The Valuable Dandelion – Weeded Bliss
by Lynn Hinderliter CN, LDN
The dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) is highly valued by herbalists, and not a one but shakes a world-weary head when they think of the lengths most gardeners go to, to rid themselves of the plant. The official name of the Dandelion suggests its value, coming from the the Greek taraxos (disorder), and akos (remedy). Originally, the leaf was the only part of the plant used, with the exception of the wine made from the flowers, a beverage made widely in the North of England, and considered more refreshing and healthful than beer. However, the properties of the root are also highly esteemed.II
I have an old Herbal in my collection by Mrs. Grieve, an English lady writing at the beginning of the 20th century. Follow some quotations from her work:
The Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, Weber, T. Densleonis, Desf; Leontodon taraxacum, Linn.), though not occurring in the Southern Hemisphere, is at home in all parts of the north temperate zone, in pastures, meadows and on waste ground, and is so plentiful that farmers everywhere find it a troublesome weed, for though its flowers are more conspicuous in the earlier months of the summer, it may be found in bloom, and consequently also prolifically dispersing its seeds, almost throughout the year.Small birds are very fond of the seeds of the Dandelion and pigs devour the whole plant greedily. Goats will eat it, but sheep and cattle do not care for it, though it is said to increase the milk of cows when eaten by them. Horses refuse to touch this plant, not appreciating its bitter juice. It is valuable food for rabbits and may be given them from April to September forming excellent food in spring and at breeding seasons in particular.
The young leaves of the Dandelion make an agreeable and wholesome addition to spring salads and are often eaten on the Continent, especially in France. The full-grown leaves should not be taken, being too bitter, but the young leaves, especially if blanched, make an excellent salad, either alone or in combination with other plants, lettuce, shallot tops or chives.
Young Dandelion leaves make delicious sandwiches, the tender leaves being laid between slices of bread and butter and sprinkled with salt. The addition of a little lemon-juice and pepper varies the flavour. The leaves should always be torn to pieces, rather than cut, in order to keep the flavour.
John Evelyn, in his Acetana, says: ‘With thie homely salley, Hecate entertained Theseus.’ In Wales, they grate or chop up Dandelion roots, two years old, and mix them with the leaves in salad. The seed of a special broad-leaved variety of Dandelion is sold by seedsmen for cultivation for salad purposes. Dandelion can be blanched in the same way as endive, and is then very delicate in flavour. If covered with an ordinary flower-pot during the winter, the pot being further buried under some rough stable litter, the young leaves sprout when there is a dearth of saladings and prove a welcome change in early spring.
The young leaves may also be boiled as a vegetable, spinach fashion, thoroughly drained, sprinkled with pepper and salt, moistened with soup or butter and served very hot. If considered a little too bitter, use half spinach, but the Dandelion must be partly cooked first in this case, as it takes longer than spinach. As a variation, some grated nutmeg or garlic, a teaspoonful of chopped onion or grated lemon peel can be added to the greens when they are cooked. A simple vegetable soup may also be made with Dandelions.
The dried Dandelion leaves are also employed as an ingredient in many digestive or diet drinks and herb beers. …. Dandelion wine is suggestive of sherry slightly flat, and has the deserved reputation of being an excellent tonic, extremely good for the blood.
The roasted roots are largely used to form Dandelion Coffee….Dandelion Coffee is a natural beverage without any of the injurious effects that ordinary tea and coffee have on the nerves and digestive organs. It exercises a stimulating influence over the whole system, helping the liver and kidneys to do their work and keeping the bowels in a healthy condition, so that it offers great advantages to dyspeptics and does not cause wakefulness.
Parts Used Medicinally—The root, fresh and dried, the young tops. .
Dandelion roots have long been largely used on the Continent, and the plant is cultivated largely in India as a remedy for liver complaints.
Chemical Constituents—The chief constituents of Dandelion root are Taraxacin, acrystalline, bitter substance, of which the yield varies in roots collected at different seasons, and Taraxacerin, an acrid resin, with Inulin (a sort of sugar which replaces starch in many of the Dandelion family, Compositae), gluten, gum and potash. The root contains no starch, but early in the year contains much uncrystallizable sugar and laevulin, which differs from Inulin in being soluble in cold water.
In former days, Dandelion Juice was the favourite preparation both in official and domestic medicine. Provincial druggists sent their collectors for the roots and expressed the juice while these were quite fresh. Many country druggists prided themselves on their Dandelion Juice. The most active preparations of Dandelion, the Juice (Succus Taraxaci) and the Extract (Extractum Taraxaci), are made from the bruised fresh root. The Extract prepared from the fresh root is sometimes almost devoid of bitterness. The dried root alone was official in the United States Pharmacopoeia.
Medicinal Action and Uses—Diuretic, tonic and slightly aperient. It is a general stimulant to the system, but especially to the urinary organs, and is chiefly used in kidney and liver disorders.
In the hepatic complaints of persons long resident in warm climates, Dandelion is said to afford very marked relief. A broth of Dandelion roots, sliced and stewed in boiling water with some leaves of Sorrel and the yolk of an egg, taken daily for some months, has been known to cure seemingly intractable cases of chronic liver congestion.
