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Yellow dock supports the digestive and eliminatory processes

Yellow dock

Rumex crispus Polygonaceae

Yellow dock is a cleansing, alterative, and laxative herb, supporting digestive function and clearance.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

At risk from overharvesting and habitat loss. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Bitter
  • Laxative
  • Nutritive
  • How does it feel?

    Yellow dock is astringent, bitter, and slightly sour. The initial bitter-sourness passes quickly and is replaced by a sensation of astringency, which leaves the mouth feeling dry and tacky. The astringent taste and sensation are due to the tannins, which have both binding and drying qualities. You will feel this drying and tightening effect left in the mouth. This tightening continues throughout the digestive tract, astringing the mucus membranes and strengthening the walls of the intestines (1). 

    The bitter taste links to the cleansing, alterative and laxative actions of yellow dock. This can be felt through the body over the minutes after taking yellow dock. There is a sensation of digestive stimulation, and the stomach and intestines produce some gurgling as the digestive juices are released. 

    The yellow colour or yellow dock root and distinctive smell are from the anthraquinones, which have a marked effect on the bowel by stimulating the gut motions (2). 

    The combination of the bitter stimulation of the digestive juices, and the anthraquinones stimulating the bowel, results in a mild sensation that moves slowly down through the body, which may be subtly felt for several hours after consumption. The feeling is one of shifting, cleansing, and moving.

  • What can I use it for?

    Full Yellow dock flowers (Rumex crispus)
    Full Yellow dock flowers (Rumex crispus)

    Yellow dock is primarily used to support the digestive system. Overall, it can be used to improve digestion, relieve constipation, improve absorption of nutrients, support liver detoxification, cleanse the blood, and support skin conditions.

    The bitterness has an action on the liver and gallbladder, stimulating the release of gastric secretions which stimulates sluggish bowels and supports the absorption of nutrients (3). This stimulation of the liver encourages the hepatic detoxification processes, cleansing the blood and promoting the excretion of toxins and waste from the body. Many of the conditions this herb is indicated for stem from a need to support the body’s natural detoxification and elimination processes. You can find out more about how bitters work.

    Yellow dock is an effective laxative to stimulate a sluggish bowel and gently relieve constipation. The combination of the laxative action, the toning effect of the tannins, and the stimulation of the digestive process makes yellow dock a valuable herb for treating constipation arising from a range of causes. You can read more about constipation and digestive detoxification.

    Yellow dock is nutrient rich, particularly in minerals, drawn out of the soil (4). The iron content, combined with the effect on the digestive system to improve absorption, makes yellow dock an effective herb to use for iron-deficiency anaemia. 

    The alterative and cleansing action on the blood, combined with the laxative action on the gut, support the body to eliminate waste (5). A build-up of waste in the system can lead to skin eruptions, itchiness and joint inflammation (6). This makes yellow dock an effective herb for use in cases of acne, boils, eczema, rheumatic conditions and gout. 

    Young yellow dock leaves are edible and can be consumed as part of a spring-time cleanse to provide valuable minerals and nutrients. In addition to the nutritional value, the leaves provide a bitter stimulation to the digestive system. 

    For external use, the fresh leaf can be crushed to make a poultice, which can be applied to nettle rash and stings (3). This has a cooling and astringent action to sooth the heat and inflammation, as opposed to being anti-histamine in the way plantain would be if applied in this way. A poultice of the crushed leaves can also be applied to burns, scalds, boils, skin or tooth abscesses. A leaf or root decoction can be applied as a soothing wash or compress to itching skin chronic acne, boils, bites, cuts, sunburn, rheumatic aches, inflamed gums (3; 6). A decoction or diluted tincture can be used as a mouthwash for gingivitis, or a gargle for laryngitis (7).

