I love autumn! It is my absolute favorite time of year, hands down. Maybe it is the cooler temperatures that make working outdoors invigorating and make it perfect for those evening bonfires. Maybe it is the beautiful autumn colors that transform the Ozarks into a feast for the eyes and the soul. Truth is, both of those reasons are a big part of it, but it also has something to do with all the planting and harvesting I get to do this time of year!
The last of the summer crops are trickling in, making room for the winter crops. Straggler tomatoes, lettuce in full bloom, loofahs ready to peel…these are all some of my favorite things.
However, my very most favorite thing about autumn is the chance to head out to the pastures and forests that cover our land and dig up the medicinal roots that are all juiced up with healing properties! This year, we have had a record-breaking harvest of wild herbs. Burdock, dandelion, yellow dock, gravel root…all of them are giving up the most gorgeous roots ever, and they are doing it in a big way!
Root digging isn’t for everyone. In fact, you really gotta want some of them bad. Proper identification can often take an entire year of growth in order to see the entire life cycle of the plant before identification can be verified. Some of them have taproots so long you feel like you’re digging your way through to China ~ unless you live in China. Then you might feel like you are digging your way through to the United States…? Either way, its a lot of digging!
So, I wanted to make it a bit easier for those of you who are feeling froggy with all this nice weather.
One of my new favorite herbs is Rumex Crispus, aka Yellow Dock or Curly Dock. I had heard of it before, of course, but it has never been an herb that I use on a regular basis. Imagine…I’ve been walking on it for years and never knew what it was! A friend of ours was out here one day and came into the house carrying a beautiful leaf that he handed to me.
“You ever have this?” he asks me.
I look at the leaf and say, “Nope. What is it?”
“Sour dock,” he replies. “My grandma used to eat it all the time!”
Of course, I have to taste it. The name is fitting. The dark green leaves spotted with purple have the texture of spinach and just the tiniest hint of sour when it hits the back of your tongue.
“Oh, that’s good! Where’d you find it?” I ask.
“In your yard,” he answers.
He takes me outside. Right out the front door, there it is. Huge patches of it speckle my yard, my garden and my pasture. I’ve walked past it a gazillion times and admired its beautiful color. I couldn’t believe all the salads I’d missed out on! And, a new obsession was born. I went to work learning everything I could about it.
This is Rumex Crispus:
In the Spring and Summer season, the leaves are a shiny, deep green. As the weather cools down and all those healing properties are draining back down into the roots, the leaves start turning stunning shades of burgundy and purple. No matter what color they are, they make a delicious addition to salads and stir-fry, though. Once the weather warms up they tend to get slightly bitter, but I sorta like the added bitterness in moderation. I’ve added the leaves to garden salads, fried potatoes, pasta salad, rice, stuffed zucchinni, black beans, and I’ve even eaten it all by itself with a dash of Bragg amino acids and lemon juice. I read somewhere that you should wash the young leaves or it can irritate your tongue. I’m really hoping that anything you eat of your yard gets washed first anyway, but I figured I oughtta add that…just in case… The leaves also contain significant amounts of Vitamins A & C, beta carotene, protein, iron, potassium, calcium and phosphorous. More than spinach. Bonus…if you happen to find yourself stung by a patch of stinging nettles, rub some crushed yellow dock leaves on the welts to help ease the sting and itch.
The stalks are edible too, though I can’t speak for their flavor. I think I’ll be trying those come spring. It seems that you simply peel them and eat them raw, or you can boil them to soften them up. The seeds can be gathered and ground up into a flour-like powder that supposedly has a flavor similar to buckwheat. Not really one of my favorite foods, but the process sounds interesting, so maybe I’ll give that a shot next year, too…?
The root is incredibly impressive! This is one of the roots we got this year:
Yellow Dock Root
Its kinda hard to tell, but under all those little straggler roots like the one in my hand, there is a monstrous chunk of root that is easily the size of a sweet potato! The root contains potassium, magnesium and loads of iron, which makes it valuable for treating anemia and other iron-deficiency related illnesses. It is also a powerful blood cleanser and liver detoxifier, and a mild but effective laxative. It is a tonic herb, which means that it helps to strengthen and tone the entire body. The root is also good for treating skin disorders of all types.