Herb of the Month: Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

dandelion

In May, we who live in Southern Ontario, have lots of sunny days, the warm south winds carrying the warm air that opens the blooms of Spring. One of my favourites of these is Dandelion.

dandelion print

I am sure we all can identify this plant. Many children admire it for the beautiful silken-plumed seeds – or pappus -  that appear when the flower is gone to seed. I remember making wishes as a little girl, and if I could blow all the seeds off of the head of the flower, my wish was sure to come true. The flowers are a bright, sunny yellow, bursting with pollen, and beautiful scents. The flowers stand tall on hollow yellow-green stems, that are smooth all the way down. The leaves are generally toothed along each margin, and the name Dandelion has been said to be a derivation of the French Dents de Lion meaning Lion’s Teeth. In Greek, Leontodon, also hints at the toothed leaves. The taproots of Dandelion are strong, and hard to pull up whole with hands alone. Many tools have been developed to make this process easier, and they vary widely in appearance, but not effectiveness.

Dandelion has been used medicinally for quite some time, first being mentioned in Arabic physicians’ works in the 10th and 11th centuries.  The entire plant contains a bitter compound called taraxacin, an acrystalline substance found in the milky sap that flows throughout the plant. Taraxcerin another acrid resin, Inulin, gluten, gum and potash are also present in large quantities. The roots, plant tops and flowers are edible, and used medicinally. Dandelion is a tonic herb, cleansing the digestive and renal systems. A purifier of the liver, kidneys and digestive tract, Dandelion has been long used to ease constipation, liver congestion, bile imbalance, gastro-intestinal disturbances, and liver ulcers.

Fermented Dandelion stout has been popular in rural areas all over Europe, large amounts of flowers being gathered in April and May, and the brew being ready for consumption 6 months later. An excellent tonic beverage, it has earned it’s reputation of being good for the blood. Dandelion is also useful in the treatment of gall stones, by way of decocting a pint of roots in 20 parts water and sweetening, drinking about 4 ounces once or twice daily.

Dandelion is a wonderful plant, and is so very talented when it comes to reproduction. Her yellow flowers and tasty greens are everywhere we go, and hard to keep out of lawns and gardens. The greens contain high amounts of vitamins C, A, B, and E. Susun Weed calls Dandelion the ‘bend-over’ vitamin suplement, as all we need to do is bend over and eat 2 leaves to get our daily dose of vitamin C. The young, tender greens are a wonderful addition to raw salads, and the older leaves can be steamed, braised, or added to soups and stews. Prepare the older leaves as you would spinach, though Dandelion is said to be a little more bitter.

As with any wild plant foraging, avoid gathering from roadsides, as the plants growing there are cleansing the air and soil of toxins, particularly lead from vehicle emissions. These toxins are stored in the plant material, and can make us sick if consumed. Try to find large meadows or fields to harvest from, or even your own backyard! Most parks aren’t sprayed with pesticides or herbicides, but it is worthwhile to check to see if there are bylaws in your area that prevent spraying in public spaces. Regional trails are also a great place to harvest wild plants. Dandelion is such a prolific reproducer that we can harvest everything in an area, and within a month new plants will be popping up, as the seeds travel rather far on the wind.

dandelion variant age

Preparing Dandelion medicines:

Harvesting the flowers in the spring, they can be used for many different remedies. Tinctures are always best when prepared from fresh plant material. To make a dandelion tincture, dig up as many dandelions as required to fill your vessel (mason jars are perfect for this task). Take the whole plant, leaves, flowers and roots, and bring them home to be washed. Thoroughly scrub the roots, setting the leaves aside for eating in salad or cooking like spinach. Place the roots and flowers into your jar, packing loosely to fill the jar to the top. Cover completely with a strong alcohol, preferably 80 proof or higher. Allow to sit, tightly covered, for 6 weeks, in a sunny window. Strain into a bottle with a dropper, and take 10-15 drops 3 times daily, in about an ounce of water or juice, to cleanse the liver and kidneys.

To make an infusion (tisane or ‘tea’):

Gather your dandelions, wash thoroughly and dry them on cheescloth drying racks (or old window screens) in a cool, dark place. After about 2 weeks, they should be completely dry. The roots should snap easily, and the core of the root will be white in appearance, NOT grey. Store in paper bags, or a glass mason jar with cloth or paper covering the top. (This is to allow the herbs to ‘breathe’, and regulate the moisture level.) Avoid keeping herbs in an airtight container, as they won’t last as long. To prepare an infusion, measure out 1/2 oz. (by weight) of roots and flowers, and place into a jar. Cover with boiling water,sweeten if desired, place a lid on the jar, and allow to steep for at least 2 hours. Drink this infusion within 48 hours, and keep refrigerated, as it will spoil quickly if left out once the jar has been opened.

Dandelion Honey

Gathering the flowers once they are fully opened in April, we can fill a jar with the blossoms and cover with honey. After 48 hours (at the earliest, 6 weeks is ideal, allowing the full extraction of constituents), this honey can be taken by the tablespoon, eaten as-is, or added to teas or infusions. As an herbed honey, Dandelion still acts as a supportive tonic to the liver and kidneys, soothing digestive upsets, and encouraging the cleansing of these systems.  A very tasty way to get your dandelion.

A NOTE TO THOSE WITH ALLERGIES TO POLLEN!

DANDELION BLOSSOMS PRODUCE A LARGE AMOUNT OF POLLEN! Those with pollen allergies should avoid using dandelion blossoms medicinally. When I lived with my sister, we made dandelion fritters, and she, having a pollen allergy, had an anaphylactic reaction after eating only a few battered blossoms. So, PLEASE USE CAUTION when consuming Dandelion. If you are allergic to pollen, use only the roots and leaves of the plant.


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