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Yellow Dock and the Magic of Spring

Magic is an important element in healing. It is as important as the clinical. As humans, we need to believe in our capacity to heal on a magical level, to break the boundaries of the linear and the expected – whether it comes from insight or life’s experiences. Experiencing magic shows us a place where we get a different view and a chance to reinvent the terrain.

For example, each season has it’s own magic. We are inspired when fall arrives, dropping brilliantly colored leaves, when the first snow blankets the earth, or when the heat of summer creates an explosion of life growing at exponential rates.

Springs magic arrives slowly here in the Midwest. It offers a sampling of warmth and glimpses of long awaited green. Spring represents new beginnings. It brings the power of light back into our lives, and shines it into places that need attention. Our spirit begins to awaken, and stretch as if it had been sleeping. This motivates us to clear and cleanse our bodies and the physical space we reside in. Springtime is also a time to integrate the inner work we have done throughout the winter with a clearer understanding and hopefully warmer hearts.Read more…

While clearing my garden of oak leaves from the fall, I noticed many fresh green leaves popping up, but the plant that caught my attention was Rumex crispus, also known as yellow dock or curly dock. Yellow dock is an ordinary plant to most, and one that can be taken for granted in its ubiquity and hardiness. It has not endured the harsh criticism nor modern recognition like St. Johns Wort. And it is not as popular or well known as dandelion root or burdock root to some. But it is a tried and true friend of any herbalist, and is widely recommended.

Namesake and Origin

Yellow dock is native to Europe and western Asia. It stands out with its lance-shaped leaves and nicely crisped curly edges. This is reflected in the Latin name of the plant. Rumex, translates as lanced, and crispus as curly. The stem can be 1-3 feet tall, and the leaves 6-10 inches long. The root is about 4-8 inches long, and shaped much like a carrot. It has a reddish brown bark, and the inside is yellow to orange. The taste of the root is bitter, while the leaves are astringent.

Yellow dock has naturalized to the United States easily, and can be found growing most anywhere. It does like some moisture, but I have seen it in the dry high desert of New Mexico, in the wet, warm and sunny valleys of Kentucky, across the plains and growing in ditches through Kansas, and in my back yard under the old oak tree here in the Midwest.

Native American Uses of Yellow dock

Yellow dock has touched many tribes, and has a colorful history in Native American circles. All parts of the plant were used internally and externally as medicines. The Dakota used the bruised green leaves to draw out pus from wounds. The Blackfoot, Cheyenne and Dakota tribes used the mashed fresh root pulp for rheumatic pains, swelling and sores externally. The Iroquois also applied this mash to piles, and as a poultice in yellow fever. The Cherokee, as well as the tribes mentioned above, used the root internally for constipation, and to inspire the body to cleanse the blood. Their specific indications for use were jaundice, chronic skin afflictions, intestinal colds and pain, and kidney trouble. While the root was an emetic, many of these same tribes drank a hot infusion of the seeds for diarrhea.

The Navajo considered yellow dock to be life medicine, and deemed it a panacea, or a cure for what ails you. Yellow dock’s healing power is characteristic of the direction of the east, a direction that supports life, light and growth. The Navajo used the whole plant as an emetic before ceremony to clear and cleanse the system in order to prepare the body for healing and spiritual ritual.

Modern Day Uses of Yellow dock

Yellow dock root is a medicine that supports life as a digestive tonic, acting specifically on the liver, and gall bladder to inspire function, and balance. Yellow dock root assists protein and fat digestion, assimilation of B12, A and E, and is indicated for poor iron absorption. The plants tonic effect are also potent allies for the colon. It is effective at relieving constipation as it bring tone to the wall of the large intestine, improving function. It also reduces diarrhea that is accompanied by inflammation in the colon, and is specific for colitis, ulcerative colitis, and Chron’s Disease. Jaundice is also helped by yellowdock root.

Skin conditions are synonymous with digestive and lymphatic function. If digestive function becomes depleted, the lymphatic system misaligns as well. The blood and extra cellular fluid cannot be cleaned properly, thus leading to acne and chronic skin disease, such as eczema and psoriasis. Yellow dock root is of great relief in such cases when combined with other liver tonics, such as dandelion root or Oregon grape root, and lymphatic tonics, like red root, burdock root or red clover. It is important to note that chronic skin disease is tricky to contend with, and takes a lot of time to resolve and manage. There are dietary and life style issues that must also be rectified. The herbs employed for these conditions should be chosen specific to the person’s constitution, as well as their presenting problem.

There are many instances where yellow dock root is specifically indicated. The cleansing action of this plant assists many functions. It supports the liver, thus allowing it to capably process out excess amounts of hormones. For this reason, I find it to have a place in PMS and menopausal formulas where digestion and iron absorption are an issue. When the toxic load of the body is extreme from drug and alcohol abuse, or chemotherapy, yellow dock assists detoxification, and healing through nutrient absorption. And in cases of hepatitis, I have found yellow dock root to be very useful when combined with other plants to help maintain the integrity of the liver, improve function and bring elevated enzyme levels back down to normal. It also aids an ailing and stressed immune system, when lymphatic inflammation and liver deficiency are present.

The use of yellow dock root internally can be done as a strong water decoction, or a tincture of fresh or dried root. Most people prefer the tincture, as a big hot cup of yellow dock tea is pretty bitter, and quite a lot to drink. But if you can stand it, boil 1 ½ cups of water with 1 tablespoon of dried yellow dock root. Turn down to a simmer for 30 minutes, strain, and drink. Do this 1-3 times daily. If using the tincture, 15-60 drops 2-3 times daily. Remember, yellow dock root is a tonic. These work best over time, and in small amounts.

Yellow Dock As a Homeopathic

The liver and kidney are of great support to the respiratory tract. When I have a client who suffers from chronic respiratory distress or illness, supporting liver and kidney function are part of the protocol. Interestingly enough, yellow dock as a homeopathic remedy is useful for coughs that are dry and irritated, aggravated by cool and dry wind, accompanied by glandular swelling, gastritis, poor protein digestion and a chronic sore throat. Many herbalists, myself included, may even forgo the homeopathic preparation in trade for a small amount of tincture (5 drops 3-4 times daily) of the whole plant. The astringent and supportive properties are found to be quite useful for this type of cough.

External Application

Learning to identify this plant will prove useful on hikes and back packing trips. Topically, yellow dock leaves can come in quite handy; they may be used to reduce swelling in the event of an injury. And just as the Native Americans used the bruised leaves to draw pus from wounds, so can we. The leaves may also be applied to insect stings and bites to relieve the pain, swelling and irritation.

The spirit of yellow dock is kind and ready to assist. It embodies the magic and characteristics of spring in the way that it heals and moves within us. Yellow dock resets our body’s natural rhythm pushing through stuck energy that accumulates from the winter, thus improving body function. It massages our digestive organs and inspires our body to clear internal and spiritual space. This assists our move to a brighter and clearer place emotionally. Spring holds the light, and yellow dock goes where that light is shown.


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