|HERBAL SIMPLES APPROVED FOR MODERN USES OF CURE
W. T. FERNIE, M.D.
Author of "Botanical Outlines," etc_
The term Dock is botanically a noun of multitude, meaning originally
a bundle of hemp, and corresponding to a similar word signifying a
flock. It became in early times applied to a wide-spread tribe of
broad-leaved wayside weeds. They all belong to the botanical order
of _Polygonaceoe_, or "many kneed" plants, because, like the wife
of Yankee Doodle, famous in song, they are "double-jointed;"
though he, poor man! expecting to find Mistress Doodle doubly
active in her household  duties, was, as the rhyme says,
"disappointed." The name "Dock" was first applied to the _Arctium
Lappa_, or Bur-dock, so called because of its seed-vessels
becoming frequently entangled by their small hooked spines
in the wool of sheep passing along by the hedge-rows. Then
the title got to include other broad-leaved herbs, all of the Sorrel
kind, and used in pottage, or in medicine.
Of the Docks which are here recognized, some are cultivated, such
as Garden Rhubarb, and the Monk's Rhubarb, or herb Patience, an
excellent pot herb; whilst others grow wild in meadows, and by
river sides, such as the round-leafed Dock (_Rumex obtusifolius_),
the sharp-pointed Dock (_Rumex acutus_), the sour Dock (_Rumex
acetosus_), the great water Dock (_Rumex hydrolapathum_),
and the bloody-veined Dock (_Rumex sanguineus_).
All these resemble our garden rhubarb more or less in their general
characteristics, and in possessing much tannin. Most of them
chemically furnish "rumicin," or crysophanic acid, which is highly
useful in several chronic diseases of the skin among scrofulous
patients. The generic name of several Docks is _rumex_, from the
Hebrew _rumach_, a "spear"; others arc called _lapathum_, from
the Greek verb _lapazein_, to cleanse, because they act medicinally
The common wayside Dock (_Rumex obtusifolius_) is the most
ordinary of all the Docks, being large and spreading, and so coarse
that cattle refuse to eat it. The leaves are often applied as a rustic
remedy to burns and scalds, and are used for dressing blisters.
Likewise a popular cure for nettle stings is to rub them with a
Dock leaf, saying at the same time:--
"Out nettle: in Dock;
Dock shall have a new smock."
"Nettle out: Dock in;
Dock remove the nettle sting."
A tea made from the root was formerly given for the cure of boils,
and the plant is frequently called Butterdock, because its leaves
are put into use for wrapping up butter. This Dock will not thrive
in poor worthless soil; but its broad foliage serves to lodge the
destructive turnip fly. The root when dried maybe added to tooth
It was under the broad leaf of a roadside Dock that Hop o' My
Thumb, famous in nursery lore, sought refuge from a storm, and
was unfortunately swallowed whilst still beneath the leaf by a
passing hungry cow.
The herb Patience, or Monk's Rhubarb (_Rumex alpinus_), a
Griselda among herbs, may be given with admirable effect in
pottage, as a domestic aperient, "loosening the belly, helping the
jaundice, and dispersing the tympany." This grows wild in some
parts, by roadsides, and near cottages, but is not common except as
a cultivated herb ill the kitchen-garden, known as "Patience-dock."
It is a remarkable fact that the toughest flesh-meat, if boiled with
the herb, or with other kindred docks, will become quite tender.
The name Patience, or Passions, was probably from the Italian
_Lapazio_, a corruption of _Lapathum_, which was mistaken for
_la passio_, the passion of Christ.
