Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


1.   When I was a child we used dock seeds as tea-leaves when playing at tea parties [Waterloo Millennium Green, London, July 2019].

2.  My grandfather [a doctor, b. 1904 and lived on Clapham Road, south London] taught me that rubbing a dock leaf on a nettle sting was next to useless, you have to crumple and roll the leaves until you can squeeze the juice over the sting, and then use the green mushy pulp as a sort of poultice [e-mail, March 2016].

3.  North-east Ireland, 1970s/80s; from dad, born 1932:                                ‘Dawken [not sure how this is spelt, I’ve only heard it said], dawken in and out,  Take the sting of a nettle out,  If you don’t cut your throat,  Dawken, dawken in and out’ [Natural History Museum, London, June 2015].

4.  Farmer in West Wicklow showed me the parts of dock to use for nettle stings, at the very centre of growing bud there is a sticky gelatinous sap which when applied to nettle sting immediately stops the sting [e-mail, June 2015].

5.  I was brought up with five brothers and sisters and we mostly amused ourselves in a very large garden.
I can still hear my mother telling us to play together safely, and should one of us have a bite or sting or stray into the nettles, it was explained to us to look for a dock leaf in the wild part of the garden and just rub with that, and it worked.
As I am 86 years of age, she must have made an impression for the advice to last all those years [Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, January 2012].

6. When we were children we always used to spit on a dock leaf if we were stung by a nettle and rub the leaf on the sting and it was a great relief.
Incidentally, there will always be a dock growing near stinging nettle. My grandfather told me this years ago [Newport, Isle of Wight, September 2011].

0627. Used to neutralise the sting of the nettle [Milltown, Co. Kerry, August 2009].

8. [Mardu, Shropshire] Dock leaves for stings and inside shoes for sore feet. A concentrated brew from boiling the clean roots of yellow dock will cure any skin problem [Newcastle-on-Clun, Shropshire, November 2004].

9. My husband used young dock roots to clear his blood; we were lucky and had a garden with lots of nettles and where there are nettles there are usually dock roots.
Back in 1943 I was expecting my daughter and the misery of styes on my eyes, no sooner did one nearly get better than another started. It must have been the wrong time of year for young docks as the only ones he could find were old ones. I was pretty desperate, so scrubbed them and boiled them, and smelt them; the smell was enough. I thought what if it’s poison?
Oh well, here goes, John said a small wine glass, but seeing they were old and smelling so strong I thought a table spoon would be enough. Urgh! It was horrible, but by the morning so much easier I took a second dose and a further that evening and believe it or not the second morning they were gone and I never had another stye on my eyes since. But believe me it really tastes vile. The dock root tea is a wonderful cure for spots and pimples; clears in three days [Basingstoke, Hampshire, March 2004].

10. Dock leaf – spit on a screwed up leaf, rub on stinging nettle rash [Kingsbridge, Devon, April 1999].

11. Dock – used effectively against nettle stings, while chanting ‘Dock come in, nettle go out’ [Tickhill, South Yorkshire, February 1998].

12. I was born in 1914. This area was then pure farming … [and] was Royalist in the Civil War, Plymouth Roundhead. On 28 May everyone – children – 1920s – wore oak leaves – those who didn’t were whipped with sting nettles. Dock leaves used to ease nettle stings [Crown Hill, Plymouth, January 1993].

13. A cure for boils: take as many dock roots as you find and boil them in water until you get a thick gooey liquid, which the patient should drink [Thorncombe, Dorset, September 1977].

Images: main, Poundbury, Dorchester, Dorset, April 2014; upper inset, ‘brown dock seeds’, used in well-dressing, Taddington, Derbyshire, August 2023; lower inset, Keswick, Cumbria, May 2015.