Dandelions For Health

It’s incredible how we have developed a sense of utter distaste for the dandelion. Somehow we have taken this potential nutrition powerhouse and turned it into a demon. It’s a common sight to see trucks laden with chemical pesticides and herbicides unleashing their toxic sprays onto lawns that would otherwise yield a plant that can provide both food and medicine. Taraxacum officinale (the scientific name for this so-called weed) was popular in ancient Greek medicine. The Greeks used dandelion for arthritis and rheumatism. Arabic physicians of the 11th and 12th century prescribed dandelion as a general curative. Cleansing and detoxifying the body during spring has been popular for thousands of years. Dandelion has the reputation for nourishing the kidneys and liver (two important organs involved with removing waste from the body).

During the late 1800’s dandelion was actually grown as a cash crop in Europe and the US. It has a multitude of uses including food, beverages, cosmetics and medicine. I grew up in an ethnic neighborhood in the city where folks would go around in spring in search of these “weeds.” They would use every part of the plant. Dandelion salad or sautéed greens were made from the leaf. Wine and beer would be fermented from the flower, a healthful beverage was made from the dried or roasted root.

Health Benefits of Dandelion

Dandelion is loaded with calcium, folic acid, iron, sulfur, zinc and magnesium. Vitamins A, B complex, C and E are also abundant in this ubiquitous plant.

Modern research has shown that this remedy boosts the kidneys and serves as a safe diuretic to alleviate water retention. I have found dandelion leaf tea helpful in relieving cyclical fluid retention. Research being conducted suggests that this remedy may be helpful in preventing and treating breast cancer. Herbalists also recommend it for anemia and to improve digestion (classified as a bitter, dandelion stimulates bile production to help break down food). Many herbalists use dandelion to improve the function of the stomach, pancreas and spleen.

Using Dandelion

To make dandelion leaf tea, add one tablespoon of the dried leaf to one cup of water and allow the infusion to steep for five minutes. Three cups of tea a day is safe and effective. For convenience, dandelion remedies are available in extract and capsule form at your favorite health food store.

Dandelion root, leaf and top can become interesting culinary ingredients with a little imagination. The tender young leaf is especially tasty in the spring and makes a wonderful addition to spring salads. Simply add it to your favorite combination of greens. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice onto your creation for a low fat, tasty start to a healthy meal. A salad recipe that we have found quite enjoyable follows. I found it in one of my favorite herbal reference books, The New Age Herbalist by Richard Mabey. Slightly bitter, dandelion can add zing to this course while stimulating the digestive processes. Chopped dandelion leaf can also be added to your favorite vegetable soup recipe. Chop up an ounce or so and add to your soup during the last half hour of cooking. The greens add color, nutrients and interesting flavor.

Dandelion has its uses in body care as well. The juice of the dandelion stem is an old time remedy for warts and corns. This remedy is safe and often effective. Dandelion leaf is also used in hair care. Make a strong infusion (one tablespoon herb to one cup water) and allow it to cool to a comfortable temperature before using as a hair rinse. You can also add the strong dandelion infusion to the bath. If you like to use bath bags, fill one with dried dandelion leaf and toss into the tub. This is a “spring tonic” for the skin with all of those nutrients.

Metaphysically, the dandelion is associated with solar energy. It is considered a plant of energy and vitality. Dandelion leaf tea is said to increase psychic powers when taken as a beverage prior to divination activities. An old medieval custom was to place a cup of the tea beside the bed before retiring. This was said to call the spirits.

Harvesting and Storing Dandelion

Spring is a good time to harvest dandelion leaf for food and medicine. Harvest the leaves before flowering while they have the most energy and nutrients. The roots are less bitter in spring. Now is a good time to harvest them for teas. Some herbalists feel that June through August is the best time to gather dandelions roots for medicine. This is when they are at their most potent. Of course never harvest plants that may be contaminated with toxic chemicals. Even if you do not chemically treat your lawn, you could get run off from your neighbor’s yard.

Once you have gathered your plants, gently rinse them with cold water and allow the rinse water to evaporate at room temperature. Separate the roots from the greens with scissors and dry at 101 degrees in an area of low humidity. Some folks prefer to dry their herbs in the oven, but mine gets too hot for this purpose. A warm, dry attic or sun-room is another option. Arrange your herbs on a drying rack or screen to allow good air circulation around your plant matter. You can also hang whole plants if preferred. Drying time varies with the temperature and humidity levels of your drying area. Your dried herbs should still be green. Once completely dried, store your dandelion in sealed glass jars away from sunlight. Now you can make teas, capsules or extracts from your precious harvest all year long. I like the fact that Taraxacum officinale is so abundant and renewable, unlike herbs that are becoming endangered due to over-harvesting. Enjoy the coming of spring with its sense of renewal and vitality. Here’s to your health!

Dandelion Salad

(from Richard Mabey’s The New Age Herbalist)

  • One small head leaf lettuce
  • 3 oz watercress
  • 4 oz radishes
  • 4 green onions
  • 2 oz young dandelion leaves
  • 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 4 oz seaweed (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons cider

Shred the lettuce, chop the watercress, slice the radishes and chop the dandelion leaves and green onion. Mix them together in a salad bowl, seasoning with the pepper.

Chop the seaweed. Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Put in the seaweed and cook it, stirring frequently until it browns. Take the pan from the heat and swirl in the vinegar.

Spoon the contents of the frying pan over the salad. Toss gently and serve immediately. (Note: If you are leaving out the seaweed, omit the frying process and combine the oil and vinegar to use as dressing for the salad.)

About the Author

Karen Stokes, RN is an aromatherapist, herbalist and homecare/hospice consultant who has been involved in natural healthcare for 25 years.


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