

excellent accompaniment to roast goose or pork instead of apple

sauce. The root of Sorrel when dried has the singular property of

imparting a fine red colour to boiling water, and it is therefore

used by the French for making barley water look like red wine

when they wish to avoid giving anything of a vinous character to

the sick. In Ireland Sorrel leaves are eaten with fish, and with other

alkalescent foods. Because corrective of scrofulous deposits,

Sorrel is specially beneficial towards the cure of scurvy. Applied

externally the bruised leaves will purify foul ulcers. Says John

Evelyn in his noted Acetaria (1720), Sorrel sharpens the

appetite, assuages heat, cools the liver and strengthens the heart; it

is an antiscorbutic, resisting putrefaction, and in the making of

sallets imparts a grateful quickness to the rest as supplying the

want of oranges and lemons. Together with salt it gives both the

name and the relish to sallets from the sapidity which renders not

plants and herbs only, but men themselves, and their conversations

pleasant and agreeable. But of this enough, and perhaps too much!

lest while I write of salts and sallets I appear myself insipid.

The Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) is a distinct plant from the

Dock Sorrel, and is not one of the Polygonaceoe, but a

geranium, having a triple leaf which is often employed to

symbolise the Trinity. Painters of old [162] placed it in the

foreground of their pictures when representing the crucifixion. The

leaves are sharply acid through oxalate of potash, commonly

called Salts of Lemon, which is quite a misleading name in its

apparent innocence as applied to so strong a poison. The petals are

bluish coloured, veined with purple. Formerly, on account of its

grateful acidity, a conserve was ordered by the London College to

be made from the leaves and petals of Wood Sorrel, with sugar

and orange peel, and it was called Conserva lujuoe.

The Burdock (Arctium lappa) grows very commonly in our

waste places, with wavy leaves, and round heads of purple

flowers, and hooked scales. From the seeds a medicinal tincture

(H.) is made, and a fluid extract, of which from ten to thirty drops,

given three times a day, with two tablespoonfuls of cold water,

will materially benefit certain chronic skin diseases (such as

psoriasis), if taken steadily for several weeks, or months. Dr.

Reiter of Pittsburg, U.S.A., says the Burdock feed has proved in

his hands almost a specific for psoriasis and for obstinate syphilis.

The tincture is of special curative value for treating that depressed

state of the general health which is associated with milky

phosphates in the urine, and much nervous debility. Eight or ten

drops of the reduced tincture should be given in water three times

a day.

The root in decoction is an excellent remedy for other skin

diseases of the scaly, itching, vesicular, pimply and ulcerative

characters. Many persons think it superior to Sarsaparilla. The

burs of this Dock are sometimes called Cocklebuttons, or

Cucklebuttons, and Beggarsbuttons. Its Anglo-Saxon name

was Fox's clote.

Boys throw them into the air at dusk to catch bats, which dart at

the Bur in mistake for a moth or fly; [163] then becoming

entangled with the thorny spines they fall helplessly to the ground.

Of the botanical names, Arctium derived from arktos, a bear, in

allusion to the roughness of the burs; and Lappa is from

labein, to seize. Other appellations of the herb are Clot-bur

(from sticking to clouts, or clothes), Clithe, Hurbur, and Hardock.

The leaves when applied externally are highly resolvent for

tumours, bruises, and gouty swellings. In the Philadelphia

Recorder for January, 1893, a striking case is given of a fallen

womb cured after twenty years' duration by a decoction of

Burdock roots. The liquid extract acts as an admirable remedy in

some forms (strumous) of longstanding indigestion. The roots

contain starch; and the ashes of the plant burnt when green yield

carbonate of potash abundantly, with nitre, and inulin.

The Yellow Curled Dock (Rumex crispus), so called because its

leaves are crisped at their edges, grows freely in our roadside

ditches, and waste places, as a common plant; and a medicinal

tincture which is very useful (H.) is made from it before it flowers.

This is of particular service for giving relief to an irritable

tickling cough of the upper air-tubes, and the throat, when these

passages are rough and sore, and sensitive to the cold atmosphere,

with a dry cough occurring in paroxysms. It is likewise excellent for

dispelling any obstinate itching of the skin, in which respect it was

singularly beneficial against the contagious army-itch which

prevailed during the last American war. It acts like Sarsaparilla

chiefly, for curing scrofulous skin affections and glandular

swellings. To be applied externally an ointment may be made by

boiling the root in vinegar until the fibre is softened, and by then

mixing the pulp with lard (to which some sulphur is [164] added at

times). In all such cases of a scrofulous sort from five to ten drops

of the tincture should be given two or three times a day with a

spoonful of cold water.

Rumicin is the active principle of the Yellow Curled Dock; and

from the root, containing chrysarobin, a dried extract is prepared

officinally, of which from one to four grains may be given for a

dose in a pill. This is useful for relieving a congested liver, as

well as for scrofulous skin diseases.

Huds, or the great Water Dock (Rumex hydrolapathum) is of

frequent growth on our river banks, bearing numerous green

flowers in leafless whorls, and being identical with the famous

Herba Britannica of Pliny. This name does not denote British

origin, but is derived from three Teuton words, brit, to tighten:

tan, a tooth; and ica, loose; thus expressing its power of

bracing up loose teeth and spongy gums. Swedish ladies employ

the powdered root as a dentifrice; and gargles prepared therefrom

are excellent for sore throat and relaxed uvula. The fresh root must

be used, as it quickly turns yellow and brown in the air. The green

leaves make a capital application for ulcers of the legs. They

possess considerable acidity, and are laxative. Horace was aware

of this fact, as we learn by his Sermonum, Libr. ii., Satir 4:--

Si dura morabitur alvus,

Mytulus, et viles pellent, obstantia conchae,

Et Lapathi brevis herba, sed albo non sine Coo.