HERB OF THE MONTH!
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
I have a deeply committed, long-term relationship with Dandelion, it being the first herb ever that I feel in love with. I have so many fond memories of this herb ranging from sweet childhood times of sitting in the dandelion field stringing the bright yellow flowers together for my version of a daisy chain to rubbing the sticky flowers on my skin as a temporary tattoo of sorts to blowing the star like seeds to the sky and squeezing the white milk from its hollow stems. Seeing the sea of yellow would bring a sense of relief knowing that summer was on its way and warmer days were ahead. Lying back in the grass, gazing at the blue cloudless sky with the flowers all around, the buzz of the bee ringing in my ears was the soundtrack of my summer days in Southern Alberta.
Dandelion flowers provide some of the most important early foods for waking pollinating insects. Without these flowers these insects go without nourishment in the cold and barren early days of spring. As time passed and I grew up I realized that not all folk loved this herb as I did and even made great efforts to rid their green space of this important early pollinator, purchasing chemical sprays and treatments that would kill the Dandelion and render their lawn sterile and incapable of growing this herb let alone any other herb that would be beneficial to our natural environments.
Sad but true, in the later days of living in the city, it got to the point that the smell of pesticides became synonymous with early spring and dandelion blooms. I would spend a lot of time trying to educate my neighbours on the dangers of pesticide use and encourage them to allow for herbs to comingle in their grass, that a mono-cropped lawn was not nearly as healthy as one with dandelion, plantain, clover and more. Little did they know that the damage they caused by ridding their lawn of dandelion could actually been remedied by the dandelion itself.
COMMON NAME Dandelion (aka Lion’s Tooth)
BOTANICAL NAME Taraxacum officinale
PLANT FAMILY Asteraceae
PARTS USED Flower, Leaf and root
OVERVIEW Dandelion is a sunny, subtle, yet incredibly healing plant used for thousands of years in China and mentioned in traditional Arabian medicine in the tenth century. It has been used for centuries, in traditional medicine practices all over the world, as a restorative tonic, edible food, and in herbal wines and beers. The root is a favourite amongst traditional herbalists as it supports the healthy functioning of the liver, kidneys, spleen, and gallbladder and is considered to be a reliable detoxifying agent. The powdered and roasted root has been enjoyed as a coffee substitute and the roots and leaves are both used in brewing dandelion wines, beer, and in digestive bitter cordials and liqueurs. The flowers can be used to make wine, beer and lemonade.
BOTANY Dandelion bears a yellow flower head typical that closes in the evening or during cloudy weather and opens back up in the morning, much like its cousin calendula (Calendula officinale). It is a perennial herb with deeply cut leaves that form a basal rosette somewhat similar to another family member, the wild lettuce (Lactuca sp.), and has a thick tap root which is dark brown on the outside and white on the inside. It is native to most of Europe, Asia, and northern Africa, naturalized all over the world, and commonly found growing alongside roads and in lawns.
Taraxacum is derived from the Greek words ‘taraxos’ meaning disorder and ‘akos’ meaning remedy, the name referring to dandelion’s many healing properties. The word ‘dandelion’ originated from the Greek genus name ‘leontodon’ or ‘lion’s teeth’ which is thought to be related to the tooth-like shape of the leaves.
CULTIVATION AND HARVESTING Dandelion grows practically everywhere, and is collected in a variety of climates, even in the Himalayas up to about 12,000 feet, where it is often gathered for use in Ayurvedic medicine. Dandelion will grow anywhere, but will produce more substantial roots in moist, rich, deep soil.
Medicine of Dandelion is richest at certain times of harvest: Leaves collected before the flowers arrive, roots collected in early spring before flowering for culinary application and in the fall after the aerial parts have died back for medicinal application.
HISTORY AND FOLKLORE Medicinal use of dandelion was first recorded in writing in the Tang Materia Medica (659 B.C.E.), and then later noted by Arab physicians in the 10th century. In the 13th century, it was mentioned in Welsh medicine, and has been used all over the world since. The root was enjoyed by pharmacists in Europe as a fresh juice (said to be less bitter tasting) and referred to by its pharmaceutical name Succus Taraxaci. Young dandelion leaves were traditionally eaten frequently in Europe, particularly France. In folk medicine all over Europe it was considered a reliable tonic which supported the digestive and urinary systems.
In the United States, various Native American tribes considered dandelion to be a prized edible, a gastrointestinal aid, a cleansing alterative, and a helpful healing poultice or compress. The Bella Coola from Canada made a decoction of the roots to assuage stomach pain; the Algonquian ate the leaves for their alterative properties and also used them externally as a poultice. Additionally, the Aleut steamed leaves and applied them topically to sore throats. The Cherokee believed the root to be an alterative as well and made a tea of the plant (leaves and flowers) to calm the nerves. Further, they chewed the root to allay tooth pain. It is interesting to note that dandelion was used for pain relief by the Iroquois as well. They made a tea of the whole plant administering it for this purpose and also considered it be an alterative tonic. In the southwestern U.S., in Spanish speaking communities practicing herbalism, dandelion called ‘chicoria’ or ‘diente de leon’ was also considered a reliable blood purifier.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is referred to as ‘Xin Xiu Ben Cao’ or ‘Pu Gong Ying’ and considered to be energetically sweet, drying, and cooling. According to TCM, dandelion clears heat from the liver and has a beneficial effect on the stomach and lungs. It can uplift the mood and promote lactation.
