In the docks

Dowhan or Dochan or Tirso or Bulwand or Bulmint (Orkney)
Rumex obtusifolius

I have a collagraph of Dockens in The Waterfront Spring Exhibition in Stromness.


‘The docks were cut a harvest time; the stems were soaked in sea water to make them more pliable and fashioned into baskets. Occasionally the stems were into doormats known as flackies. The leaves were also used to wrap cheese and butter and a strong dye was obtained from the roots.’ – The Orkney Book of Wild Flowers

‘A healing ointment was made from Docken root, boiled till soft and mixed with equal parts beeswax and fresh homemade butter.’ – Healing Threads, Mary Beith

‘The juice of the stem expressed proved a thorough antidote to the sting of the nettle. Selected stems of Rumex aquaticus were woven into an engine called a fursaclew for catching trout.’ – Magnus Spence, Flora Orcadensis

Did you know that Sorrel is part of the same family?


Sooracks or Soorick or Souricks (Orkney)
Rumex acetosa

‘The leaves were chewed because of their pleasant acidity, and for mitigating thirst.’ – Magnus Spence, Flora Orcadensis

‘Its juice can help remove marks from linen.’ – The Orkney Book of Wild Flowers



  1. Shetland certainly had similar basket making uses for dock plants – a Limpet cuddie was made using dock, as was an open weave basket called a Sea budie. The book ‘Flora Celtica’ (Miliken & Bridgewater 2006) notes that the use of docks in this way was almost exclusively confined to the Northern Isles. The healing ointment Mary Beith mentions (her book is Scotland wide) is also mentioned in Flora Celtica as being used this way in South Uist. In Tiree people used the seeds in an infusion to treat coughs. Dock juice has been used as a mordant or dye fixer an a colour brightener in tweed manufacture. It is recorded as a treatment for hair loss. Borders pigs were fed boiled dock leaves and Shetland hens got lightly boiled dock seeds.
    And to think I only ever rubbed it over a nettle sting.

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