The three species discussed here; Rumex hymenosepalus, Rumex acetosella and Rumux crispus, can also be known as wild rhubarb, Sheep Sorrel, Sour cane, Tanner’s dock, Sour dock, Pie dock, Curly leaf, Dock, and Yellow Dock.
Yet another species, Rumex angiocarpus, also can be known as Sheep Sorrel.
Mountain Sorrel, Oxyria digyna, is also in this family.
Distribution and Habitat
Curly dock, R. crispus, was imported from Europe. The species, Rumex hymenosepalus, is a native plant to California and was used extensively by the Native Americans. R. hymenosepalus can be found from Wyoming, Utah, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It is found in sandy stream beds and in fields below 6,000 feet elevation.
The species, R. crispus, can be found along streams and other wet areas below 8,000 feet.
Rumex acetosella is a common California edible weed which occurs in damp places throughout the state.
Description of Plant
With R. hymenosepalus, this plant has long, green leaves which appear around February. It has very short stems which has a reddish hue. Flowers and seeds appear on the central stalk which turns a rusty red in the fall.
The species R. crispus has long, narrow green leaves on a short stem which come out in clusters from the base of the plant. The leaves has ruffled edges. Flowers are greenish and turn a rusty color as they go to seed.
These two plants look very similar other than the difference in the curly leaves and the root.
Rumex acetosella is a perennial herb with lanceolate leaves with the lower leaves showing more of an arrowhead shape and with petioles longer than the blades themselves. Flowers are yellowish and turn more red with age. Flowers are produced from March through August. Fruit is small and triangular. Fruit looks much like the other members of the Rumex genus, see illustration of R. crispus for an example.
Description of Plant Uses
All sour docks are highly esteemed by many cultures around the world. They are commonly added to foods such as breaks, salads and soups.
These plants are closely related to rhubarb and are used in many of the same ways except that R. hymenosepalus needs to be cooked in water to remove the bitten tannins found in the leaves. The other species of Rumex do not have as high of concentrations of tannin.
These plants are used in omelets in countries such as India and Native Americans, such as the Miwoks of California, mashed the leaves and added as little as water and salt before eating them.
This was also commonly used as a drink plant made by simmering the leaves in water for about 20 minutes. When cooked the leaves taste similar to spinach with a tartness of lemon.
This plant is also an important and common item in the diet of many animals such as the mule deer as well as many birds.
The high amounts of tannin found in the roots allow this plant to be used to tan hides and leathers.
Ornamental Value in the Landscape
This plant, as being commonly viewed as a weed, has no ornamental use in the landscape and is unobtainable in the nursery trade.
Common Misidentification / Poisonous Lookalikes
There are no known poisonous lookalikes.
Ethnobotany / Medicinal Uses
The Hopi Indians used the roots in a tea to treat colds.
The Navajo used the powdered root as a treatment for sore throats and it was also gargled to help with sore gums.
Skin sores and swellings were also treated by a external tea made from the root.
R. crispus was used by the Pima’s to color the edges of blanket with a mustard colored dye which is produced when the plant is boiled. A mixture of salt and leaves was made into a poultice and bound to the forehead to cure headaches.
R. hymenosepalus was used to make a brown dye for wool.
The roots contain anywhere from 25% to 35% tannin which has been exported from the Americas to Europe since the 1880’s. This also contributes to one common name given, Sour Cane. This tannin can be used to tan hides and treat leather.
Dock is a a good source of Thiamin, Niacin, Folate and Calcium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.