  • Into the heart of yellow dock

    Yellow dock plant (Rumex crispus)
    Yellow dock plant (Rumex crispus)

    The anthraquinones glycosides in yellow dock are distinctly reddish orange compounds, giving the root the yellow colour (8). Once the anthraquinone glycosides reach the colon the gut bacteria break them down and the anthraquinones act directly on the gut lining to stimulate peristalsis in the bowel (8). These constituents also inhibit water absorption out of the bowel, creating the laxative effect (8, 9). The anthraquinones do not cause irritation to the bowel mucosa, but can cause some gripping discomfort due to the peristalsis (9). Anthraquinones are also antiseptic, deterring the growth of pathogens in the enteric system 9). Emodin is one of the main anthraquinones in yellow dock root and has significant anti-microbial activity, specifically against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) (18).

    The toning and anti-inflammatory tannins in yellow dock have a toning and strengthening effect on the bowel wall (1). This balances and moderates some of the stimulating effect of the anthraquinones on the bowel, giving yellow dock a laxative action which is relatively gentle (9).  

    Yellow dock accumulates and concentrates minerals from the soil, giving a nutrient profile which is high in calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and vitamins A, C and E (4). Yellow dock roots are particularly effective at extracting iron from the soil and converting it into a bio-available form, making the plant iron-enriched (8). The iron content of both leaf and root is around 30mg per 100g (4). 

    Energetically, yellow dock is cooling and cleansing (bitter), binding and drying (astringent). It is a cooling remedy for excessive heat in the gastrointestinal tract, which is indicated by an elongated red tongue, often with a thick coating (1). The action of cleansing the liver and bowel reduces internal heat, clearing liver stagnation and promoting the flow of bile.

  • Traditional uses

    Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)
    Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)

    In the sixteenth and early seventeenth century (1567–1650), Parkinson wrote of Docke, or Lapathum as it was then known, to be cooling and drying (10). The former genus, “Lapathum”, derives from the Greek work lapazin, meaning “to cleanse”, referring to the blood purifier quality still considered today (11). The leaves were commonly consumed as a vegetable and the seeds used to stop diarrhoea and stomach upset, especially in those spitting up blood (10). The astringent action of the seeds were used in dysentery (11). The roots were reported to have an opening quality, used as a gentle laxative for constipation (10). The root was considered  of great use for “opening obstructions of the blood, cooling and cleansing the blood”, helpful for jaundice (10). 

    Yellow dock is listed in the King’s College Dispensary (1898) as an alterative, tonic, and astringent, useful for “scorbutic, cutaneous diseases, scrofulous, scirrhous and syphilitic affections, leprosy, elephantiasis” (12). It was considered “exceedingly efficient” for skin disorders with “bad blood”, which relates to the alterative action in modern herbal medicine. It was considered to “act decidedly upon the glandular system, removing chronic lymphatic enlargements, and especially influencing those conditions in which there is a tendency to indolent ulcerations” (12).  This cleansing action by supporting the eliminatory organs of the body is still a primary indication for yellow dock today. Small doses of yellow dock were reported as useful in “nervous dyspepsia, with epigastric fullness and pain, with flatulent distension of the stomach and eructations of gas” (12).

    Greive (1931) stated that the root is an alterative which can be used freely as a tonic for rheumatism and bilious complaints (11). It was largely prescribed for diseases of the blood, jaundice, liver congestion, glandular swellings, scurvy, chronic scrofulous disorders and other chronic skin disorders (11). 

    Externally the root boiled in vinegar was recommended to help itching, wounds and sores, and even cleanse the skin of freckles and discolouration (10). An ointment made from the fresh root in cream, lard or butter was considered an excellent ointment for “scrofulous ulcers, scrofulous ophthalmia, itch, and a discutient for indolent glandular tumors, and other cutaneous diseases and ulcers” (12).

