Get down and dirty in the garden
Freelance herbal writer, community herbalist and medicine maker Jennifer Heinzel hails from the cold city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Visit Thymes Ancient Remedies to read more from Jennifer.
“Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust” —William Shakespeare
Dandelion was one of the most loved and “esteemed plants of the herbalist," especially by the famous Arabian herbalist Avicenna, and was referred to as “blessed medicine" in the 18th century in Europe. Though a native to Greece, it has been used medicinally and as food throughout the world, but more so in Germany, China and England. Across the world it has been loved by foragers and herbalists alike, such as Rosemary Gladstar who is “convinced, [that dandelion] is one of the greatest herbs of all time. The entire plant is restorative and rejuvenating." Besides its popular reputation by historical and current-day herbalists alike, there is no other herb in the United States that is so “well known, so easily recognized, so much hated, so systematically singled out for extermination—and so little understood—as the dandelion." Despite most people in the U.S. seeing the dandelion as only a weed, it is “ironically just those long, tenacious roots which contain the major portion of its wealth in natural minerals and alkaloids!” So before you spray your lawn, think twice about exterminating this restorative herb.
The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), which is a part of the Asteracea family, ironically has many folk names for being such an aggressive, but medicinally useful, weed. Some of the more famous names include wild endive, blow ball, lion’s teeth, goats beard, fairy clock and peasant’s cloak, though it’s more interesting how the dandelion got its name. It started as the Latin Dens Leonis, to the Greek Leotodum. Once it crossed borders again to France, it changed to the French’s dent-de-lion, and lastly to the current day English version dandelion. Also, true to its name, the dandelion possesses long, lion teeth-like leaves that emerge from the taproot (usually around 2 to 12 inches long), forming a rosette of green leaves.
This is an historical profile of the tenacious dandelion.
Photo courtesy Edible Communities Publications
Some of the first records of dandelion being medicinally utilized were of the Egyptians, described by a Greek scholar 300 years before Christ. However, it was the Arabian physicians of the Middle Ages who first “officially recognized the plant’s medicinal properties and named it Taraxacon, from the Greek taraxos, for 'disorder,' and akos for 'remedy.'" Another folk name-related medicinal use comes from the French name for dandelion,“piss en lit”, or literally “piss in the night." Dandelion has strong diuretic properties and was commonly used by 18th century French squires for gout.
The uses of dandelion are as vast, boundless and varied as its folk names, including China’s more than 1,000-year use of it in the treatment of breast cancer, to being very “effectual for the obstructions of the liver, gall and spleen." It was also noted to effectively treat jaundice and urinary infections, according to the famous English botanist Nicholas Culpeper. One of the most medicinally concentrated parts is the root (for when fresh leaves are not available). The roots are best dug up in the fall or spring of the second year. This was traditionally done so by the French-Canadians; Icelanders fried the roots as well. Another way people knew of dandelion, though not to my surprise, was as a magical plant. The dandelion was believed to increase a person’s physhic powers. In the 16th century a man named Matthiolus recorded that “magicians say that if a person rub himself all over with [dandelion], he will everywhere be welcome and obtain what he wishes." Also in this century in England, John Evelyn noted that the leaves of the famous bitter green had “been sold at most Herb Shops about London for being a wonderful Purifier of the Blood." Another famous English herbalist, John Gerard, compared dandelion to chicory (called ‘succorie’ at the time), because it was another coffee substitue, and “thrived especially in gardens and ‘highe ways much troden.'"
Another famous herbalist of the 19th through the 20th centuries, Maude Grieve, stated that dandelion tea is “efficacious in bilious affections.” In fact, most herbalists believe that the beneficence of such of tea is almost boundless. In Eastern medicine, they traditionally used dandelion to heal liver complaints; they also used the coarsely ground root to heal snake bites and to inhibit the growth of tumor cells in a mixture along with kelp and gotu kola.
