The Healing Properties of Our Local Weeds – Dandelion
Many of our local weeds contain valuable healing properties. As the warmer weather approaches, weeds will be filling our gardens and as time permits, these same weeds will be pulled out and discarded (hopefully at least composted). This article will highlight some of the usefulness of our most common “weed”.
One of our most invasive garden weeds is the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). The common name is derived from the French “dent de lion” or lion’s teeth, because of the shape of its spiked leaves. As we all have have noticed, the dandelion is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring and also lasts the longest into the fall season. Because of this long season, dandelions are an important source of food for the bees and honey production. The physical structure of the plant is interesting. Dandelion has a long central root (tap root) with its leaves arranged to catch water and direct it downwards to the root. Medicinal plants that have a long root system have the ability to pull valuable minerals and nutrients out of the soil and into the plant itself. The bright yellow of the flowers attract bees and just under the flower head are leaf-like petals (bracts) that help deter ants and other bugs from damaging the flower or acquiring the pollen and nectar. It’s also amazing to note that as wide-spread as dandelion is, the plant is not native to North America.
The first mention of the medicinal qualities of dandelion date back to Arabian physicians of the tenth and eleventh century. The genus name, Taraxacum, is derived from the Greek taraxos (disorder) and akos (remedy) due to the plant’s recognized healing actions. The species name, officinale, means, “used in the office or the workshop.” Both the roots and leaves are used medicinally.
Dandelion is most commonly used as a diuretic (increases the flow of urine), hence its English nickname of “pissabeds”. Medicinal plants contain a balance of properties and constituents whereas pharmaceuticals provide just the required chemicals to create the desired effect (and in many cases, side-effects). Pharmaceutical diuretics deplete the body of necessary minerals and nutrients, especially potassium. The dandelion plant is very high in potassium and other minerals so the body is not being robbed of vital nutrients when dandelion is used as a diuretic.
Dandelion is a very safe, valuable and useful plant with many medicinal uses. It is considered a tonic (tones the body), reduces water weight gain, a mild laxative, helps to eliminate toxins from the blood, promotes healthy digestion and will soothe an irritated stomach, acts as an anti-rheumatic, helps support the liver and kidneys, keeps the bowels in a healthy condition, stabilizes blood sugar, reduces blood pressure, has shown anti-tumor properties and clears the skin of impurities.
The milky juice from the stems and leaves acts as a fungicide and has antibacterial properties. The juice has been shown to be effective in the treatment of warts, corns, stings and blisters.
The dandelion plant contains one of the highest levels of vitamin A of all greens and also contains high concentrations of vitamin C, iron, calcium, potassium and electrolytes.
Although dandelion is considered a “bitter”, and it is bitter, acquiring a palate for the flavor is easy. The roots take on a kind-of nutty flavor when used as a tea. It is important to note that bitters provide their healing qualities from being bitter, they get the gastric juices flowing starting at the mouth downward. To provide the most benefit, herbs considered as bitters should not be sweetened or taken in capsule form.
The young leaves can be used as salad greens or cooked as you would spinach, the roasted roots as a healthy coffee substitute or raw as a tea. Dandelion root tea is made with one ounce of root to one pint of boiling water and steeped about 15 minutes. The flowers have been used throughout history to make dandelion wine, they can be stir-fried as an interesting and colorful change of vegetable or added raw to a salad. Dandelion flower tea with a little honey can provide relief for headaches, menstrual cramps, stomach aches and mild depression.
When collecting any wild plants, there are a few pointers to keep in mind. First and foremost, make sure you have positively identified the plant. A valuable reference for identification is a good field guide such as “A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America” (Peterson Field Guides) by Steven Foster and James Duke. Do not collect plants from areas where fertilizers or pesticides have been applied and do not collect close to roadsides as car exhaust creates toxins in the plants.
This article may not help with your weeding woes, but hopefully you look upon dandelion a little differently now and maybe even give it a try for its health benefits.