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    Full plant Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)
    Full plant Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)

    Digestive system

    Yellow dock is often used as a herb to support cases of constipation. However, constipation can arise for a variety of reasons, meaning this herb may not always be the best solution. Factors which contribute to constipation include: inadequate fibre intake, low fluid intake, drug intake, poor liver function, psychological factors, and conditions that disturb bowel peristalsis (13).  In the case of disturbed bowel function due to a disease state, or atonicity due to previous laxative over-use, yellow dock may be indicated. The anthraquinones in yellow dock root have a marked effect on the bowel, directly stimulating gut motions (2). While some herbs containing anthraquinones can have a strong cathartic effect on the bowel, this is relatively mild in yellow dock, moderated by the tannin content (7). Since it takes 8–12 hours for the anthraquinones to reach the colon, it is best to take before bed to encourage a morning bowel movement (14). The stimulating effect on the bowel can cause contractions, causing uncomfortable gripping and spasms (14). This discomfort can be counteracted by taking with a carminative herb such as peppermint or fennel (9, 14). In cases of chronic constipation, other herbs are required and long-term use is discouraged due to the mechanical action on the gut and the risk of the developing dependence (9). You can read about other herbal alternatives to laxatives in our article “5 herbs instead of laxatives“.

    Yellow dock root is also useful to support cases of liver congestions and poor absorption of nutrients (2). This is indicated by teeth marks on the edge of tongue, skin problems, fullness and heaviness after a meal, general lethargy, slowness, tiredness, and yellowing around the eyes, nose and mouth (1, 3, 6). The bitter constituents promote the flow of bile from the liver and gall bladder, and stimulates the release of gastric juices, which supports digestion and absorption (2). 


    The stimulation of the digestive processes and the removal of stagnation from the digestive tract all help to improve nutrient absorption into the blood. Yellow dock is also rich in iron (4), making it useful for cases of iron-deficiency anaemia. Low blood iron levels is a common presentation and can result from heavy menstrual periods, poor digestion and absorption, and chronic use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as omeprazole (6). Yellow dock both supports an improvement in absorption as well as providing the additional iron requirements to address the deficiency. Herbalist Lucy Jones combines it with spirulina, nettle leaf, dandelion leaf, and ashwagandha root into capsules to boost iron levels and build the blood (6).

    Immune system

    Enhancing the detoxification processes of the liver has a supportive effect on many other systems of the body. Improving the flow of bile supports the digestion and absorption of nutrients and the clearing of waste from the bowel. The improved nutrient absorption supports all the systems of the body and immune function. The enhanced detoxification of the liver removes the strain on the other systems, therefore yellow dock indirectly improves lymphatic function and the detoxification through the skin. In addition, the mild anti-septic action supports the immune system to fight infections and prevent growth of enteric infection when the bowel is slow and stagnant (9). 


    The anti-inflammatory and depurative action makes yellow dock useful in arthritic and rheumatic conditions (7, 15). The cleaning of metabolic waste from the blood due to enhanced liver detoxification helps to clear metabolites which contribute to various joint conditions. 


    Both chronic skin conditions and acute outbreaks can be due to poor digestion and the build-up toxins and stagnation in the digestive tract. The liver is the main organ of elimination, responsible for breaking down toxins and supporting digestion and removal of waste from the body. When the liver is not functioning optimally it can become congested and other eliminatory organs such as the skin can become overwhelmed. Yellow dock supports the liver and stimulates the bowel, returning the body to a state of health by using its own detoxification, cleansing and elimination processes. You can read more about the detoxification and elimination processes in the body in our article “What is detoxification?“.

  • Research

    Young plant Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)
    Young plant Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)

    There is limited chemical, pharmacological, and toxicity information available for yellow dock, and there is a lack of clinical research assessing the efficacy and safety via robust randomised controlled trials (16). However, available research from laboratory studies of individual constituents provide support for the traditional actions, indications and uses (17, 18, 19, 20). 

    In addition to the traditional indications, recent research has suggested some novel and additional effects and potential indications for yellow dock.

    In 2017, Shin et al. identified that a water extract of yellow dock root (0.25g/kg) given twice a day for five days could improve bone mineral density in an in vivo mouse model (21). The yellow dock significantly decreased trabecular bone loss by inhibiting osteoclast differentiation and increased bone mineralisation by stimulating osteoblast activity (21). Although this has not been tested in any human clinical trials, the study suggests yellow dock root could prevent microstructural deterioration of the bone, which could be both protective against osteoporosis and prevent further degeneration.   

