Rumex obtusifolius (bitter dock, bluntleaf dock, dock leaf, butter dock)

description: perennial

place of origin: Europe

urban habitat: commonly found in vacant lots, rubble dumps, urban meadows, highway banks, drainage ditches, along railroad tracks, and in neglected ornamental landscapes; thrives in nutrient-rich, damp soils but can grow well in a variety of soil conditions; seeds can lie dormant for years before germination.

ecological function: disturbance-adapted colonizer of bare ground.

history: Rumex obtusifolius was brought to US by early settlers and is now found throughout the continental US, Alaska and Hawaii, in many parts of Canada, as well as in northern Africa, and in temperate regions of Asia. It is considered a noxious weed in many US states. Its root was used by eastern Native American tribes for its medicinal benefits: as a blood purifier and a treatment for jaundice by the Delaware and Algonquian tribes, as a skin treatment by Chippewa, and as a contraceptive by the Iriquois. In England, it was used as a treatment for nettle stings, which is often found growing nearby in the wild. In folk remedies, it has been used as a treatment for problems associated with menopause, and the root was used as a detoxifying agent for the liver. A tea made from its roots has been used for treatment of jaundice, whooping cough, boils and bleeding. The milk of the dock leaf contains tannins and oxalic acid, which is an astringent, and is used for cleansing the skin. In George Eliot’s Adam Bede, broadleaf dock leaves are used to wrap farmhouse butter. Its young leaves and stems are edible, typically cooked in order to reduce bitterness. The seed can be ground into a powder to make a gruel or added to cereal flours for making bread.