Rumex and serum iron

by Paul Bergner


In the late 1990s, New Zealand herbalists Isla Burgess and Nickie Baillie, MD conducted a trial on the effects of several herbal and nutritional “iron tonic” protocols on various parameters of the blood related to anemia. They also specifically attempted to answer the question whether Rumux crispus (yellow dock), had a positive effect on parameters of iron nutrition, a common assertion in textbooks of medical herbalism and commercial descriptions of the uses of Rumex (Burgess and Baillie).

The effect of a ten-week course of five different herbal and nutrition protocols on serum hemoglobin, iron-binding capacity, ferritin, vitamin B-12 and folate was measured in a group of 49 subjects. The blood parameters of all participants were initially in the normal range.


Group 1 Urtica dioica (stinging nettle) dry plant infusions

Dose: Infuse 15g dried plant in one liter of boiling water for 4-8hrs. Strain and drink the liter over the day.

Group 2 Stellaria media (chickweed) succus (MediHerb)

Dose: Take 15mls per day. As a single dose in the morning or in divided doses morning and evening, taken with a citrus drink.

Group 3 Rumex crispus root (Yellow dock) 1:2 extract (MediHerb)

Dose: 2mls 2x daily before morning and evening meals.

Group 4 Unsulphured molasses

Dose: Take 15mls (one tablespoon) on an empty stomach daily with a glass of citrus drink

Group 5 Rumex crispus root 1:2 extract (MediHerb) and molasses

Dose: Combination of protocols for groups 3 and 4 above



            The article reports results as significant increase or decrease of the measured parameters, but without specific data. Table 1 shows that of the tonic protocols tested, only those containing molasses showed a positive effect on serum hemoglobin and ferritin, two major indicators of iron status. Iron binding capacity measures serum proteins capable of binding to iron, but changes to it in normal individuals cannot be determined independently as beneficial or detrimental. Notably, the fluid extract of Rumex, taken alone, caused a worsening of four of the five blood parameters measured, lowering both serum hemoglobin and ferritin. On the other hand, Rumex plus molasses gave better results than molasses alone.

            None of the herbs or molasses used contain clinically significant levels of iron. Rumex contains only about 22 mg of iron in an ounce of the root, the plant part used officially in medicine (Duke). There is evidence that the leaves of some species of Rumex will uptake iron in high amounts if it is present in the soil (Reddy and Bhatt). Because iron content of soils vary widely, it is possible that some leaf or root samples may contain iron, and other not. The daily requirements for iron are between 10 and 20 mg, but minerals are poorly extracted in hydroalcoholic tinctures, the form used in this trial. The fluid extract of Rumex in the trial was tested and contained no iron. Stellaria contains about 72 mg per ounce of the upper parts, and little of this would be present in the 15 mL daily dose of the hydro-alcoholic succus. Urtica contains only about 1.5 mg of iron per cup of cooked leaves (USDA). Even though in this trial, the nettle was prepared by long decoction, a method which may be expected to extract some mineral content into the water, it is unlikely that a clinically significant amount of iron was present. Molasses likewise does not contain high level of iron. One tablespoon, the daily dose in this trial, contains only about 3 mg of iron, a small portion of the minimum daily requirement. Blackstrap molasses contains significant additional nutrition, including, in one tablespoon, 170 mg of calcium, 42 mg of magnesium, 500 mg of potassium, and significant amounts of the trace elements copper and manganese, which are likely markers for many other unmeasured trace elements. It is possible that improvements in serum iron status are related to the synergistic effects of the nutrients in both the molasses and the Urtica and their effect on overall iron absorption and/or release from storage.

            Measurements of serum B-12 and folate are not good solo markers for overall long-term status of these nutrients, and small changes in the serum of normal individuals are difficult to interpret.  Confirmatory measurements of the metabolites homocysteine and methylmalonic acid (MMA), which were experimental at the time of this trial, are now routine. The MMA test, which can definitively confirm B12 status, is expensive.

            Limitations of the trial include the lack of precise published data, the small numbers of participants, and the fact that only normal individuals were included. The results of these treatments cannot be extrapolated to patients with clinical anemia or iron deficiency. However, the results do not support assertions of any beneficial effect of Rumex crispus in a substantial dose and duration on measurements of iron status.


Burgess, I and Baillie, N. “Iron Tonics: What Really Works” Presented at a conference of the National Herbalists Association of Australia. Personal Communication with Isla Burgess.

Duke, J. Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. [accessed 12/4/2013]

Reddy NS, Bhatt G. Contents of minerals in green leafy vegetables cultivated in soil fortified with different chemical fertilizers. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2001;56(1):1-6.

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 26.

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