If the first wild plant most of us learn as children is the stinging nettle, then the second one would have to be dock, an equally common plant always found in abundance. It seems unclear whether the dock really does cure a sting…is it the placebo effect? Is it that dock sap contains alkaline that will counteract against the formic acid? Is it the saliva mixed with the dock after chewing and then applied to the stung area that helps? They grow together, so they must go together?
Dock is part of the dock family and another rumex, Oxalic acid is largely abundant- no sign of alkaloids at all. Apparently they do contain antihistamine, which counteracts the natural histamines found in the nettle…but hey, I’m not a botanist. I’m like…a cook, man. (but I will say plantain beats a dock on a sting hands down). One thing I am sure many of you will agree with me on if you have ever had the pleasure of being caught short in the great outdoors sans loo paper, is that it makes a pretty good substitute. The veins on the underside of the leaves are very good at…actually, I won’t elaborate.
So we all know what dock looks like, but more importantly: can it be eaten?
In short, yes, it can. It does come with a list of warnings that the usual list of plants containing oxalic acid do: do not eat if you have poor kidney function or are in ill health. The toxic component is calcium oxalate (also found in taro, kiwi fruit , tea and rhubarb), these needle shaped crystals which can cause irritation to the skin, mouth throat and lead to stomach upset.
Still want to eat dock?
The needle shaped crystals of calcium oxalate is also known as Rhaphides, they can’t normally be destroyed by boiling, but heating them does ‘fix’ the Raphides into a dried starchy matrix, making them less mobile and thus: safer to eat. Phew! As I said, not a botanist, but worth knowing you’re shit if you’re going to put it in your mouth (that came out wrong).
So if that hasn’t scared you off, the key to eating dock is to BOIL IT. If you are in need of further convincing, Andy Hamilton did a recipe for the BBC Food website here.
Although Dock can be used as a spinach substitute, the firm leathery leaves are still robust enough to be used for parceling your food of choice even after boiling.Think of them as vine leaves that grow everywhere. To render them perfectly edible, they need to be boiled twice. Heat two pans of water and add a pinch of salt. Once on a rolling boil, stick your dock leaves in the first pan and boil for 2 minutes. Remove them from the first pan and stick them in to the second pan for a further 2 minutes. Take out the leaves and dry them off on some paper towels. You are now ready to roll…
Filling is completely up to you: Rice, couscous, quinoa, rabbit, venison, horse, mince (preferably horse-free) nettle pesto cakes, the list is endless. I like to do mine with a simple Moroccan spiced couscous: pan fry some diced onion, chilli and garlic, finely chop some tomatoes, parsley and mint, make your couscous and chuck the whole lot together with some sunflower seeds, olive oil, salt, a dash of cumin and a good squeeze of lemon juice.
Origami using vegetation has never been a strong point of mine. After spending weeks on a desert island in the South pacific weaving an entire roof out of palm, my enthusiasm for such activities wore thin. But there is a knack to it with dock leaves and here’s how:
So there you have it, dock leaves can be used for more than just placating nettle stings or wiping your backside with. Not many plants have such a plethora of uses attached to their CV.
Spring Fungal Foray & Feast: Saturday 27th April.
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In the meantime, life is busy. The wife and I are moving back to the UK leaving the sun, sea and surf of SW France behind (booo!) and relocating back to good ole’ Sussex. I am then off to Ethiopia with World Vision in March to hang out with some hunter-gatherers and write about it, what an adventure!
Get docking people!