    In 2021, Saoudi and colleagues carried out in vitro research suggesting that yellow dock leaf extracts have cytotoxic activity against breast and colon cancer cell lines, possibly due to antioxidant effects of the phenolic compounds (22).

  • Did you know?

    Like many plants, yellow dock accumulates and concentrates minerals from the soil, meaning the soil composition has an influence on the constituent profile of the plant (8). Old herbal texts report that it was a practice to sprinkle iron fillings on the soil to enrich the iron content of the yellow dock roots (3).

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    This hardy perennial grows to about one metre tall (3, 28). The leaves are alternate, narrow-lanceolate, parallel sided, untoothed with wavy margins, arranged in a basal rosette (3, 5). The tap roots are long and deep (0.5m) and have a brown outer covering over a yellow root (3). Whorls of small greenish-red flowers with no petals but six tepals, from May to September (28). Each plant can produce around 30,000 seeds, visible conspicuously into winter on the brown dead flowering stems (28). These seeds can lay dormant in the soil for 50 years (3, 28).

  • Common names

    • Dock
    • Sour dock
    • Curled dock
    • Curly dock
    • Narrow dock
    • Docken
    • Dockroot
    • Dogroot
  • Safety

    All parts of yellow dock are safe to consume, although some caution is warranted in some medical conditions and when taking certain medications.
    As a note of caution, if consuming as a food, the leaf contains oxalates, and if eaten continuously and excessively can cause stomach/digestive upset (24). In theory, this could warrant caution for people prone to kidney stones, but cooking in water before consumption will remove any excess. Just to keep perspective, spinach, Swiss chard, black tea, coffee, cocoa, nuts, seeds and other green vegetables all contain oxalates (4, 8, 10).

    Due to the anthraquinone content, and strong laxative action, yellow dock should be avoided in pregnancy.

  • Interactions

    If used excessively, yellow dock may increase potassium loss, creating a potential interaction with diuretic thiazides (25). There is the potential for an interaction with concurrent ingestion of stimulant laxatives medicines (16).

  • Contraindications

    Yellow dock should be avoided or only taken under the guidance of a medical herbalist if there is any intestinal obstruction or inflammatory bowel diseases of the gastrointestinal tract (26). 

    Avoid in pregnancy due to a reflex action on the uterus, and when breast-feeding as small amounts can be excreted in breast milk (14, 25). 

    You can find qualified medical herbal professionals on our Resources page “Where to find a herbalist“.

  • Preparation

    Infusion/Decoction (root): Simmer for 20 minutes (2).

    Compress (leaf): Make a decoction of the plant material and allow to cool slightly. Use a clean pad of lint or another absorbent material to apply the liquid to the affected area of skin. Replace regularly with a clean pad. 

    Poultice: Fresh leaf can be finely chopped to make a poultice which is applied directly to the skin, and held in place with a cloth or bandage. 

    Culinary: The young leaves can be eaten as food in spring (10). Simply blanch or soak in boiling water for a few minutes to remove excessive bitterness (24). The root can also be dried, ground and used mixed in with flour (3).

  • Dosage

    Decoction (root): 5–10g dried root per day (2, 7)

    Tincture (root): 1–4ml, three times per day, 1:5, 45-60% (2, 27). Up to 30ml/week of a 1:2 extract (13). Take 1–2ml daily for 6 weeks to build up iron levels (6)

    FE (1:1 extract): 2–4ml, three times per day (2, 7)

    Powder or Capsules: 100mg, 3 times a day (27). 0.8–2g per day (13)

  • Plant parts used

    • Root
    • Leaf
  • Constituents

    • Anthraquinone glycosides (3–4%): Emodin, chrysophanol, rhein, nepodin, physcion (2, 7, 8, 16)
    • Tannins (5%): Catechol (16)
    • Oxalates (7, 16)
    • Nutritional constituents: iron, manganese, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, copper, vitamins A, C, E (4, 7)
Yellow dock illustration (Rumex crispus)
  • Habitat

    Native to Europe, North Africa, Asia and has been introduced to North, Central and South America, and Southern Africa (29). Commonly seen throughout the British Isles, yellow dock is one of the most widely distributed plants in the world (3).

