Spanish: Cañiagre, CañiagriaEnglish: Red dock, curly dock, tanner's dockFamily: Polygonacea (Buckwheat family)Genus species: Rumex hymenosepalusCañiagre is native to western North …
Spanish: Cañiagre, Cañiagria
English: Red dock, curly dock, tanner's dock
Family: Polygonacea (Buckwheat family)
Genus species: Rumex hymenosepalus
Cañiagre is native to western North America and grows from sea level to 8,000 feet. It can grow in a wide variety of habitats but flourishes in sandy soil in drainage areas where water will accumulate after rains or adjacent to acequias and streams. Cañiagre has long, almost succulent wavy leaves (up to 24 inches) with prominent central veins that grow in a rosette, often lying flat on the ground. The flower stalk can grow to three feet tall and produce inconspicuous green blossoms that mature into pinkish to rusty-red, three-winged seed pods shaped like hearts that can be thin and almost translucent. The root is a large, somewhat yamlike tuber that is dark red.
Cañiagre is valuable as a plant medicine due to its astringent properties. Astringents have the effect of binding proteins. You will have personal experience with this if you have ever had lemonade in your mouth. The sensation of your mouth feeling "rough" is evidence that the astringent properties of the lemon have bound and denatured the protein in the mucus that lines your mouth. As medicine, astringents cool, tighten and reduce inflammation in the tissues they contact. Cañiagre can be used to treat sunburn, diarrhea, sore gums and hemorrhoids and as an ingredient in a sitz bath for postpartum moms. Further, it can be used as a first-aid plant to stop bleeding in cuts and scrapes and as a soak for blistered feet.
Cañiagre has been commercially cultivated for the value of the tannins present in the roots for use in tanning leather. This plant is traditionally used by Native and Spanish peoples of Mexico and North America for processing and tanning animal hides.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Cañiagre was fraudulently marketed as "wild red ginseng" in health food stores in Arizona, New Mexico and California. Cañiagre is in no way related to ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). As a response to this misleading marketing, the Herb Trade Association launched a campaign to inform the public, and as a result cañiagre all but disappeared from health food stores in the Southwest.
Consult your health care practitioner about the use of herbs or supplements, especially if you are taking prescription medication.
Rob Hawley is co-owner of the Taos Herb Company. For information, call (575) 758-1991 or go to taosherb.com.
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