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
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.