The bitter dock (Rumex obtusifolius L.) is a herbaceous species belonging to the Polygonaceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
R. obtusifolius species.
The following terms are synonymous:
– Acetosa obtusifolia (L.) M.Gómez;
– Lapathum obtusifolium (L.) Moench;
– Rumex crispatulus Michx.;
– Rumex ecuadoriensis Rech.f.;
– Rumex friesii Gren. & Godr.;
– Rumex laevigatus Willd. ex Spreng.;
– Rumex macropterus Ehrenb. ex Meisn.;
– Rumex megalophyllus Gand.;
– Rumex patens Meisn.;
– Rumex purpureus Poir.;
– Rumex rugelii Meisn.;
– Rumex sepium M.Bieb. ex Schult. & Schult.f.;
– Rumex subulatus Rech.;
– Rumex sylvestris (Lam.) Campd.;
– Rumex wallrothii Nyman.
Within this species, the following species and varieties are recognized:
– Rumex obtusifolius subsp. obtusifolius;
– Rumex obtusifolius subsp. subalpinus (Schur) Rech.fil.;
– Rumex obtusifolius subsp. sylvestris (Lam.) Celak.;
– Rumex obtusifolius subsp. transiens (Simonk.) Rech.fil.;
– Rumex obtusifolius var. concolor Wallr. ex Meisn., 1856.
The term Rumex comes from rumex javelin, spear: due to the pointed shape of the leaves of many species of this genus. Already in Plautus and others with the meaning of romice.
The specific obtusifolius epithet comes from rounded, blunt obtusus and folium leaf: with rounded apex leaves.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
The bitter dock is a species with an original sub-Atlantic-South European distribution but now widely distributed all over the world.
In Italy it is present with four subspecies in all regions except Sicily
Its habitat is that of ruderal vegetation along roads and ditches, in landfills, rural settlements, crops, manured mowing lawns, on fresh, humiferous, neutral loamy-clay soils, rich in nitrogen compounds, from sea level to the upper mountain belt. .
Rumex obtusifolius is a perennial herbaceous plant that reaches a height of between 40 and 150 cm, which grows from a large taproot, with numerous branches extending to a depth of 150 cm, with hard, often reddish and non-reddish stems. branched up to just below the inflorescence.
It has very large oval leaves with corded bases and rounded tips; some of the lower leaves have red stems. The edges of the leaves are slightly wavy, the upper surface is hairless and the lower surface may be papillose. The leaves of this plant can grow to about 30cm in length and 15cm in width.
The junctions of the petioles with the stems are covered by a sheath formed by two fused stipules called ocrea, a thin paper-like membrane, characteristic of the Polygonaceae family. The leaves of the stem are alternate and are strictly ovate-lanceolate. The inflorescence consists of large clusters of racemes that contain small greenish flowers that turn red as they mature. The segments of the perianth are in two spirals of three. The segments in the outer spiral are small and diffuse while the inner spiral forms the fruit valves, which are broadly ovate-triangular.
Flowering is between June and September.
The fruit is a diclesium with valves of 4-6 x 2-3.5, ovate-triangular, truncated at the base, with well developed teeth, longer than wide, prominent tubercle present in a single valve, achene of 2.5- 3 mm, dark reddish brown.
Rumex obtusifolius is a perennial herb that is harvested in nature for local use as a food, medicine and source of materials. It has sometimes been grown for local use for its edible leaves.
This plant has also spread as a weed, having been transported by human activity well beyond its range of origin.
It is an easy to cultivate plant that grows well on rich soils and that propagates by seed directly in the open field or even by division in spring.
Customs and Traditions –
Rumex obtusifolius is a plant that, especially in the past, was used for both food and medicinal purposes.
In the past, the large leaves were also used to wrap and store butter.
The young leaves can be eaten both cooked and raw. They have a bitter taste, especially if older leaves are used.
The leaves are usually cooked in at least one water change to reduce the bitter taste.
The leaves of the plant can be used as a salad, to prepare a vegetable broth or to be cooked like spinach. They contain oxalic acid which can be dangerous when consumed in large quantities as oxalic acid can block other nutrients in foods, especially calcium, thus causing mineral deficiencies. The oxalic acid content is reduced if the plant is cooked. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should be especially careful if they include this plant in their diet as it can aggravate their condition.
Young cooked stems can also be eaten.
The seed can be eaten, both raw and cooked, and can also be ground into a powder and used to make a gruel or added to cereal flours to make bread, etc.
However, being very small it is difficult to collect.
The dried seeds are used as a spice. In Romania, the leaves are sometimes used as an alternative to other plants in the making of the sarmale.
In Ireland and the United Kingdom, the plant often grows near nettles and it is widely believed that the lower part of the leaf, squeezed to extract some juice, can be rubbed into the skin to counteract the itching caused by the nettle. This home remedy, however, is not supported by any scientific evidence.
In medicinal use, the leaves are used and are often applied externally as a rustic remedy in the treatment of blisters, burns and scalds.
The root contains tannin and is astringent and blood purifier. Also from the root is obtained a tea that has been used in the treatment of jaundice, whooping cough, boils and bleeding.
A root tea is also prepared which has been used as a detergent, especially for children, to treat rashes.
Among other uses, it should be remembered that from the roots of this plant it is possible to obtain dyes from yellow to dark green to brown and dark gray that do not need a mordant.
Preparation Method –
The bitter dock, like other plants of the same genus, is a plant used more in the past but which could find its role both in nutrition and in medicine.
All parts of the plant are used.
The leaves, in addition to being fresh, can also be dried for later use. The leaves have a much milder flavor when first produced in early spring.
The root is harvested in early spring and dried for later use.
Even the seeds can be collected and used both directly and ground for various food uses.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.