Curled Dock

What better dock than curled dock (Rumex crispus)? In May its tall, rusty-brown stems and seedheads stand up above the grasses and other so-called weeds, making it easy to spot in the same fields where you first found it for soup back in December.

We are surrounded by a sea of green, rolling with slow, seasonal tides driven by sun rather than moon. Instead of hours, the flow of old plants out and new ones in occurs over weeks. Even the least observant eye realizes a change has ensued, bringing forth the question, “When did that appear?” To new sailors of this dry ocean, confusion swirls up in a storm of new leaf shapes and strange flowers. At times like this, when direction is lost, it is best to turn back and find a dock where one can put themselves back on familiar ground and get one’s bearings.

And what better dock than curled dock (Rumex crispus)? In May its tall, rusty-brown stems and seedheads stand up above the grasses and other so-called weeds, making it easy to spot in the same fields where you first found it for soup back in December. Its leaves are tattered and drying by now, but the seeds — oh, the wonderful seeds — are ready to be collected for a feast. Looking closely, you’ll see the seedheads are composed of multiple close-packed stems, each holding hundreds of small husks that each contain three seeds.

The husks are easily stripped from the stems by the handful. Separating the seeds from these high-fiber husks is easiest after first toasting everything in a large wok or frying pan. Stir handfuls of them around in the hot pan for a few minutes to make the husks brittle, then transfer them to a metal bowl to cool. Once you’ve toasted them all and they’re cool enough to handle, take small handfuls and grind them between your hands to shatter the husks, releasing the seeds. Let everything fall back into the metal bowl for now. Once all the seeds have been freed, move outside to “winnow” them by using either the wind or a fan to blow away the light husks from the heavier seeds.

Once most of the husks have been removed, the seeds are ready to eat. They make a good, somewhat nutty-flavored nibble just as is. You may also substitute them for quinoa in your favorite healthy recipes. In long ago times the toasted seeds were boiled to make a gruel/porridge. I prefer the much more modern treatment of mixing them with cream cheese and spreading on a club cracker. If you have a grain mill you can even grind them into flour. Note, they lack gluten, so they won’t work for breads, but this “flour” can be used as a thickener, a roux or a coating on fried foods.

Spending time near dock is a good thing. Confidence restored, you can now begin ranging out into less charted regions of the sea of green. In time you’ll become a master sailor, comfortable with wherever the tide takes you. For now, though, no one will fault you for staying near dock.