Dandelion reminds us of the abundance that life holds. The seed head is symbolic of this – since it was believed that if you make a wish or focus on your dearest dream and then blow the seeds. These little messenger seeds will carry your wishes to the heavens – thereby making your dreams come true.
Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion)
Found in a very wide variety of habitats, but tends to thrive best in lawns, grassy fields, along paths and pavements, in open grounds and pastures and along road verges.
It grows all year around in the Cape. Although dies back a little at the end of autumn, only to return with the first winter rains. Dandelion has a long tap root with a basal rosette of toothed leaves fanning outward directly off its tap root. Yellow flowers appear towards the end of winter and continue well into spring. The flower turns into a puffball of hairy seeds. All parts exude a milky sap when broken (this is usually is an indication to avoid the plant completely but in this instance it is totally safe). Thrives on neglect but if planted in compost and watered regularly it will grow quite large.
Folk names include lion’s tooth, bitterwort, wild endive, priest’s crown, doonheadclock, piss-a-bed, Irish daisy, blow ball, yellow gowan, puffball, clock flower, swine snout, Pu gong ying, fortune-teller, and cankerwort.
- Parts used:
the whole plant
The leaves, buds and flowers can be harvested year round in our climate but the root is best harvested after it has flowered and had a chance to spread some of its glorious seed. This will ensure an abundance of future crops and the roots harvested at this time are said to contain the greatest concentration of beneficial constituents. Root can be harvested in bulk a few plants at a time and then chopped and dried for use throughout the year. Just be mindful, harvesting with care not to damage surrounding plants and to leave plenty dandelion for other foragers.
There are many look-alike plants that resemble dandelion but none are likely to harm you and all that I have come across so far are edible. None offer the amazing benefits that true Dandelion does so it worthwhile getting to know the real thing. The main difference between true Dandelion and its various impostors is that the real version does not have any hairs on the leaf – they are smooth and quite delicate. The “teeth” are also sharper looking than the others.
- Primary Medicinal Activities:
Diuretic, stimulates the liver, stimulates salivation and improves digestion (bitter tonic effect), nutritive, gentle laxative, anti-inflammatory, and tonic.
Best known for its ability to gently detox while supplementing and supporting the body with the nutrients likely to be flushed along with the toxins so you don’t put unnecessary strain on the body in the process. It purifies the blood and is an all-round tonic for the liver. It builds strong teeth and bones and helps to purify the blood.
- Strongest affinities:
Liver, gallbladder, gastrointestinal tract.
These are gems to be treasured as they have so many health benefits!
Add fresh leaves to salads, smoothies or health drinks. Leaves can also be added at the last minute to stir-fries. Chopped up finely – like parsley – it can be sprinkled over food to boost the nutrition of any dish, just before serving. It may be added to many cooked dishes as well but the many of the amazing nutritional benefits will be lost in the cooking process.
The roots have been used as a coffee substitute –chopped and roasted slowly. The English used to make Dandelion beer… and also Dandelion and Burdock Beer.
Flowers can be added to salad or dipped in batter and fried. Leaves and flowers are best fresh but the root can be dried for later use. The taproot is edible all year, but is best from late autumn to early spring. It can be use it as a cooked vegetable, especially in soups. Pre-boiling and changing the water, or long, slow simmering mellows this root (drink the tonic water for medicinal benefits). Sweet vegetables best complement dandelion roots. Sautéing the roots in olive oil also improves them, creating a robust flavour.
The leaves are more nutritious than any leaves you can buy.
1 cup of Dandelion (freshly picked leaves) has as much as 2,000 IU’s of Vitamin A (one and a half times the recommended daily allowance for an adult human), 20% protein content (that’s double what spinach provides), vitamins C, E, K, P, D and B complex (B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12,), biotin, inositol, very high iron, magnesium, zinc, manganese, phosphorus, very high calcium, and many other trace minerals such as silica, and an especially rich supply of potassium.
All of these vital nutrients are conveniently contained within a single source in quantities that the body can fully absorb. This means that Dandelion can gently supplement the diet without overworking the liver and kidneys with excess vitamins and minerals (which is often signified by dark urine). In addition to providing the nutrients we need the leaves have what herbalists call a bitter tonic effect: the body’s metabolism is “warmed up” before the digestive system is forced to go to work. You will notice when placing a small amount of herb in your mouth you will immediately sense an increase in saliva. As it reaches the stomach, bile and other digestive agents are triggered into production. The result is a more efficient digestion, reduced indigestion, better absorption of nutrients, and an increased appetite.
Dandelion is also rich in sulfur, iodine, inulin, triterpenoids and taraxacoside. Sulfur and iodine enhance the main therapeutic benefits of dandelion by stimulating the thyroid. The human thyroid gland is located in the neck, and all the blood in the body passes through the thyroid gland every 17 minutes. The gland’s secretion of iodine kills weak germs that may have gained entry into the blood through an injury to the skin or the lining of the nose or throat, or from being eaten and absorbed by the digestive tract. Virulent germs are rendered weaker during each passage through the thyroid gland until they are finally destroyed – but only if the gland has its normal supply of iodine. Other iodine rich plants belong to the cress family – nasturtiums, watercress, etc. Iodine is an important element in protecting against radiation damage.
The root contains the sugar inulin, plus many medicinal substances.
Research suggests that dandelion root may improve the health and function of natural bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Dandelions are also good for the bladder, spleen, pancreas, stomach and intestines. It is recommended for stressed, internally sluggish, and sedentary people. Anyone who’s a victim of excessive fat, white flour, and concentrated sweeteners could benefit from a daily cup of dandelion tea.
- Dosage (adult):
Quarter cup of fresh leaves or 1-2 teaspoons of dried leaves ~ infuse leaves by pouring near boiling water over them and allow them too steep for 5-10 minutes. Sip slowly. Up to 3 times daily.
Place root in boiling water and simmer for 5-10 minutes ~ 1-2 teaspoons dried or fresh. Strain and drink.
There are very few side effects linked to using dandelion root. Allergic Reactions to the herb have been reported. People taking prescription lithium, a diuretic, medication to lower blood pressure or medication to lower blood sugar should not take dandelion root. Women who are Pregnant or Breastfeeding should consult their doctor before taking this herb.
Be careful that the plants you harvest haven’t been sprayed. Always to a 24 hour test to establish your allergic response to any new plant you are trying.
If you have an allergy to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, yarrow, daisies, or iodine, you should avoid dandelion. In some people, dandelion can cause increased stomach acid and heartburn. It may also irritate the skin if applied topically.
By Tracy Armbruster