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Early Spring Greens: Delicious Docks

Most of us are several weeks away from planting our backyard gardens. Fortunately, wild leafy vegetables are appearing everywhere around PEI right now. I started my spring foraging mid-April this year, and will be highlighting some of our early, in-season edibles over the next few posts. First up: delicious Docks (Rumex spp.).

Photo 1: Bitter Dock (Rumex obtusifolius).

All Docks are edible, but not all are palatable. Of the seven species known to occur on PEI, many are too bitter when mature to be enjoyed. But don’t let that deter you: young leaves are both tasty and high in Iron, Vitamin C, and beta-carotene (a precursor to Vitamin A). Docks are also high in oxalic acid, and so raw leaves should be avoided by anyone with kidney issues (oxalic acid affects calcium uptake and can contribute to kidney stones). For most of us, oxalic acid is not a concern; common foods such as spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, and rhubarb all have levels of oxalic acid comparable to or higher than Docks.

Photo 2: Curled (aka Yellow or Sour) Dock (Rumex crispus).

Two of our most common and easy-to-find species are Bitter Dock (Rumex obtusifolius, Photo 1) and Curled Dock (aka Yellow or Sour Dock, Rumex crispus, Photo 2). Leaves distinguish the two species. Bitter Dock has broad leaves that are heart-shaped where they join the stem and are often red-veined. Curled Dock has longer, narrower leaves with curled edges. (Photo 3 shows mature leaves of both species, to help with ID). As with many plants, Dock leaves are red-tinged when they first appear. This protects the delicate new plants from too much sunlight and makes the tasty leaves harder for insect pests to see.

Photo 3: Mature leaves of Curled Dock (left) and Bitter Dock (right).

Bitter and Curled Dock are common along streams, freshwater wetlands, and damp fields; those are the best places to find them this time of year. As the weather warms, you’ll see Docks popping up in drier sites, including fields, roadsides, and around urban and suburban areas.

This time of year, I enjoy Dock leaves raw in salads, sandwiches, and wraps, or lightly steamed and buttered. In salads, they pair particularly well with blue cheese; in sandwiches and wraps, with eggs. Young Bitter Dock has a stronger (but not overwhelming) flavour, with a bitter finish. Young Curled Dock is milder with slightly sour, lemony notes. Both can be enjoyed on their own, or mixed with domestic greens. As Dock leaves mature, cooking will temper their bitterness and improve their texture. You can find some suggestions in the Wild Food Recipes section of this blog, along with my go-to homemade salad dressing for wild greens.

Bitter Dock and Curled Dock are native to Europe and Asia, brought to North America as edible and medicinal plants in the mid-1800s. As neither is native to PEI, there’s no real concern about over-harvest. That said, do take care not to disturb waterways or native plants and animals while foraging for Docks. Enjoy this edible part of PEI-untamed!

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