Our _Garden Rhubarb_ is a true Dock, and belongs to the "many-kneed,"
buckwheat order of plants. Its brilliant colouring is due to
varying states of its natural pigment (_chlorophyll_), in
combination with oxygen. For culinary purposes the stalk, or
petiole of the broad leaf, is used. Its chief nutrient property is
glucose, which is identical with grape-sugar. The agreeable taste
and odour of the  plant are not brought out until the leaf
stalks are cooked. It came originally from the Volga, and has been
grown in this country since 1573. The sour taste of the stalks is
due to oxalic acid, or rather to the acid oxalate of potash. This
combines with the lime elaborated in the system of a gouty person
(having an "oxalic acid" disposition), and makes insoluble and
injurious products which have to be thrown off by the kidneys as
oxalate crystals, with much attendant irritation of the general
system. Sorrel (_Rumex acetosus_) acts with such a person in just
the same way, because of the acid oxalate of potash which it
Garden Rhubarb also possesses albumen, gum, and mineral matters,
with a small quantity of some volatile essence. The proportion
of nutritive substance to the water and vegetable fibre is
very small. As an article of food it is objectionable for gouty
persons liable to the passage of highly coloured urine, which
deposits lithates and urates as crystals after it has cooled; and this
especially holds good if hard water, which contains lime, is drunk
at the same time.
The round-leaved Dock, and the sharp-pointed Dock, together
with the bloody-veined Dock (which is very conspicuous because
of its veins and petioles abounding in a blood-coloured juice),
make respectively with their astringent roots a useful infusion
against bleedings and fluxes; also with their leaves a decoction
curative of several chronic skin diseases.
The _Rumex acetosus_ (Sour Dock, or Sorrel), though likely to
disagree with gouty persons, nevertheless supplies its leaves as the
chief constituent of the _Soupe aux herbes_, which a French lady
will order for herself after a long and tiring journey. Its title is
derived as some think, from struma, because curative 
thereof. This Dock further bears the names of Sour sabs, Sour
grabs, Soursuds, Soursauce, Cuckoo sorrow, and Greensauce.
Because of their acidity the leaves make a capital dressing with
stewed lamb, veal, or sweetbread. Country people beat the herb to
a mash, and take it mixed with vinegar and sugar as a green sauce
with cold meat. When boiled by itself without water it serves as an
excellent accompaniment to roast goose or pork instead of apple
sauce. The root of Sorrel when dried has the singular property of
imparting a fine red colour to boiling water, and it is therefore
used by the French for making barley water look like red wine
when they wish to avoid giving anything of a vinous character to
the sick. In Ireland Sorrel leaves are eaten with fish, and with other
alkalescent foods. Because corrective of scrofulous deposits,
Sorrel is specially beneficial towards the cure of scurvy. Applied
externally the bruised leaves will purify foul ulcers. Says John
Evelyn in his noted _Acetaria _(1720), "Sorrel sharpens the
appetite, assuages heat, cools the liver and strengthens the heart; it
is an antiscorbutic, resisting putrefaction, and in the making of
sallets imparts a grateful quickness to the rest as supplying the
want of oranges and lemons. Together with salt it gives both the
name and the relish to sallets from the sapidity which renders not
plants and herbs only, but men themselves, and their conversations
pleasant and agreeable. But of this enough, and perhaps too much!
lest while I write of salts and sallets I appear myself insipid."
The Wood Sorrel (_Oxalis acetosella_) is a distinct plant from the
Dock Sorrel, and is not one of the _Polygonaceoe_, but a
geranium, having a triple leaf which is often employed to
symbolise the Trinity. Painters of old  placed it in the
foreground of their pictures when representing the crucifixion. The
leaves are sharply acid through oxalate of potash, commonly
called "Salts of Lemon," which is quite a misleading name in its
apparent innocence as applied to so strong a poison. The petals are
bluish coloured, veined with purple. Formerly, on account of its
grateful acidity, a conserve was ordered by the London College to
be made from the leaves and petals of Wood Sorrel, with sugar
and orange peel, and it was called _Conserva lujuoe_.
The Burdock (_Arctium lappa_) grows very commonly in our
waste places, with wavy leaves, and round heads of purple
flowers, and hooked scales. From the seeds a medicinal tincture
(H.) is made, and a fluid extract, of which from ten to thirty drops,
given three times a day, with two tablespoonfuls of cold water,
will materially benefit certain chronic skin diseases (such as
psoriasis), if taken steadily for several weeks, or months. Dr.
