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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Dandy Dandelion, The Remedy for Disorders

The stress people put on themselves in their battle to get rid of the dandelions in their yards is only getting a laugh from this tough, determined to survive plant. It may as well be saying "Wherever you go, I will follow". Dandelions propagate not only by way of the seeds that go wherever the winds blow, but by their roots. The taproots go so deep that when you pull the plant out of the ground, you are breaking the roots which readily regrow into new plants.

So rather than seeing the dandelion as ruining the perfection of a manicured green carpet of a lawn, why not rethink that there may be advantages to this "weed" and perhaps there is a good reason it can be found all over the world.

Before we get into the health benefits of this herb, lets look at it from an environmental perspective. Dandelions start popping up in early spring, a time of year when insects, birds and wildlife are returning to a limited food supply. The flowers are an important element of the diets of many flying and ground insects. Bees, wasps, grasshoppers, fireflies and butterflies all use the flowers as a food and in return serve the plant in its pollination.

Once the flowers go to seed, they are eaten up by the birds, in particular the American Goldfinch, the Lark Sparrow, Sparrows, Indigo Buntings, even wild turkeys, Bobwhites and Canada geese.

The leaves are sought out by mammals such as rabbits, chipmunks, deer and other wild animals who graze on greens. After a long, hungry winter, spring vegetation is a key to survival and supporting their young.

Spring is the rainy season and without deep rooted plants, soils become compacted and the runoff causes erosion of good topsoil. Dandelions deep roots create drainage channels in compacted soil, restore minerals to depleted soil, and aerate the ground which then attracts earthworms.

If that isn't enough to soften hearts for this plant, then perhaps just knowing it is considered an official medicinal plant may earn it a little respect. The botanical name of the dandelion is Taraxacum officinale, taraxos is Greek for 'disorder' and achos is Greek for 'remedy'. Put them together and we have taraxacum which means 'I am the remedy for disorders'.

The entire plant is edible and used not only as a nutritious food source but as a remedy for various ailments. The roots are known as a supreme ally and tonic to the liver and valued for helping with gallbladder problems. The plant is rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, natural sugars, carotenes and many phyto nutrients. Referred by many as a liver cleanser and blood purifier, dandelion helps to stimulate the flow of bile, strengthens the immune system, glandular, circulatory and lymphatic systems. When our systems are functioning properly many of our complaints with stiffness and skin problems clear up on their own. Since the liver has more than 500 functions, it's health is vital for a person to feel good. Good nutrition helps us be more resilient to stress and who doesn't need help with stress relief.

The leaves act as a diuretic to get rid of excess fluids. It is considered one of the best natural sources of potassium. After a long winter of too much rich food and not enough fresh air and physical activity, eating what are called digestive bitters helps get rid of that blah, bloated feeling. By increasing the hydrochloric acid in the stomach, digestion is improved, elimination is more regular and we generally just feel better. Get the kidneys, liver and bowels moving the way they should and many problems with kidney stones, indigestion and constipation resolve themselves.

The flowers are considered a beautifier. Herbal wisdom uses the flowers to tone oily skin, fade freckles and age spots, and soften rough skin. The flowers are gathered and made into herbal oils, wines, tinctures and elixirs. Balms and salves are used to for breast health by aiding the lympthatic system, as a balm for stiff joints and muscles, even menstrual cramps.

Acclaimed herbalist, Susan Weed, says "When the liver works well, the kidneys work better, and tissues no longer bloat." She also praises the dandelion to help with the menopausal years. "When we consume phytoestrogen-rich plants we allow our bodies to create the hormones we need for our menopausal journey." What a wonderful thing to keep in mind to prepare for hot flashes and night sweats. She does say we have to be patient. Herbal medicine doesn't show results overnight. It has to be a part of our lifestyle before the benefits are fully realized.

Dandelions are just one of the many spring greens we should add to our diets. Here are two informative blog posts regarding the benefits of adding wild bitters to our diets:
Herbal Allies talks about bone health
Healthy Vinegars talks about making herbal vinegars

If you do forage for spring greens be sure to know the identification of these plants. Also be sure you are picking plants that have not been sprayed with herbicide or pesticide.
A good source for wild edible plant identification is "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so wild) Places.  Written by Steve Brill and Evelyn Dean. 

Since the entire plant can be used there is much more flexibility for ways to use it. Some people love their teas, others add drops of the tincture to a glass of water, some love it as a sweet wine, others utilize the fresh leaves for their salad, and then we can always get loved ones to eat it by sneaking the leaves into soups. Below is a balm made from the infusion of dandelion flowers in olive oil. Very useful for stiff joints, chapped skin and sore breasts.

Two wonderful books by Susan Weed for anyone interested in the holistic, natural approach:
  Her books include "The Menopausal Years" and "Healing Wise"

Dandelion Salve/Balm