The root was listed as official in the United States National Formulary, in the pharmacopeias of Austria and the Czech Republic, in the Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia, and the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia amongst others. It is an herb that is highly effective in strengthening and supporting the liver. It helps to balance the menstrual cycle as well. Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar strongly suggests this herb for bloating, pre-menstrual irritation, and for breast tenderness and says that it is “invaluable to women going through menopause.” The leaf can alleviate bloating by removing excess fluid from the system. The leaf contains potassium, which is often lost through frequent urination. Dandelion root’s benefit to the digestive tract is twofold as it contains inulin. (which may support healthy bacteria in the intestines), and is also a bitter digestive tonic which tones the digestive system and stimulates the appetite. It calms heat and also hot emotions, and is thus helpful in those that are irritated or nervous.
The young dandelion greens (rather than the older ones which become too bitter) are wonderful in salads. These leaves can also be steamed like spinach (although they take a little longer to cook than spinach) and spiced with salt, pepper, and butter. Other savory spices such as nutmeg, garlic, onion or lemon peel can be added as well.
FLAVOUR NOTES AND ENERGETICS Bitter, drying, and cooling
HERBAL ACTIONS Choleretic, appetite stimulant, digestive bitter, cholagogue, and mild laxative actions, mild purgative, hepatic, tonic, lymphatic, alterative, demulcent
USES AND PREPARATIONS Dried root or leaf as tea or tincture, powdered dried root encapsulated, or powdered and roasted and made into a coffee substitute beverage. Fresh leaf and flower as edible foods.
CONSTITUENTS Leaf and Flower: flavonoid glycosides such as luteolin and free luteolin, chrysoeriol coumarins, cichoriin, aesculin, bitter principles such as lactucopicrin (taraxacin), triterpenoids, and phytosterol.Root: sesquiterpene lactones, triterpenes (b-amyrin, taraxol, and taraxerol), carbohydrates such as inulin (ranging from 2% in spring to 40% in the fall), carotenoids such as lutein, fatty acids, flavonoids including apigenin and luteolin, minerals such as potassium (up to 5%), phenolic acids (caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid), phytosterols including sitosterol, stigmasterol, and taraxasterol, sugars, vitamin A, choline, mucilage and pectin.
PRECAUTIONS No known precautions.
1) Dandelion Fritters:
Use Fresh Leaves and Flowers for these delicious savoury treats. Can be made gluten free as well, modifications provided:
1/2 cup chopped fresh dandelion leaves
1/2 cup dandelion fresh flower petals
1/2 red onion, minced
1/4 Coconut flour & 1/4 cup almond flour OR ½ cup spelt flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 clove Garlic, minced
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
- Mix together the ingredients.
- Heat a skillet on medium heat until hot then grease with butter or coconut oil.
- Spoon 1/4 cup measure of the batter into the pan and fry on both sides until cooked through, about 3 – 4 minutes on each side.
- Repeat until all the batter is fried up.
2) Dandelion root Acetum and/or Oxymel
What is an acetum?
An acetum is a liquid preparation made by extracting various herbs with various vinegars. This simple to prepare medicine is valuable to our health for many reasons. The vinegar, which acts as the menstruum, is capable of extracting many minerals and vitamins that an alcohol extraction is incapable of. In this case, we prepare a dandelion root acetum using apple cider vinegar. Remember when making medicine to use the highest quality, organic, ingredients available to you. You may also wish to gather fresh dandelion leaves to create an acetum with as well.
SUPPLIES NEEDED: Mason jar of your size, Dandelion root to loosely fill the jar, Apple Cider Vinegar (use the finely cut dandelion root supplied if you so choose).
METHOD: Loosely fill your mason jar with the herb and then pour your ACV over to fill. Cap, label with the date and contents. Allow to macerate, capped, for at least 2 weeks, optimally 6 weeks. Shake everyday and watch as this medicine evolves.
- When ready, strain through layers of cheesecloth and bottle into an amber bottle. Average adult dosage of this vinegar is 1- 3 teaspoons in a small glass of water.
- Once this Acetum is finished you may wish to take the end result and create an Oxymel.
- To create an Oxymel:
- Take one-part Acetum to one-part honey, lightly heat to combine. Bottle and label.
- Shelf life both medicines is roughly 6 months – 1 year.
- Both medicines provide a high mineral content formula useful for all the health benefits listed in the article above.
3) Dandelion Chai Mix
1/2 cup Roasted Dandelion Root
3 Tbsp Fennel or Anise seed
1 teaspoon green Cardamom pods or ground Cardamom
1 teaspoon Cloves
3 Cinnamon sticks crushed
1 Tbsp dried Ginger root
1 /2 tsp black Peppercorns
Mix the ingredients together in a quart jar, shaking and stirring until well mixed.
To make the chai:
Add 1 tbsp mixture per cup of water, simmer for 5 minutes then steep for 10 minutes.
Add honey and/or cream or milk to taste.
4) Dandelion Flower Lemonade
125 ml of freshly picked dandelion flowers
500 ml sized jar
30 ml lemon juice
10 ml raw honey
- Add the honey to the jar and enough hot water to melt it.
- Place the dandelion flowers in the jar.
- Fill the jar with room temperature water plus the lemon juice.
- Cap and chill in the fridge.
- It is ready to serve in about four hours.
- You can strain off the flowers, or leave them in as a beautiful addition to your dandelion lemonade.
I encourage all of you to try to dig up a few roots this spring and add them to your meals, beverage and culinary delights. Dandelion has so much to offer us and ask so little in return other than to be left to grow and allowed nourish our environment, both for the insects and for us.