Dandelions Spring Sunshine
By Lise Wolff
Very soon we will be greeted by the sharp-toothed leaves (the French call it dent de lion; tooth of the lion) and the bright yellow flowers of the dandelion that are harbingers of spring.
A few years ago, I read a question & answer column in a health magazine of sorts where a reader asked if the dandelions growing in her backyard were the dandelions sold in commerce. The famous author and M.D., Andrew Weil, seeker of health secrets throughout the world, told her to buy seeds from Europe for her garden, as they were “better.” Why is it that which is foreign and must be purchased is better?
Many times, our ancestors have sought to import medicinal plants from Europe at a high price, then finding it in their own country. They stopped using that plant as if it were no longer valuable. Very often, I feel this lover affair with the exotic pervades our society as apparent in the popularity of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, when many times the very remedy that someone needs often volunteers in their backyard. For that matter, many times people are not content with that which they have been gifted in their life either, but often look for and crave all they do not have naturally. A societal issue for sure.
But back to dandelions. Pioneers form Europe thought dandelions so valuable that they brought the seeds with them to North America and carefully tended them in their garden plots with the little water that the family had. Dandelion’s scientific name is Taraxacum officinalis, “the official remedy for disorders.” Quite a big title and deservedly so. The bitter quality of fresh dandelion, both leaf and root stimulates the proper functioning of the liver. Susan Weed says dandelion “affects the liver most profoundly, encouraging its juices, strengthening and nourishing . . . it tones the hepatic structure and removes stagnation.”
Many moons ago, our ancestors suffered from Spring fever. Today, we consider it a feverish impatience for spring, but it was actually a serious illness to our fore bearers. Winters were long and during that time, they survived on calorie-dense food such as jerky, fat, dried fruit pemmican (a glunk glob that combined these ingredients during the days of the voyageurs; think of that the next time you see those “health food” bars) and root vegetables. This thick, fatty diet was hard on the liver, which has over 500 functions. Consequently, the liver’s sluggish functioning after this winter diet would go haywire in many different ways including fevers. Dandelion became “the official remedy for all disorders” due to its reputation for clearing a myriad of imbalances.
The leaves were just as much the cure-all and are readily available in the spring so we will discuss them this time. The bountiful nutrients in dandelion leaves include carotene (vitamin A), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus and practically a B-complex pill (riboflavin, thiamine, niacin and choline). I find it amazing that plants often combine the mechanisms for our body to absorb nutrients properly. Ascorbic acid is necessary to make calcium in the green leafys available to us. Not only does the dandelion provide both but the bitter quality increases hydrochloric acid in the stomach which aids digestion and also helps us pull the calcium out of our food for our body’s use.
To prepare fresh dandelion leaves to eat, soak them in cold water overnight to leach out the bitter, milky latex. The leaves can then be eaten as a fresh salad green. In the 10th Century, it was classified as a type of wild endive. I prefer to mix it with other, more familiar and wild greens. It can be cooked like spinach. In the south, they are called cressy greens and cooked with bacon fat and vinegar. That milky sap, available in the leaves as well as the root, was used topically for all sorts of skin problems such as warts, corns, calluses, hard pimples, bee stings, old sores and blisters.
As a tea, the leaves were considered to act so powerfully on the kidneys as a diuretic that the French called it “Piss en lit;” piss in bed. On one occasion, I saw a teenager who was still bedwetting helped very much by using dandelion leaf, although it was not a complete cure. This would be an example of how herbs can cure what they cause.
Soon we will be blessed by dandelion’s yellow flowers. When it goes to seed, each dandelion produces multitudes of seeds and has 90% germination rate, which seems to be the bane of many people. Luckily, there is a wonderful use for this lovely flower. Dandelion flower oil is an excellent muscle relaxant. According to the Flower Essence Society in California, who actually markets “Dandelion Dynamo” oil, dandelion promotes deep relaxation and facilitates the release of emotions locked in the muscles.” This would be wonderful oil for people with fibromyalgia as they often do not express their hidden feelings and are always “fine” on the surface but pain is locked in their muscles.
Dandelion oil can be prepared first by picking the dandelion flower heads in full, lovely bloom after the dew has burned off. Let them wilt in a single layer for 24 hours. Pack them into a clean, dry, wide mouth jar, preferably up to the brim (air space will promote mold). Next, fill the jar to the brim with cold-pressed olive oil. Sweet almond, grapeseed, etc. could also be used; however, olive oil is more stable and less likely to go rancid. Press out all air bubbles. Cap the jar and let it sit in full sunlight for six weeks. Strain with cheesecloth and a funnel into a narrow mouth jar (for easy pouring), squeezing the dandelion flowers to extract the good stuff. This oil will last at least a year.
Since in spring the dandelion volunteers leaves and flowers for our benefit, I focused on uses for these parts of the plant. In the fall, we gather roots. I will discuss the many benefits of dandelion root in the next newsletter. Until then, may you feel the blessings of the dandelion.
Lise wolff is a practicing herbalist with an office in Minneapolis. She teaches classes on medical preparation and many other herbal classes. Refer to the class section or call her office at 612.819.9946 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.