  • Sustainability

    Yellow dock is widely distributed across Europe, temperate Asia, Northern and Southern Africa, and North, Central and South America, with stable subpopulations, and currently no major threats reported. It is not listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and does not appear on the U.S. Endangered Species Act (30, 31). It does not appear on the United Plant Savers “to watch” list (32), or the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) global assessment of concern (33). 

    You can read more about “Sustainable sourcing of herbs“.

  • Quality control

    Provided the safety considerations are taken into account, yellow dock is a safe herb to take, though it is important to buy from a reliable source. Unreputable sources can be contaminated, adulterated or replaced with the wrong plant material. To ensure the quality of a product look out for certified organic labelling, and check that the correct botanical name is used. You should be able to obtain information from suppliers regarding the origin of the product’s ingredients.

  • How to grow

    Yellow dock is a common “weed”, growing extensively throughout the world. In Britain it is classed as an injurious weed, and the Weeds Act 1959 requires that farmers take steps to prevent the spread. It is likely to be growing around you somewhere close by, and doesn’t need encouragement to spread itself further. The thousands of seeds each plant produces, and the deep tap roots make it hard to eliminate, so don’t introduce it to your growing area unless you want it to keep multiplying. If you are going to wild harvest, make yourself aware of the legalities of gathering from the land around you. In the UK, the wildlife and countryside act 1981 makes it illegal to dig up or remove a plant without the permission of the landowner, although this can be done along public rights of way or land where there is free public access (34). Beware of herbicides and pesticides which could have been used nearby, and regular dog-walking areas with faecal residues in the soil. Find out more about safe harvesting from the wild in our article “A guide to safe and sustainable foraging

    To grow, the ripe seeds are scattered in autumn, or root cuttings in spring (34). Harvest the long tap roots in late summer or autumn after the plant has gone to seed (3, 7, 34). Scrub off the black outer bark, chop up the yellow roots to dry or tincture. 

  • Recipe

    Good move tea*

    This cleansing tea supports a relaxed daily bowel motion.


    • Yellow dock root 4g
    • Dandelion root 3g
    • Marshmallow root 2g
    • Orange peel 2g
    • Fennel seed 1g
    • Liquorice root 1g

    This will make 2–3 cups of tea.


    • Add all of the ingredients in a pot and cover with 500ml (18fl oz) boiling water.
    • Steep for 10–15 minutes before drinking.
    • Drink 1–3 cups across the day. 
    • Make sure you keep re-hydrated with water throughout the day.

    * Recipe adapted from Pole, 2017 (23)

