Common Names

Yellow dock, Curled dock, Curly dock
Botanical Name
Rumex crispus

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What is it?

Yellow dock has distinctively narrow leaves that curl at the edges (hence some of its other common names). The medicinal part comes from the root which, when scraped, has a magnificent deep yellow colour.




How has it been used?

Yellow dock has a long history of use for stimulating liver function, for cleansing the blood and for helping with chronic skin problems that were traditionally associated with ‘bad blood’. These were things such as boils, acne, dry scaly eczema and psoriasis.

Yellow dock does stimulate bowel activity; it is certainly nowhere near as cathartic as herbs like Senna or Cascara but neither is it as mild as Dandelion or Burdock. You can usually rely on Yellow dock to assist with mild constipation or bowel sluggishness in any case.

Simon Mills writes this about it 'in modern clinical practice Yellow Dock is most used as an alterative or blood-cleansing remedy, applicable to the treatment of systemic toxic states of any sort where the main trouble is seen to lie in what might be termed the 'bile-bowel' axis. In other words, if there is a skin disease, or arthritic or other toxic degenerative condition, and there is the suggestion that liver and bowel dysfunction is implicated, then Yellow dock is the remedy of choice' .

Yellow dock is a remarkably mineral-rich herb; it soaks up iron and other trace minerals from the soil and transposes them into an organic form that can easily be absorbed; herbalists of old used Yellow dock to treat anaemia and blood deficiency.

Native American Indians used Yellow dock as a blood purifier and as an antidote for poisons. The leaves were applied to boils to bring out the infection and the crushed roots were put on cuts to cleanse and stimulate healing.

Culpeper writes 'the Yellow dock root is best used when either the blood or liver is affected by choler'. What he is referring to is the stuck damp heat that can particularly afflict people of the Tiger constitution; here it can especially be seen how its cooling, penetrating, cleansing action yields great relief from discomfort and disease.


Science on Yellow Dock

~ There is undoubtedly much more to the healing actions of this herb than has been investigated but what we do know is that at least part of Yellow Dock's effects are due to it containing a mixture of anthraquinones and anthraquinone glycosides.

~ The free anthraquinones remain in the intestines and cause a stimulus to the bowel by irritating the intestinal wall, the anthraquinone glycosides that are bound together with a sugar molecule are absorbed into the bloodstream and eventually stimulate a nerve centre in the lower part of the intestine that cause the muscle to become activated and so further stimulate the bowel.

~ The authors, titles and the 'where-and-when' published of nearly 20 further studies and articles on Yellow Dock are listed in a PDF found here

Cross-section of fresh Yellow Dock

Safety of Yellow Dock

The bowel cleansing action of Yellow dock is very mild and it is generally considered one of the safest herbs to use when the liver and bowel need some stimulation. Yellow dock is not listed as harmful for breastfeeding or pregnant women however small amounts of the anthraquinones may be passed into the breast milk and so likewise stimulate more bowel activity in the infant (note that the American Academy of Paediatrics consider Senna to be compatible with breast-feeding and that herb contains far more anthraquinones than Yellow dock).

I do not think Yellow dock would harm anyone but this is a potent cleansing medicine if used at therapeutic doses and I would personally not recommend it to someone who's health was not robust enough to withstand the real possibility of a healing crisis starting up after using it for a few days (when things temporarily worsen before getting better).


Personal experiences

I was always aware of Yellow dock as one of the great liver and bowel herbs but the real turning point for me to really ‘get’ this herb was when I made and tasted my first tincture of it... it was like tasting some kind of living, organic, vibrant Earth element and it blew my socks off!

If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or just have your own good reasons to want to know this plant ally at a much deeper level then I warmly recommend you to get some tincture of Yellow Dock or make a tea from it and then, with a quiet and attentive mind, take a dose of it to feel its 'action'. This ancient method of 'experiential' learning can do more to help you understand the action of a herb than any amount of academic study. Only a small dose will be required for you to feel it and I think that if you do this with an open mind you well feel for yourself how it might be that one could use this remedy with some confidence for some of those deeply stuck problems it has become famous in being able to help over the millennia.

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

In a nutshell Yellow dock is a herb with profoundly deep cleansing properties and the power of this herb to help cure people of chronic skin and digestive problems can be something rather awesome to behold.

Yellow Dock clears stuck conditions as strongly as anything I have worked with but one of the things I love about it is how you can use it for a stuck liver and bowel without causing stress or damage. As Maude Grieve says 'it has an action on the bowels similar to that of Rhubarb but operating without pain or uneasiness'

In reading through a large number of herbal reference books on Yellow Dock I came across frequent references to it being traditionally used for things like swollen glands, irritating coughs and itchy skin; this is a herb that clearly has the power to help move stuck conditions wherever it is used.

You can have no doubt that if you take Yellow dock that things will happen but, as always, the art of medicine lies in using it for the right person, the right amount of time and in the right dose...

As described below I think Yellow Dock is mainly a herb for people with too much stuck dampness, I like to use it for a reasonable time frame, perhaps somewhere between 6 weeks and 3 months on average and for dosage, at least In my own practice with the organic herb we get in, I have found that somewhere between 10 and 20 grams of the root taken in decoctions over the course of a week is ample to see its benefits or around 20 to 40 mls of the tincture in a week (the range of dose depending on someone's size, sensitivity and degree of need)

Yellow Dock combines perfectly with Dandelion root and Burdock for deep blood cleansing programs and with Licorice root to cleanse and tone the bowel. A little bit of Yellow Dock taken along with Red Clover and Cleavers is remarkably good at cleansing the lymphatic system (problems there showing with such things as swollen glands, eruptive skin, or sore joints)


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Yellow Dock is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with herb B. There is value in this approach in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another but where it falls short is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Yellow dock might work brilliantly for one person but less well for another with the same sort of symptoms -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This interesting and useful subject is introduced further here

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Yellow Dock can particularly offer its benefits when a cleansing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' , more about this here

Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

The dock roots are decidedly alterative, tonic, and are eminently useful in scorbutic, cutaneous, scrofulous, scirrhous and syphilitic affections, leprosy, elephantiasis, etc.; for which purpose we prefer the Rumex crispus (Yellow Dock) which is principally employed for its alterative and tonic influences in all cases where these are desired.

In bad blood with skin disorders it is exceedingly efficient, acting decidedly upon the glandular system, removing chronic lymphatic enlargements, and especially influencing those conditions in which there is a tendency to indolent ulcerations and low inflammatory deposits.

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd