Foraging Dock Seeds ~ Wild Foraged Flour
Dock seeds are readily available in the wild, and they can be ground into a wild foraged flour with minimal preparation.
While some of the foraged “flour” you can make seems a bit of a stretch, yellow dock is actually a distant relative of buckwheat. The seeds have a similar taste, can be toasted and ground into a wild foraged gluten-free flour.
With two toddlers in the house, this year’s foraging often meant crafting wild foraged treats to peak a little one’s excitement. Foraging with kids can be a challenge, but there’s nothing like bringing back a haul and then spending a bit of quality time in the kitchen making wild foraged cookies as a family.
Often the “flour” you can harvest in the wild isn’t exactly what we’d call flour in the grocery store. Red clover flour, for example, is made from a blossom rather than a grain, so it’ll cook very differently. Similarly, pine bark flour or birch bark flour are made from tree bark, not grain.
If you want real “flour” you need to harvest seed and dock seeds fit the bill nicely.
The plants themselves are cosmopolitan, growing just about everywhere in the world. They’re considered a noxious invasive in many places, and for good reason.
Once dock plants get established they really take over. Prolific seed production, combined with a weedy persistence that just needs the smallest crack to thrive.
Add in a perennial growth habit, and you’ve got a recipe for a persistent weed…that just happens to be a good wild food source in both the country and city.
Dock seeds are abundant much of the year, which is especially convenient when you’re foraging in the winter or late fall when other foods are scarce. The seed stalks persist through the winter months, and since they’re quite tall they’ll remain available above the snow.
Harvesting Dock Seed Mid-Winter
Dock plants are perennials, which means they re-sprout from the same spot year after year. In the very late winter and early spring, the new dock plants will sprout and begin to form leaves right under last year’s seed stalks. As that new green growth begins, last year’s seeds are often still clinging to the stalk.
Since dock seeds persist all the way until spring greens sprout, their form allows you to keep foraging during an otherwise bleak early spring mud season. They’ll bring a smile to my face in the spring landscape, long before the first dandelion blossoms.
Harvesting dock seed in the early spring. Last year’s stalk is still standing, and this year’s greens have already sprouted.
The individual seeds are inside of a papery husk, and it can be difficult to winnow the seeds from the chaff. I’ve read about multiple methods, none of which seem to be very effective.
The general conclusion seems to be…skip it. Grind the whole seed and chaff into flour, and get a bit of extra fiber in your diet.
The chaff of dock seed doesn’t have much in the way of nutrition, but it won’t hurt you and it’ll help add bulk to your diet. Dock seeds can be used whole to make dock seed crackers, but for most purposes, it’s better to grind it into flour.
To make dock seed flour, start by collecting as much dock seed as you can. The seeds come off the stalk easily once they’re dried, and in an area full of dock seed you should be able to collect several cups in just a few minutes.
Attempting to grind the raw seeds is difficult since while they seem dry in hand, the husks are still quite supple. To really grind easily, the seeds need to be very dry. I’ve found the best method is to toast them on a tray in the oven for about 8-10 minutes.
Be careful to just toast them, not allowing them to burn. Let the dock seeds cool completely before grinding them in a food processor. (or mortar and pestle if you prefer)
The flour can be substituted into your recipes for about up to 1/4 of the flour in the recipe. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have gluten, so the bread won’t rise as high and the texture will be heavier. It’s best to use it in things like crackers or brownies where a heavy texture works well.
How Does Dock Seed Flour Taste?
For an all wild foraged cookie, we mixed dock seed flour with a bit of pine bark flour to make these bark cookies. The kids really enjoyed them, but to me, they mostly tasted like what they were…bark. The flavor of these had more to do with the bark than the dock seeds, and in general, the seeds of yellow dock taste good, a bit like buckwheat.
The main difference? Dock seeds have quite a bit of bitterness that you don’t generally find in supermarket flours.
Samuel Thayer describes many different preparations for dock in his book Nature’s Garden. After going through different ways to cook dock shoots, greens, and roots, he moves on to the seeds noting that “This is the last and perhaps least edible part of this incredibly versatile food plant.
Dock is in the same family as buckwheat, and its seed resembles those of buckwheat in miniature…The seeds themselves are unpleasantly bitter.”
I’ll grant they are bitter, but to my palate, they’re actually the most edible part of the plant. The roots of yellow dock, which many people describe eating, caused me to spend 10 minutes trying to scrub the taste off my tongue.
The leaves are only slightly better. The seeds though aren’t half bad in my book, and they’re readily available. To each his own I guess?
Dock Seed Flour Recipes
While you can try substituting dock seed flour into your own recipes, here are a few ideas to try with your wild foraged grain:
Harvesting seeds of curly dock weed
Scientific name: Rumex crispus
What: very young leaves, seeds
How: leaves may be eaten raw; roast seeds or grind seeds into flour
Where: fields, disturbed areas, stream and pond banks
When: summer, fall, winter, spring
Nutritional Value: leaves are high in vitamin A&C, minerals, protein; roots high in iron and other minerals
Dangers: contains small amounts of oxalic acid, limit intake to what you’d normally eat of spinach
Root* – laxative; appetite stimulant; antibiotic, antifungal; antidiabetic type II (poultice, tisane, tincture)
*root must be allowed to dry 8 months to 1 year for medicinal properties to develop
Young leaves are edible raw at this point.
Remove the ribs from ones this age before eating the leaves raw.
Probably need boiling now.
Curled Dock root.
Mature curled dock seedheads (early summer) have a distinct “rust” color.
Close-up of curled dock seeds.
Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
Dock is a rich source of vitamins and minerals and the leaves, though tangy in flavor, taste mild enough to eat young leaves raw up until the flower spikes appear. After that but it can become tough and somewhat bland. Steaming, boiling or sautéing improves the texture of large, mature leaves. Mix it with milder greens to cut the flavor more. My Polish friend raves about creamy dock soup from the old country. Her version takes a lot of work, mine involves just dicing up young dock leaves (about 1/2 cup) and tossing them in a can of cream of mushroom soup. Add crumbed bacon and diced potatoes to really jazz it up!
The papery sheath holding the seeds is hard to remove so it is usually just left on the seeds, though be warned consuming large quantities of the sheath fiber will do wonders (not all good) to you digestive output. Imagine eating a really, really big bran muffin. topped with Ex-Lax. To remove this outer shell, toast the seeds to make the shell brittle, then “grind” them between the palms of your hands to shatter the shell off the seeds. Take this shell/seed mixture and go outside during a light wind and pour the mix back and forth between two bowls, allowing the wind to blow away the lighter shell material. This is called winnowing.
The seeds can be roasted then eaten as a snack or ground into flour, boiled into porridge, added to bread, etc. Really, their use is limited only by your imagination! My favorite way is to mix them with cream cheese and slap it on a Ritz-style cracker. They add a nutty, quinoa type flavor to soups and stews.
Tea made from dried roots of curled dock has been used medicinally as an anti-cancer agent though little research supports this use. Mashed-up fresh roots were used to treat minor skin issues such as scraps, rashes, and abrasions. I personally use a vodka-based tincture of chopped curled dock root as a “bitters” for mixed drinks. Woo hoo!
Buy my book! Idiots Guide Foraging covers 70 of North America’s tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.