Gardening season is well under way, and we have big plans for the Splendid Garden this year! The first order of business is to get control over weeds. While unwelcome in most gardens for their alpha tendencies and unsightliness, they signal the beginning of the gardening season to me. When weeds have multiplied and are clearly thriving, I know I’ve got to hustle to get my intentional planting done. While there are weeds that are truly selfish and contain no documented benefit for mankind whatsoever, there are plenty of others that are lovely complements for wellness. Last year, I spoke about Dandelion & Dead Nettle, this year, let me introduce you to Bitter Dock & Wild Lettuce!
Bitter Dock, Rumex obtusifolius, is often confused with Yellow/Curly Dock, Rumex crispus. Bitter dock has broader leaves and the stem is tinted red, while yellow dock has thinner, curly leaves. Bitter dock is perennial, and will continue to grow in the same spot indefinitely. Yellow dock is biennial, so will spring a basal rosette the first year, flower and seed the second year, and then will die in Winter. Both species have medicinal properties in their leaves and roots. For a more detailed account of their differences, Herbalist Dan De Lion gives a great rundown on his website, Return to Nature.
Both have their benefits, but we’ll just focus on bitter dock here, since that is the species that has a family reunion going on all over my garden/yard right about now. I’ve tried sautéeing the leaves in the past, but just found them to be too leathery, and not appetible in general. So the roots are what I dig for.
Bitter dock root is a deep yellow color and can actually be used as an effective plant dye. A tea made from the roots has been used in the treatment of jaundice, whooping cough, boils and bleeding. It is also known as a blood purifier, and purportedly a tincture is taken for menstrual issues including menopause, according to Naturalist Steve Brill. Bitter dock root is one of the roots I use in my Quattro Root Bitters recipe. My favorite consumption method is to drink bitter dock root in a tea, combined with ginger, turmeric and honey.
Wild Lettuce, Lactuca virosa, is often confused with Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca serriola. Just like the docks, these lettuces have similar medicinal properties. Wild lettuce leaves and stems grow closer together than prickly lettuce. Prickly lettuce has wavy, toothed leaves. We’ll focus on wild lettuce, as this is the party spreading happily in my yard/garden.
Wild lettuce sap contains ‘lactucarium’, which is used in medicine for its anodyne, antispasmodic, digestive, diuretic, hypnotic, narcotic and sedative properties. It is also known as lettuce opium because of those properties. You’ll notice little spikes on the underside of the leaf, and while other foragers don’t seem to mind eating them, I don’t care for these either. A tea made with wild lettuce isn’t particularly flavorful, so my preference is to dry the leaves, then make a tincture of those leaves. I’ll then add wild lettuce tincture to whatever more palatable tea I choose, such as the bitter root, ginger, turmeric, honey tea I mentioned above ^_^
Now. Docks & Lettuces pulled…it’s time to get these planters going!!
All photos by Ivy Chuang