The mature plant is a reddish brown color, and produces a stalk that grows to about 1 m high. It has smooth leaves shooting off from a large basal rosette, with distinctive waved or curled edges. On the stalk flowers and seeds are produced in clusters on branched stems, with the largest cluster being found at the apex. The seeds are shiny, brown and encased in the calyx of the flower that produced them. This casing enables the seeds to float on water and get caught in wool and animal fur, and this helps the seeds to spread to new locations. The root-structure is a large, yellow, forking taproot.
It is native to Europe and Western Asia. It grows in a wide variety of habitats, including disturbed soil, waste areas, roadsides, fields/meadows, shorelines, and forest edges. It prefers rich, moist and heavy soils.
It can be used as a wild leaf vegetable; the young leaves should be boiled in several changes of water to remove as much of the oxalic acid in the leaves as possible, or can be added directly to salads in moderate amounts. Once the plant matures it becomes too bitter to consume. Dock leaves are an excellent source of both vitamin A and protein, and are rich in Fe and K.