Eat your greens.
Mother nature is finally giving us the green light. Forget the spinach in cellophane and prechopped bagged salads — now is the time for a taste of dock, one of the season’s first wild greens.
Dock is unfurling its nutritious leaves, providing forage for adventurous eaters. Found in fields, along roadsides and almost everywhere else, this plant is ready for picking.
Hailing from Europe, dock has not endeared itself to everyone. As long ago as 1847, concerns were being raised about its potential to invade. It was certainly not to William Darlington’s taste. In his tome, Agricultural Botany: An Enumeration and Description of Useful Plants and Weeds Which Merit the Notice, or Require the Attention of American Agriculturists, Darlington observed that although “The radical leaves of this are often used as a pot-herb, or early “Greens”; the plant is an unsightly and troublesome weed — and has become so extensively naturalized as to require a vigilant attention to keep it in due subjection.”
Nutritionists might disagree as far as its value is concerned. Dock is rich in vitamins A and C, having more than either oranges or carrots. It is also high in iron, especially the root, and thus known to herbalists as an effective remedy for anemia. They called it bloodroot.
While most varieties of dock are edible, curly dock is a favorite. It is also known as yellow dock, referring to the color of its large taproot. With a lemony flavor, bitter or sour dock are also aliases.
If you are to partake, be wary of too much of a good thing. Dock is also known as a remedy for constipation and, in excess, it can cause the opposite problem.
Using raw leaves for salad or cooked in stews or sautéed like spinach are common suggestions for preparation, or harvest the root, which is known for its potency as a tooth powder. Its seeds can be roasted as a coffee substitute.
On the mystical side, it is believed that one can “cure elf sickness (laid on by one of the witches) with a mixture of dock leaves, ale, holy water, and other herbs.”
Dock is even regarded for its use as a topical medicine. For those afflicted by the irritation of another edible green, stinging nettles, there is a remedy: crush and rub dock leaves on the affected areas for relief as this unattributed poem suggests.
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.
This time of year, don’t be afraid to try something new. As American statesman Arthur Goldberg said, “If Columbus had an advisory committee he would probably still be at the dock.”
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.