Yellow dock is a bitter herb that has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years.
In traditional medicine, yellow dock was specifically used as a mild laxative, for cleansing the blood, and for skin issues.
Yellow dock is a bitter herb that is helpful for supporting the secretion of bile, which kickstarts the body’s digestion process.
In this article, we will look at the health benefits of yellow dock, its safety, and its history.
Table of Contents
- What is Yellow Dock?
- Health Benefits of Yellow Dock:
- Is Yellow Dock Safe?
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Yellow Dock?
Yellow dock is a perennial plant in the Polygonaceae family. It’s considered a “wildflower” and can be found growing across the globe.
The scientific name for yellow dock is Rumex crispus which refers to the shape of its leaves and bitter taste. It gets its common name from its bright yellow roots, which are traditionally used as a medicine.
In traditional medicine, a decoction of yellow dock root was used as an alterative to “purify the blood”. It was also used as an anti-inflammatory agent for skin conditions.
Modern research shows that the phenolic compounds present in the plant, including flavonoids and tannins, may be responsible for it’s anti-inflammatory and skin-supporting effects.
According to The Botanical Safety Handbook, however, there are some accounts of yellow dock leaf toxicity in animals, but hundreds of years of traditional use provide evidence that it can be supportive when the proper part of the plant (i.e. the root) is used.
Further, while there is a lack of human clinical trials on yellow dock, some animal and lab-based studies highlight the various health benefits of yellow dock’s active constituents.
Health Benefits of Yellow Dock:
Animal and lab studies indicate that yellow dock benefits the body in a number of ways.
Below is a compilation of research-backed studies and expert knowledge from well-renowned herbalists on the benefits of yellow dock and its active constituents.
1. May Reduce Inflammation
Research shows that yellow dock may help to reduce inflammation.
Inflammation is a healing response controlled and regulated by the immune system. Short-term inflammation is a necessary response that supports the body’s healing process, however, chronic inflammation is the body’s way of saying something is wrong and is known to lead to health issues over time.
In an animal study involving rats, yellow dock root extract was applied internally to fibrous scar tissue in the abdomen and significantly reduced pro-inflammatory markers. The researchers noted that yellow dock root extracted in 60% methanol was the most effective extraction for lowering inflammatory markers.
Researchers found that the combination of Rumex crispus and cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris) has the ability to encourage immune response and promote anti-inflammatory activity. The results were attributed to the two phytochemicals chrysophanol (yellow dock) and cordycepin (cordyceps).
An animal study involving a cousin of Rumex crispus, Rumex abyssinicus, discovered that Rumex abyssinicus extract shows promising anti-inflammatory and healing effects for topical wounds. Researchers attributed this effect to the phenolic content found in Rumex abyssinicus (which is also found in Rumex crispus).
Summary:Small scale studies show that yellow dock has anti-inflammatory properties. Large scale human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
2. May have Antioxidant Support
The benefits of yellow dock have been shown to include antioxidant effects.
Antioxidants are molecules that work to neutralize free radicals. They are thought to benefit overall health and support healthy aging.
A lab study found that yellow dock extract has a strong ability to decrease various oxidation markers.
Another lab study discovered that yellow dock fruit extract had the ability to inhibit chemical-induced oxidative stress. The researchers also found that yellow dock brought antioxidant levels back to normal, thus exhibiting a regulating effect.
Summary:Lab research shows that yellow dock has antioxidant properties. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these benefits for humans.
3. Antimicrobial Properties
Clinical lab research has shown that yellow dock may have antimicrobial properties.
Microbes, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites, are tied to a variety of disease states. Using natural antimicrobial herbs can help to fight off the effects of attacking microbes.
A comparison lab study discovered that yellow dock extract, from both the root and leaves, has varying degrees of antibacterial, antiparasitic, and antifungal effects. It should be noted that the root extract was more effective in fighting against microbes than the leaf extract.
Another lab study showed that yellow dock extract is toxic to roundworms, a common parasite.
Summary:Lab studies show that yellow dock has strong antimicrobial properties.
4. May Have an Alterative Effect
Evidence shows that yellow dock has promising alterative effects.
Alterative herbs support the body in eliminating metabolic waste that is left behind by cells in the blood and lymphatic system. Herbs of this nature are said to improve the overall ability of the tissue to detox, preventing build-up and disease.
In the Physiomedical Dispensatory (1869), a traditional herbal text, Dr. William Cook mentions that yellow dock has alterative properties that are of the “slowly relaxing and stimulating class.” He goes on to say that it may be due to its astringent effect and that yellow dock acts as a mild alterative tonic.
Contemporary herbalist Christopher Hobbs mentions that yellow dock is a good “blood-cleansing remedy” and may be helpful for skin conditions such as acne or psoriasis.
The King’s American Dispensatory (1898), another traditional text, writes that Rumex crispus can be used as an alterative and alterative tonic for any situation that needs this therapy. Dr. Felter and Dr. Lloyd then go on to say that it is exceedingly helpful for “bad blood with skin disorders.”
Another well-renowned herbalist, Matthew Wood, brings to light that yellow dock is traditionally used as a blood cleaner for skin conditions. He specifically mentions the skin ailment that involves “rusty red skin with yellow oozing serum.” The astringent properties support the alterative effects by preventing the outflow of fluids in this case.
Summary:Traditional usage indicates that yellow dock helps to support the body’s natural blood detoxification process. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these claims.
5. May Support Skin Health
Traditional and modern therapeutic practices mention that yellow dock benefits skin health.
An animal study using Rumex abyssinicus, a cousin of yellow dock, found that the phenolic content in the extract has anti-inflammatory and healing effects for skin wounds. The phytochemicals responsible for this effect are also found in Rumex crispus.
