Tag Archives: herbal medicine

Dock Leaf: A Stinging Nettle Remedy

Main piece: Stinging nettle is a plant that stings a lot when you touch it, and leaves like welts and stuff – it’s nasty, but there’s like knowledge that there’s this plant called Dock Leaf, that you can use and it will reduce the stinging from a nettle if you just rub the leaves on wherever you were affected by the plant. 

I think that they just happen to grow together, like they just grow side by side. I mean, nobody plants nettle. I think it’s just a natural occurrence that, for whatever reason, those two plants just like to grow next to each other, so you can usually find Dock Leaf if you find nettle. 

Background: O’s father grew up in Malmesbury, a town in Wiltshire, England. O has been visiting her grandparents and aunt, who still live there, once every year or two since as long as she can remember. Her father and grandparents taught her about the dock leaf remedy.

Context: O started talking about visiting her family in rural England, and how she and her brother would entertain themselves there, as there isn’t much to do. She recounted a particular story where her younger brother got stinging nettle all over his body, and they did not have enough dock leaves to help him negate the pain he was feeling, but she has engaged successfully with the practice before.

Analysis: Dock leaf is a folk medicine that arises from the existence of stinging nettle. Dock leaves and stinging nettle grow in similar environments, and it has been found that rubbing dock leaves against one’s skin releases a soothing moisture (kind of like aloe). Stinging nettle and dock leaf both grow in abundance in that particular area of England, so it makes sense that other plants surrounding stinging nettle could be sought after/experimented with for a cure. O and her family continue to use dock leaf to combat nettle stings, both because dock leaf is often found nearby (instead of having to go back to the house to grab other medicine), and it can abate some of the immediate effects more quickly. (For another version, see Sutter, May 18, 2020, “Stinging Nettle Plant Remedy”, USC Folklore Archives).

Herbal Drug Reinforcement


Me: “Wait you seriously don’t take Advil or Motrin or anything?”

Informant: “No not that I know of haha. I drink really bad tasting herbal concoctions instead.”

The informant grew up with her parents telling her the story of Shennong, who was once a ruler of China. He extremely influential in Chinese agriculture, and even more so in herbal drug creation. He apparently held many closely guarded secrets in this regard. She received a book as a gift that was an illustrated version of a story based out of the Shennong legend. The book detailed the importance of herbal medicine, but at the end, the main character consumes yellow flowers at the top of a mountain and dies. The yellow flowers represented herbs not to be used, and were associated with Western Medicine to stress the importance of genuine Chinese herbal medication and drugs.



Painting Western Medicine in a negative light was something the informant says her parents did / do a lot, especially when she was young. Things like telling a story that subtly puts non-herbal medicine at a lower tier is something that many Chinese-born parents do, according to the informant. And while she recognizes the necessity of a lot of modern medicine for severe things, she still completely avoids smaller things like ibuprofen or allergy medication. It’s not for any reason other than she says that’s just how she was raised.



This was actually sort of surprising! I know the informant very well and finding out that someone doesn’t take any western medicine (again the exception being treatment for serious ailments or injuries) caught me off guard. To think that something rooted in someone from their culture, despite not being raised in the country from which that culture is born, would lead them to make a not-insignificant choice like that is very interesting. Also finding out that the parents deliberately used a legend to reinforce their ideology is fascinating. Proverbs seem like a very good platform for this, but at first thinking of a Chinese leader who specialized in herbs, I don’t immediately jump to marking that as a good potential education device.