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Wednesday, November 2, 2011



Dock leaves are commonly found growing with stinging nettles and are a useful antidote when you get stung. I always did as a child because I couldn’t understand how stinging nettles worked. My father would crush a dock leaf and wrap it around the area that had been stung which gave instant relief. There seems to be some debate about whether this actually works, but it does, although the red dock and crispy or yellow dock don’t. Perhaps the wrong dock leaf has been applied to the sting?
  Here is a poem about the dock leaf which I think is apt: -

The Dock
Come here, son: look! that leaf is dock,
Beside the dandelion clock.

Wherever stinging nettle grows
There, too, the healing dock leaf blows

As if to show some grand Design
Of Mother Nature, all benign,

Who suffers with her children's pain
And longs to make them well again:

Who cannot but provide relief
As in this sting-­removing leaf.


Or are there flowers that can abate
The pain when people love, or hate?

No: men and towns to dust return:
The fires drink up the clouds, and burn.

Oh no, relief is never there.
Come, we must go: and son, beware,

For where the balmy dock leaves stand
Are stinging nettles close at hand. 

Or perhaps the dock leaf didn’t work because this rhyme wasn’t said when the dock leaf was applied?

'Nettle in, Dock;
Dock in, Nettle out
Dock rub Nettle out,”
This is a traditional rhyme that country people used to say on such occasions.
  Nicholas Culpeper writing in the 17th century wrote about docks in particular and in general, and although the red dock, or bloodwort was commonly used in medicine he says that other docks such as the common one had similar properties: -
“The seed of most of the other kinds, whether gardens or fields, doth stay laxes and fluxes of all sorts, the loathing of the stomach through choler, and is helpful for those that spit blood. The roots boiled in vinegar helpeth the itch, scabs, and breaking out of the skin, if it be bathed therewith. The distilled water of the herb and roots have the same virtue, and cleanseth the skin from freckles, morphewa, and all other spots and discoloured rings therein. All Docks being boiled with meat, make it boil the sooner.”
 While it is true that young dock leaved can be used as a pot herb, it isn’t to be recommended as even grazing animals avoid them.
  The dock is related to sorrel as both belong to the Rumex genus, and so are also related to rhubarb as they are in the Polygonaceae family of plants. The dock leaf contains an antihistamine, chlorphenamine, which is responsible for it astringent action. The bruised leaves have been used to treat burns and scalds too by country people throughout the ages as they have cooling properties. The plant is called Butter dock because farm made butter was wrapped in the big, broad leaves to keep the butter cool while it was transported to markets. Mention of this use is made by George Eliot in her 19th century novel, “Adam Bede” in chapter 8 when Mrs. Poysner summons Molly.
   “Molly,” she said rather languidly, “just run out and set me a bunch of dock leaves: the butter’s ready to pack now.”
  Dock leaves have had many uses in the past, and next time you get stung by nettles, make sure you pick the right kind of dock leaf to treat the sting!

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