Sour Dock Seed Uses
Answered by: Susan Eagles and Conrad Richter
Question from: Cliff Engelhardt
Posted on: July 23, 2003

Thank you for being available.

Many years ago, an elderly friend (now long deceased) visited us. She saw our yellow or sour dock plants and raved about them, and told a little how they were used in the "old" country. I believe she was born in Rumania. She taught us how to make - food pies - and I believe she used both plantain and yellow dock to make one of them. Another friend, a retired Greek baker and restaraunt owner also claimed that the yellow dock was used in his country, and was delicious. Since those times, we have often eaten dock greens, and also the greens fresh in our salads. I have harvested the plant and root along with other native plants and used them in some very healing salves.

My main question is: how are the seeds used? I vaguely remember that they could be dried, and used as a flavoring. Is this true? Are they edible? Are they medicinal? What does research and/or history say about them? Is there a good book available on wild seeds and their uses? If so, where can I find and purchase such a book? Have you written anything concerning edible wild plants? Sorry, guess I have too many questions, but anything you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

I am also wondering about lovage Seeds. It seems a waste just to cut them down and throw them out.

Thank you in advance for anything you can come up with.

Susan Eagles writes:

Some herbs that are known only for the medicinal properties of their roots or leaves, have seeds that are valuable medicines. Burdock seed and nettle seed are two of the most valued. The medicinal actions of a herb seed is often similar to the actions of the herb itself. I haven’t heard of lovage seeds or yellow dock seeds being used in food or medicine, and I don’t know of a book on wild seeds and their uses.

Steve Brill, in his book "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants", states that the tiny yellow dock seeds are covered with an inedible husk, making them unsuitable for food usage.

Conrad Richter writes:

Sour or yellow dock is also known as curled dock, which is the common name we use in our catalogue. The botanical name is Rumex crispus.

The well-known American herbalist, John Lust, writes in his "The Herb Book" that curled dock is a rich source of vitamin A, and a source of vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus and iron. Although Lust doesn’t specify the plant part, it is safe to assume that he was referring to the fresh leaves.

According to British herbalist, Mrs. Grieve, writing in her "A Modern Herbal", the seeds have been used "with advantage" in cases of dysentery owing to the seeds’ astringent action.

I did not find any evidence of the seeds being used as food which is a bit surprising given the enthusiasm of your friends for curled dock seeds. I am inclined to think that the seeds were regarded more as a "famine food" – to be consumed in times when other foods were scarce. Typically, such foods are not as nutritious or as easy to use as other foods such as the domesticated grains, which is why famine foods typically receive little attention in food books. The documented use of the seeds internally for the treatment of dysentery suggests that the seeds may at least be safe to eat as food.

Lovage belongs to the same family (Apiaceae) as many other seed spices such as coriander, caraway, celery (seed), cumin, dill and fennel. It seems reasonable to assume that the aromatic seeds of lovage can be used like the seeds of its cousins. But a cautionary tale about the use of the seeds of another member of the same family may give reason for pause. The seeds of queen anne’s lace – the wild carrot – are fragrant and tasty, but they are also contraceptive, which helps to explain why over the centuries they were never adopted by man for flavouring.

Medicinally, lovage seeds have beneficial effects on the digestive and urinary systems, helping to treat colic and flatulence and "feverish attacks" according to Mrs. Grieve.

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