Reiter of Pittsburg, U.S.A., says the Burdock feed has proved in
his hands almost a specific for psoriasis and for obstinate syphilis.
The tincture is of special curative value for treating that depressed
state of the general health which is associated with milky
phosphates in the urine, and much nervous debility. Eight or ten
drops of the reduced tincture should be given in water three times
The root in decoction is an excellent remedy for other skin
diseases of the scaly, itching, vesicular, pimply and ulcerative
characters. Many persons think it superior to Sarsaparilla. The
burs of this Dock are sometimes called "Cocklebuttons," or
"Cucklebuttons," and "Beggarsbuttons." Its Anglo-Saxon name
was "Fox's clote."
Boys throw them into the air at dusk to catch bats, which dart at
the Bur in mistake for a moth or fly;  then becoming
entangled with the thorny spines they fall helplessly to the ground.
Of the botanical names, _Arctium_ derived from _arktos_, a bear, in
allusion to the roughness of the burs; and _Lappa_ is from
_labein_, to seize. Other appellations of the herb are Clot-bur
(from sticking to clouts, or clothes), Clithe, Hurbur, and Hardock.
The leaves when applied externally are highly resolvent for
tumours, bruises, and gouty swellings. In the _Philadelphia
Recorder_ for January, 1893, a striking case is given of a fallen
womb cured after twenty years' duration by a decoction of
Burdock roots. The liquid extract acts as an admirable remedy in
some forms (strumous) of longstanding indigestion. The roots
contain starch; and the ashes of the plant burnt when green yield
carbonate of potash abundantly, with nitre, and inulin.
The Yellow Curled Dock (_Rumex crispus_), so called because its
leaves are crisped at their edges, grows freely in our roadside
ditches, and waste places, as a common plant; and a medicinal
tincture which is very useful (H.) is made from it before it flowers.
This is of particular service for giving relief to an irritable
tickling cough of the upper air-tubes, and the throat, when these
passages are rough and sore, and sensitive to the cold atmosphere,
with a dry cough occurring in paroxysms. It is likewise excellent for
dispelling any obstinate itching of the skin, in which respect it was
singularly beneficial against the contagious army-itch which
prevailed during the last American war. It acts like Sarsaparilla
chiefly, for curing scrofulous skin affections and glandular
swellings. To be applied externally an ointment may be made by
boiling the root in vinegar until the fibre is softened, and by then
mixing the pulp with lard (to which some sulphur is  added at
times). In all such cases of a scrofulous sort from five to ten drops
of the tincture should be given two or three times a day with a
spoonful of cold water.
Rumicin is the active principle of the Yellow Curled Dock; and
from the root, containing chrysarobin, a dried extract is prepared
officinally, of which from one to four grains may be given for a
dose in a pill. This is useful for relieving a congested liver, as
well as for scrofulous skin diseases.
"Huds," or the great Water Dock (_Rumex hydrolapathum_) is of
frequent growth on our river banks, bearing numerous green
flowers in leafless whorls, and being identical with the famous
_Herba Britannica_ of Pliny. This name does not denote British
origin, but is derived from three Teuton words, _brit_, to tighten:
_tan_, a tooth; and _ica_, loose; thus expressing its power of
bracing up loose teeth and spongy gums. Swedish ladies employ
the powdered root as a dentifrice; and gargles prepared therefrom
are excellent for sore throat and relaxed uvula. The fresh root must
be used, as it quickly turns yellow and brown in the air. The green
leaves make a capital application for ulcers of the legs. They
possess considerable acidity, and are laxative. Horace was aware
of this fact, as we learn by his _Sermonum, Libr_. ii., _Satir_ 4:--
"Si dura morabitur alvus,
Mytulus, et viles pellent, obstantia conchae,
Et Lapathi brevis herba, sed albo non sine Coo."
This book is provided for historical purposes only. Please see a competent health care professional for diagnosis and