  • References

    1. Wood M. The Earthwise Herbal Volume 1: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books; 2008. 
    2. Hoffmann D. Medicinal Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press; 2003.
    3. Bruton-Seal, J. and Seal, M. Hedgerow Medicine: harvest and make your own herbal remedies. Merlin Unwin Books; 2014. 
    4. Idris OA, Wintola OA, Afolayan AJ. Comparison of the proximate composition, vitamins (ascorbic acid, α-tocopherol and retinol), anti-nutrients (phytate and oxalate) and the GC-MS analysis of the essential oil of the root and leaf of Rumex crispus L. Plants. 2019; 28;8(3): 51. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants8030051 
    5. Chown V and Walker K. The Handmade Apothecary: Healing Herbal Remedies. Kyle Books; 2017.
    6. Jones, L. A Working Herbal Dispensary: respecting herbs as individuals. Aeon; 2023.
    7. Fisher C. Materia Medica of Western Herbs. Aeon Books; 2018. 
    8. Ganora, L. Herbal Constituents: Foundations of Phytochemistry. Herbalchem Press; 2009.
    9. Pengelly A. The constituents of medicinal plants: an introduction to the chemistry and therapeutics of herbal medicine. CABI Publishing; 2004.
    10. Bruton-Seal, J. and Seal, M. The Herbalist Bible: John Parkinson’s Lost Classic Rediscovered. Merlin Unwin Books; 2014.
    11. Grieve M, Leyel CF, Marshall M. A Modern Herbal. the Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses. Dover Publications; 1982. 
    12. Felter H. W, Lloyd J. U. Kings American Dispensary 18th Edit: 1898. Reprinted on Henrittta’s Herbpages. Accessed March 23, 2024. https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/kings/rumex.html 
    13. Bone K and Mills S. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2013.
    14. Yarnell, E. Phytochemistry and Pharmacy for Practitioners of Botanical Medicine. Aeon: 2019. 
    15. McIntyre, A. The Complete Herbal Tutor: The Definitive Guide to the Principles and Practices of Herbal Medicine. Aeon Books, 2019.
    16. Barnes, J., Anderson, L.A. and Phillipson, J.D. Herbal medicines: a guide for healthcare professionals: Third Edition. Pharmaceutical press; 2007.
    17. Jeelani SM, Farooq U, Gupta AP, Lattoo SK. Phytochemical evaluation of major bioactive compounds in different cytotypes of five species of Rumex L. Industrial Crops and Products. 2017;109:897-904. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2017.09.015 
    18. Pelzer CV, Houriet J, Crandall WJ, Todd DA, Cech NB, Jones Jr DD. More than Just a Weed: An Exploration of the Antimicrobial Activity of Rumex Crispus Using a Multivariate Data Analysis Approach. Planta medica. 2022; 88(09/10):753-61. DOI: 10.1055/a-1652-1547. https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/a-1652-1547 
    19. Shafiq N, Saleem M, Kousar S, Sahar M, Mahboob S, Jabeen F. Investigation of genus Rumex for their biologically active constituents. Pharm Chem Sci. 2017;2:148-65. http://www.rjlbpcs.com/article-pdf-downloads/2017/12/119.pdf 
    20. Vasas A, Orbán-Gyapai O, Hohmann J. The Genus Rumex: Review of traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology. Journal of ethnopharmacology. 2015;175:198-228. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2015.09.001 
    21. Shim, KS., Lee, B. & Ma, J.Y. Water extract of Rumex crispus prevents bone loss by inhibiting osteoclastogenesis and inducing osteoblast mineralization. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2017; 17: 483. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-017-1986-7
    22. Saoudi MM, Bouajila J, Rahmani R, Alouani K. Phytochemical Composition, Antioxidant, Antiacetylcholinesterase, and Cytotoxic Activities of Rumex crispus L. Int J Anal Chem. 2021; 6675436. doi:10.1155/2021/6675436. Available at:   https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34306086/ 
    23. Pole, S. Cleanse, Nurture, Restore with Herbal Tea. Frances Lincoln: 2017. 
    24. Phillips, R. The Wild Food Cookbook. The Countryman Press, 2014.
    25. Brinker, FJ. Herbal Contraindications & Drug Interactions: Plus Herbal Adjuncts with Medicines. Eclectic Medical Publications, 2010. 
    26. Thomsen M. The Phytotherapy Desk Reference: 6th Edition. 6th ed. Aeon Books; 2022.
    27. Easley T, Horne S. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: A Medicine-Making Guide. North Atlantic Books; 2016.
    28. Blamey M, Fitter R, Fitter AH. Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland: 2Nd Edition. A & C Black; 2013.
    29. Royal Botanical Gardens Kew (RBGK). Rumex crispus. L. Plants of the Word Online (POWO). Accessed March 19, 2024. https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:224413-2 
    30. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Accessed March 20, 2024. https://checklist.cites.org/#/en 
    31. NatureServe explorer 2.0. Natureserve.org. Accessed March 20, 2024. https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.732644/Rumex_crispus_ssp_crispus 
    32. UpS list of herbs & analogs. United Plant Savers. Accessed March 20, 2024. https://unitedplantsavers.org/ups-list-of-herbs-analogs/ 
    33. IUCN red list of threatened species. Accessed March 20, 2024. https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?taxonomies=125389&searchType=species  
    34. Jones ,L. Self-sufficient herbalism: a guide to growing, gathering and processing herbs for medicinal use. Aeon; 2020.
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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