Being so rich in vitamins and minerals, it’s no wonder that dandelion is so widely used and grown throughout the world. Dandelion is very rich in protein, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, niacin, riboflavin, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A, B, C, D, G and E. The leaves, amazingly enough, contain 7,000 units of vitamin A per ounce. In comparison to lettuce being 1,200 units per ounce of vitamin C, and to carrot being 1,275 units per ounce is quite astounding. With dandelion containing many vitamins and minerals, it’s no wonder that it treats many disorders such as anemia, IBS and sluggish bowel. It also improves the health of all digestive organs, including the liver, gallbladder and kidneys, and treats blood sugar problems. Dandelion treats the nutrient-deficient ailment anemia very well, since anemia is caused by a deficiency of nutritive salts present in the blood. With dandelion’s high levels of potassium, iron and vitamin B, this especially helps in the treatment of anemia, because this ailment is also caused from a the lack of iron, B-12 and folic acid.
Dandy-Lion in the Ecovillage of Findhorn, Scotland
Photo by Jennifer Heinzel
When it comes to improving the health of digestive organs, no other herb can beat the dandelion. All parts of the dandelion are medicinal—the leaves specifically are a diuretic, which helps in the treatment of gout and other bladder related-ailments; and the two-year roots, when dug up in the fall, are the best age and medicinal quality. At this time, all of the energy and medicinal properties are concentrated in the roots, including the compound inulin. Overall, the dandelion is a very good liver and gallbladder cleanser and decongestant,. It enhances the health of all other organs as well. Current-day European herbalists use the juice of the dandelion root, specifically, in the treatment of diabetes, liver disease and other liver-related diseases such as eczema and arthritis. As a side note, dandelion can also externally be used to treat warts, old blisters and hard pimples. The split stem was used by Native Americans to treat stings.
Lastly, the glandular activity, which is stimulated with the juice of the entire plant, is used by European herbalists and is used to improve lymph drainage,when mixed with other herbs such as mullein, cleavers and calendula. Along with improving the intake of nutrients—being a nutrient-dense herb in its own right—the dandelion also improves the health of all digestive organs, and thus improves all digestion-related-ailments. Therefore, it can improve appetite, ease sluggish-bowel,and improve the assimilation of nutrients. A Belgian study, using a five-herb combination with dandelion, showed that more than “95 percent of IBS sufferers were pain-free after 15 days of treatment and also improved regularity." Dandelion is a blood purifier, removes poisons and toxins from the blood and helps the kidneys and liver remove toxins.
Having mentioned historical ways to take this medicine, many people prefer taking it as a decoction or as a wine. Having done none of these much, I much prefer to eat my medicine. My favorite way to eat the dandelion is in an omelet and here is my own recipe:
Wild Green & Dandelion Omelet
• 2 to 3 fresh local eggs
• Sweet peppers, chopped into small squares
• 1 to 2 handfuls fresh dandelion greens, cut up
• About 3 sprigs lamb's quarters, ripped up
• 1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 1 sprig tarragon, chopped
• About 3 chives, cut up
• Goat cheese
1. Scramble the eggs in a bowl with a fork. Pour into a heated oiled or sprayed pan. After about 1 minute add the sweet peppers, dandelion greens and lamb's quarters. Then, after 1 to 2 minutes later, add the garlic, tarragon and chives.
2. Flip one side of the omelet to cover the other half of it. Turn off the heat and cover with goat cheese (or another cheese based on personal taste), salt, pepper and salsa. ENJOY!!
+ For more information on folk names, traditional uses and a Dandelion Wine recipe, see Pamela Jones’s book “Just Weeds.”
+ For more information on obscure ailments dandelion treats and traditional uses, see Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s book “Common Herbs for Natural Health.”
+ For scientific studies related to dandelion, see Kathi Keville’s book “Herbs for Health and Healing."
+ For dandelion tea recipes, see Rosemary Gladstar’s book “Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health."
+ For a dandelion root coffee recipe, visit Mountain Rose Herb’s website.