A strong decoction is found serviceable in stone and gravel: the decoction may be made by boiling 1 pint of the sliced root in 20 parts of water for 15 minutes, straining this when cold and sweetening with brown sugar or honey. A small teacupful may be taken once or twice a day.
Dandelion is used as a bitter tonic in atonic dyspepsia, and as a mild laxative in habitual constipation. When the stomach is irritated and where active treatment would be injurious, the decoction or extract of Dandelion administered three or four times a day, will often prove a valuable remedy. It has a good effect in increasing the appetite and promoting digestion.
Dandelion combined with other active remedies has been used in cases of dropsy and for induration of the liver, and also on the Continent for phthisis and some cutaneous diseases. A decoction of 2 OZ. of the herb or root in 1 quart of water, boiled down to a pint, is taken in doses of one wineglassful every three hours for scurvy, scrofula, eczema and all eruptions on the surface of the body.
—Preparations and Dosages—Fluid extract, B.P., 1/2 to 2 drachms. Solid extract, B.P. 5 to 15 grains. Juice, B.P., 1 to 2 drachms. Leontodin, 2 to 4 grains.
Infuse 1 OZ. of Dandelion in a pint of boiling water for 10 minutes; decant, sweeten with honey, and drink several glasses in the course of the day. The use of this tea is efficacious in bilious affections, and is also much approved of in the treatment of dropsy.
Or take 2 OZ. of freshly-sliced Dandelion root, and boil in 2 pints of water until it comes to 1 pint; then add 1 OZ. of compound tincture of Horseradish. Dose, from 2 to 4 OZ. Use in a sluggish state of the liver.
Or 1 OZ. Dandelion root, 1 OZ. Black Horehound herb, 1/2 OZ. Sweet Flag root, 1/4 OZ. Mountain Flax. Simmer the whole in 3 pints of water down to 1 1/2 pint, strain and take a wineglassful after meals for biliousness and dizziness.
—For Gall Stones—
1 OZ. Dandelion root, 1 OZ. Parsley root, 1 OZ. Balm herb, 1/2 OZ. Ginger root, 1/2 OZ. Liquorice root. Place in 2 quarts of water and gently simmer down to 1 quart, strain and take a wineglassful every two hours.
For a young child suffering from jaundice: 1 OZ. Dandelion root, 1/2 oz. Ginger root, 1/2 oz. Caraway seed, 1/2 oz. Cinnamon bark, 1/4 oz. Senna leaves. Gently boil in 3 pints of water down to 1 1/2 pint, strain, dissolve 1/2 lb. sugar in hot liquid, bring to a boil again, skim all impurities that come to the surface when clear, put on one side to cool, and give frequently in teaspoonful doses.
—A Liver and Kidney Mixture—
1 OZ. Broom tops, 1/2 oz. Juniper berries, 1/2 oz. Dandelion root, 1 1/2 pint water. Boil in gredients for 10 minutes, then strain and adda small quantity of cayenne. Dose, 1 tablespoonful, three times a day.
—A Medicine for Piles—
1 OZ. Long-leaved Plantain, 1 OZ. Dandelion root, 1/2 oz. Polypody root, 1 OZ. Shepherd’s Purse. Add 3 pints of water, boil down to half the quantity, strain, and add 1 OZ. of tincture of Rhubarb. Dose, a wineglassful three times a day. Celandine ointment to be applied at same time.
In Derbyshire, the juice of the stalk is applied to remove warts.
A popular French name for Dandelion is “Piss-en-Lit” – meaning “wet the bed”. This is a reference to its effective use as a diuretic. Consider that nature has also made the dandelion high in potassium, to replace the electrolytes the fluid removes – a very perfect example of the harmony of nature.
The bitter part of the dandelion, the taraxacin, is, like many herbal bitters, the part that helps the digestion by stimulating bile. This stimulating effect on the gall bladder also supports the health of the liver.
Here is the nutritional profile of 100 grams of fresh dandelion leaves:
|VITAMINSA 14,000 i.u
Vitamin C 35
|MINERALS (MG/100G)Calcium 187
|OTHER NUTRIENTSCalories 45
What a wealth of benefits this humble plant offers, all without effort on our part, and right at our doorstep. Perhaps Mother Nature is trying to tell us something!
Just for laughs, let me quote a snippet from Dr. Peter Gail of Goosefoot Acres :
Imagine a conversation The Creator might have with St. Francis:
“Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the Midwest? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracted butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.”
“It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great extent to kill them and replace them with grass.”
“Grass? But it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It’s temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?”
“Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.”
“The spring rains and cool weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.”
“Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it; sometimes twice a week.”
“They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?”
“Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.”
“They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?”
“No, sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.”
“Now let me get this straight: they fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?”
“These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer, when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.”
“You aren’t going believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.”
“Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. Saint Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?”
“Dumb and Dumber, Lord. It’s a real stupid movie about…”
“Never mind I think I just heard the whole story.”
I am indebted to a reader for pointing out that anyone who has a problem with Latex sensitivity should approach the Dandelion with caution, for fear of allergic dermatitis. Both the stalks and the leaves release a milky latex containing liquid when bruised. Dandelions belong to the Compositae family, which also comprises sunflowers, crysanthemum family, daisy family, and some vegetables, such as lettuce, chicory and artichokes.
Dandelion wines – recipe collection – http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/dandelion.htm
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