Rumex genus-1 Broad leaved dock and the Common  Sorrel

Rumex is a genus containing about 200 species of annual, biennial and perennial herbs of the Family Polygonaceae. Many of these plants are erect in nature with long tap roots which make them difficult to eradicate from gardens and other places of cultivation. The flowers are inconspicuous carried above the leaves in whorl-like clusters. Rumex derives from Latin and indicates " I suck" and alludes to the fact that farm workers toiling under a hot sun would suck the leaves of Rumex { the sorrels} to assuage their thirst.

In Rumex genus-1 we review the Broad-leaved dock Rumex obtusifolia and the Common sorrel R. acetosa. 

Broad-leaved dock Rumex obtusifolia

The broad leaved dock is probably the commonest dock in England and well known to almost everyone. Children are taught to seek out the foliage this plant out to alleviate the pain of the nettle sting, and conveniently they often grow in the same vicinity. It is found throughout Britain and is certainly the most numerous dock in grassland situations but they can be encountered in many other localities including by farm tracks, field margins, waste ground, roadside verges and along hedgerows. It will thrive in any type of soil with the exception of very acidic. Soils high in nitrogen or low in potassium seem to help the dock to thrive often with few rivals.

Description of the broad leaved dock.

The plant is upright and capable of attaining the height of 3 feet+ {90cm+}. The leaves can be up to a foot long {30cm} on somewhat slender stalk, the margins being wavy. The foliage tend to be blunt hence the species name of obtusifolia meaning blunt leaved.

The flowers which occur between June and October are tiny, green at first becoming a rusty brown colour as the seeds develop. A mature plant is capable of producing  60,000 ripe seeds per season. The seeds have a rest period before germinating. Seedlings of this species rarely flower in the first year. Plants that are well established form many tap roots which in turn produce rosettes of leaves from which the flowering stems emerge.

Top-the plant is erect with large foliage. Bottom the ripening flowers are a rusty red colour.


Docks and medicine--

In archaic times the foliage was often applied as a rustic remedy for burns and scalds, and used for dressing blisters, and as previously mentioned as a cure for nettle stings. For the latter purpose the leaf must be continuously crushed to extract the green juice for it is this juice that alleviates the pain. The roots were once used to produce a tea and was formerly given to help remove boils.

In days gone by the large leaves were wrapped around butter to keep it cool as it was transported to market, giving rise to its alternative name of butter dock.

There are more than 20 species of dock in the world but those that are traditionally used in medicine are the common dock, yellow dock and patience dock.Although they all may vary in size, flowers, fruits and foliage , their medicinal and culinary uses are the same. In the 17th century butter dock was used to make a tea to alleviate toothache and used as a wash to cure the itch. 

The Common Sorrel. R.acetosa

this is the common sorrel or garden sorrel often simply referred to as sorrel. it is a perennial herb which has long been cultivated as a garden herb. the name sorrel derives from a similar sounding French word which means sour and alludes to the oxalic acid content which is in fact a toxin. However, in small quantities the sorrel is harmless, in large quantities it can be fatal.

In the Medieval period of our history sorrel was the main vegetable pot herb and it only lost favour when larger cultivated French varieties became readily available.

Description of the common sorrel.

photograph by Dal

Common Sorrel.

This is a common grassland plant growing to the height of 90 cm. The flowering stems arise from the roots that run deep into the ground. The plant is hairless and sends up simple erect, furrowed stems. The broad leaves are long and arrow shaped borne on long stalks with acute basal lobes that point backwards. The leaves are approximately four times longer than they are wide. The stem leaves are shorter the uppermost stalkless and clasping the stem. upper leaves often turn a beautiful crimson colour in late summer and early autumn.

The flowers are clustered above the leaves and are inconspicuous, green at first becoming reddish-brown as the fruit opens. Where they grow with meadow buttercups they give a warm fiery glow over the grassland.   The plant is also known by the country titles of bread and cheese, sour leaves, Tom thumbs and sour sauce.

Medicinal and culinary uses of the common Sorrel.

HISTORICAL USES-----below are notes that are intended for historical information only.----

The following text is from the book Adam in Eden published in 1657 and written by William Coles---" The juice of sorrell in the summertime is a profirable fawce in many meates and pleafant to the taft; especially if fome sugar be added thereunto; it cooleth the stomack, moveth appetite to meatee, tempereth the heat of the live, openeth the stoppings and preventeth the walling thereof; and is effectuall in all difeafef to coole any inflammation, and hear of blood in agues, peffilentiall or , chlerick, or other fickneffe and fainting rifing from heat"

The next quote is from the book "A Family Herbal" published in the 1800s --" The leaves eaten as a sald, or juice taken, are excellent against the scurvy. The seeds are astringent and may be given in powder for fluxes; the root dried and powdered is almost as good against purgings, the overflowing of the menses and bleedings."

In archaic times the sorrel was employed in its fresh green state or dried for medicinal preparations. It was considered to be cooling and diuretic and was given as a cooling drink in cases of ailments that had feverish tendencies. The juice of sorrel with a little vinegar added was used as an efficient mouth wash in the manner of a gargle.


MODERN DAY USES---  An infusion of the leaves as a diuretic and to reduce fevers. However, sorrel must not be taken in large or prolonged dosages. High intake or prolonged use is detrimental to human health The active ingredients include acidoxalate of potash, terteric and tannin acids, flavone-glyocides, and vitamin C.

Cultivated---- There are cultivated varieties such as Rumex scutatus for culinary purposes. Use the leaves that are young and fresh { sorrel does not dry well}.

It is used sparingly in soups, omelettes, and fish sauces. They can be eaten raw in salads. A green sauce can also be made from sorrel leaves mixed with lettuce leaves and watercress.

Any one inclined to use sorrel for the first time is advised to click on the content banner -WILD HERB ADVISE. 


Dock and sorrel growing in grassland.  photograph by Dal

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