Ruminating on Rumex

Rumex_crispus.11.jpg As you may have been able to tell from the previous posts, knowing the family tree of plants can sometimes give you insight into what may or may not be edible.  For example, many members of the “buttercup family” (Ranunculaceae) are poisonous, while members of the “mustard family” (Brasicaceae) are some of the most important food crops.

I already mentioned the “buckwheat” or “knotweed family” (Polygonaceae) when discussing Japanese knotweed, and now I would like to explore the docks and sorrels.  In Newfoundland, curled dock (Rumex crispus), garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa), and sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) are commonly found in disturbed areas including in cracks in the side walks, vegetable gardens, mounds of dirt, and on the sides of highways.

With its flower stalk, curled dock grows to about one metre tall, and has narrow, oval shaped leaves.  Both docks and sorrels have a thin membrane wrapped around the base of leaves where they emerge from the stem.  The reddish clusters of dock seeds are very prominent in the fall, especially along sides of highways, towering over other vegetation.

The leaves of dock are best collected in the spring, and used as a wild green.  Be sure to collect them as early as possible, since they get tough, especially when the flower stem starts to form.  When collecting, it is best to cut the leaves off, as the leaf stems can be a bit slimy when bruised.

The leaves are best boiled in a couple changes of water to remove the tartness, or chopped up and thrown into salads or soups.  They also make a great stuffing for fish and other meats.  The leaves have a tart, lemony flavour.  The seeds can be collected in the fall and used for microgreens or sprouting.  If you are able to collect enough and have the patience to separate the chafe, the seeds can also be ground into a meal.

There are a number of posts up about the wonders of stinging nettles.  My father swears by stinging nettle tea for kidney and liver problems.  Luckily, stinging nettles and docks tend to grow in the same areas.  If you are unfortunate enough to get stung, crushed dock leaves help to ease the burn.

Sorrels are much smaller plants, growing between 30 to 50 cm tall.  They have arrow shaped leaves which grow in a rosette, and have reddish flowers which grow on a stalk.  Like docks, they grow in disturbed areas.  The inspiration for this post came from the carpets of sorrel I found in the fields on Oxen Pond Road.

Sorrel leaves are very lemony and are great additions to salads, soups, and sandwiches.  While looking up information for this post, I came across a suggestion that I will definitely be trying soon: sorrel pesto!