Herbalist Christopher Hobbs mentions that yellow dock can support skin ailments, such as psoriasis and acne, by cleansing the blood and getting the lymphatic system moving.
Maude Grieve (1931), a traditional herbalist, mentions in her book, A Modern Herbal, that yellow dock can be employed for chronic skin diseases that erupt from blood diseases.
Summary:Historical usage suggests that yellow dock may help to support skin health. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these statements.
6. May Support Gastrointestinal Issues
Yellow dock has been traditionally used for ailments of the stomach and as a digestive tonic due to its astringent and bitter properties.
Bitter herbs encourage bile production in the liver and gall bladder. This improves the digestion and absorption of food, especially fatty foods.
Herbal texts mention that yellow dock root has traditionally been used to support digestion and appetite. The bitter constituents found in yellow dock can increase bile production, and thus help to improve digestion.
Christopher Hobbs says that yellow dock can be used as a mild laxative, as well as a way to stop chronic diarrhea, due to its astringent properties.
Dr. Felter and Llyod mention in the King’s American Dispensatory that Rumex crispus is helpful for “painless watery diarrhea.” They go on to mention that smaller doses can soothe nervous indigestion, gas, and bloating.
Another traditional text, the Physiomedical Dispensatory, labels yellow dock as “fairly laxative” and can impart a tonic effect on the gastrointestinal tract.
Summary:Yellow dock has been traditionally used to improve digestion and as a mild laxative. Additional research is needed to confirm these findings.
7. Other Benefits
Other purported yellow dock health benefits include:
Improve Iron Absorption: Herbalists, Christopher Hobbs and Matthew Wood, say that although yellow dock’s iron content is not significant enough to have an effect, the plant’s Vitamin C content does work with the body to fully take in and handle iron better.
Herbalist Ryan Drum points out that yellow dock does have a 4% iron content. While this isn’t enough iron to improve blood levels, it can help to boost iron intake.
Reduce Diabetic Symptoms: A lab study found that Rumex crispus extract shows promising effects for regulating the release of glucose, and thus could potentially help to stabilize blood sugar.
Summary:Yellow dock has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
Is Yellow Dock Safe?
Safety Class: 1
Interaction Class: A
Consuming yellow dock root is generally safe for most individuals.
According to the Botanical Safety Handbook (2013), yellow dock is in the safest class of herbs (Class 1) and does not have any record of herb-drug interactions (Class A).
Hoffmann (2003) mentions that ingestion of fresh yellow dock root may lead to vomiting. This reaction is thought to be due to the high oxalate content in the leaves.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
The Botanical Safety Handbook (2013) says that due to a lack of information on yellow dock safety, those that are pregnant or lactating should avoid taking this plant.
It should be noted that herbalist Christopher Hobbs does mention that yellow dock has traditionally been taken by pregnant women to improve iron intake.
Standard dosing for yellow dock is as follows:
Decoction: Add 1 cup of boiling water to 1 to 2 tsp of the dry root. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and strain out the root. Drink 3x/day.
Tincture (1:5): 1 – 2 ml, 3x/day
Dried herb (root): 2 – 4g/day
Fluid Extract (1:1): 2-4 ml, 3x/day
Yellow Dock Leaves: Blanch young leaves for a minute or two in boiling water to remove oxalic acid then discard the water.
Yellow dock is not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list and is generally considered to be unimpacted by human activities.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Yellow dock’s scientific name is Rumex crispus. There are over 200 species in the Rumex spp., which is commonly called “sorrel” or “dock.” The plants in the Rumex family share some of the same active constituents but are not always interchangeable.
Rumex crispus is in the Polygonaceae family (i.e. knotweed) and is considered a perennial. The name “rumex” originates from the Greek word for dart and is used to describe the shape of the leaves.
This “wildflower” herb is prevalent and can be found in areas with disturbed ground (roadsides, etc…). It is native to Europe, North Africa, and Central and East Asia and loves full sun.
Yellow dock is well known for its bright yellow tap root that can grow up to 3 feet long underground. The leaves are spear-like in shape and the tiny, green flowers turn a dark brownish-red when they go to seed.
The herb gets its common name “yellow dock” from the yellow color of the root.
Yellow dock tastes bitter and astringent, and has a cooling energy. It is considered to be invasive in North America, New Zealand, and Australia.
Other Rumex species carry many of the same active constituents as yellow dock, however, they are not all interchangeable medicinally.
Some other species of dock include:
- Rumex acetosa
- Rumex maritimus
- Rumex nepalensis
- Rumex palmatum
Other common names include curled dock, Labada (Turkish), and jinbuhuan (Chinese).
History & Traditional Use:
Yellow dock has a rich history as a traditional medicine. The earliest record of the medicinal use of Rumex spp. was in the Chinese text “Shennong’s Herbal Classic”, where it was used to treat scabies and gynecological diseases.
While Rumex crispus is not a plant that is used as a food, other plants in the family have been transported all around the world as a “bitter green” that can support digestion. In China, Rumex crispus, along with 6 other Rumex cousins, is used as a hemostatic, or as a way to stop bleeding.
In India, yellow dock and 8 other Rumex species are used for astringent purposes and European folk medicine mentions that they were used for their anti-inflammatory properties.
While yellow dock roots are safe to take, there should be some caution around eating the fresh leaves of this plant.
It is recommended to take yellow dock as a decoction, tincture, extract, or as a formula for cleansing the blood.
If you are considering the use of yellow dock, it is important to do so in moderation. Remember to first consult your health care practitioner if you are thinking about making any changes to your daily routine.
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