A natural cleansing tonic, and stimulant for a sluggish liver.
Cursed by gardners as a weed in lawns and flower beds, dandelion is, in fact, a useful addition to the medicine chest. The dandelion clock from which seeds are blown after the flower has gone. The distinctive leaves of the dandelion which resemble rows of jagged teeth.
Make a crisp salad with a difference using fresh dandelion leaves instead of lettuce. Nasturtium flowers as decoration add a vibrant touch of colour.
Few children can have grown up without experiencing the pleasure of telling the time by puffing away the downy seed-head of this common wildflower. Yet even though the dandelion is remembered fondly as part of a charming childhood game, its medicinal uses are often sadly neglected.
The dandelion grows naturally all over the northern hemisphere, thriving in meadows and on practically any scrap of waste ground. Flourishing most of all in sunshine, it flowers nearly all year round – provided there is no frost – a fact that accounts for its widespread, and seemingly continual, presence.
DANDELION THE CLEANSER
The dandelion plant is beloved of herbalists and practitioners of folk medicine. The whole plant – the flowers, leaves and the root – can be utilized in various ways. Dandelion has been regarded for centuries as a stimulant for a sluggish liver: it is also thought to act as an overall, cleansing 'tonic': the salts in dandelion neutralize the acids in the blood, hence its cleansing action on the pancreas, spleen and the female sexual organs. In addition, the application of dandelion juice to warts is a traditional remedy, while the leaves were used as a curative in ancient China, crushed as a poultice and applied to boils and abcesses.
Dandelion's most important function is as a diuretic. By flushing out impurities in the blood, liver and kidneys, it helps to reduce water retention and swollen ankles (diuretics increase the flow of urine from the body and so tend to be used for heart and rheumatic complaints, amongst others). Most diuretics used in orthodox health care have the unfortunate effect of robbing the body of potassium. This is not the case with dandelion, for it naturally contains a high level of potassium and thus makes supplementary potassium unnecessary. Furthermore, its high potassium, sodium, iron and vitamin content makes dandelion especially beneficial in the treatment of anaemia.
Herbalists recommend fresh dandelion leaves (taken in food or drink) as a remedy for poor appetite – such as often occurs through illness or anxiety. The very bitterness of the leaves, it is claimed, stimulates the digestive juices. Dandelion is also compounded with burdock as a traditional remedy for poor appetite or digestion. This combination is available in the form of a ready-made drink at many health-food shops.
Chopped and grated two-year-old dandelion root – a preparation that acts primarily as a tonic – is frequently used for liver ailments. The root is particularly effective in the treatment of cirrhosis of the liver, as it improves considerably the efficiency of the liver's detoxification process.
The grated root has also been shown to benefit certain rheumatic conditions, and the juice of the root has proved helpful in lowering blood sugar levels, thus making it a worthwhile remedy for those suffering from certain types of diabetes.
Lastly, the root can be used in the treatment of gallstones and non-obstructive jaundice, as well as chronic dyspepsia, chronic enteritis and gastritis.
DANDELION IN THE KITCHEN
The dandelion has numerous culinary as well as medicinal uses: the root, for instance, can be crushed and ground to make dandelion coffee. This palatable, though somewhat bitter, beverage provokes none of the unpleasant bodily reactions associated with ordinary coffee or tea. The stimulant caffeine, present in both tea and coffee, can cause an assortment of unwanted conditions, from raised blood pressure and indigestion, to the impairment of normal liver function. In fact, coffee made with dandelion has a positive toning effect on the liver, and helps to keep the bowels healthy.
Fresh dandelion leaves make a nutritious, readily available addition to salads, soups and even sandwiches. Young, fresh leaves only should be selected, otherwise they may taste unpleasantly bitter. Furthermore, the 'tops' (the flowers and the freshest looking leaves) can be infused to make a curative tea which is useful for biliousness and swollen ankles. Use a handful of the tops to 575 ml (1 pint) of boiling water. Leave to 'brew' for about 10 minutes, strain, and stir in a teaspoonful of clear honey. This drink can be taken several times a day.
The best time to collect dandelion roots is between June and August when they are at their bitterest; but gather only large, fleshy, well-formed roots from the older plants. Dig the roots in wet weather (not when there is frost) as this is when their healing properties are greatest, but take care to avoid breaking or damaging them while digging. The roots can then be dried whole or split lengthways. This is a slow process which usually takes about two weeks.
Dandelion leaves should be collected when young, and can be used dried (overnight in a warm airing cupboard) or fresh. As they can be picked all year round, use them fresh when possible.
Dandelion leaves are shiny and hairless. The leaf margins are cut into jagged teeth – sometimes sub-divided – which point either upwards or backwards. This may have given rise to the popular belief that the dandelion is so named because of the leaf's close resemblance to a canine tooth of a lion. The name dandelion is thus thought to be a corruption of the French 'dent-de-lion' (lion's tooth).
According to other sources, however, the dandelion is not so named on account of its appearance. These sources attribute the name to a fifteenth century surgeon who was reputedly so impressed by the plant's ability to heal certain illnesses that he declared that it was 'as strong and powerful as a lion's tooth'.
Dandelion roots should be dug between June and August. Wash them thoroughly – two ancient recipes suggest the easiest way to wash the roots is to 'put them in a net under a waterfall', or to 'leave them in a basket in a running stream'. If this sounds impractical, rinsing the roots under running water in your sink will do just as well.
Dry the roots in a gentle heat until bone dry, either in sunlight or an airing cupboard. Roast the roots slightly in a cool oven until brown, then chop them and grind them: the grounds are used to make dandelion coffee. Simmer approximately 5 ml (1 tsp) of the dried, ground root in 150 ml (5 fl oz) water for a few minutes, then strain and add milk to the liquid.
Put 50 g (2 oz) chopped, fresh dandelion herb – or 25 g (1 oz) dried, powdered leaf – into a non-metallic pot. Pour over 500 ml (1 pint) of boiling water, cover and leave to brew for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Three small cupfuls a day of this potassium-rich infusion will help to alleviate water retention and reduce swollen ankles.
What's in a Name?
An ancient English document called the 'Doctrine of Signatures' puts forward the theory that the characteristics of a plant – its color, shape or habitat, for example – gives clues as to its uses.
Therefore the dandelion, with its bright yellow flowers of a 'bilious hue', is associated with liver and gall-bladder complaints.
Similarly, even the common name of a plant can be use in fathoming its medicinal qualities. In Tudor, England, for example, the colloquial term for dandelion was 'piss-a-bed' – referring of course to dandelion's diuretic property. The colloquial French name for dandelion, 'pis-en-lit' – a literal translation from the English – also reflects this property.
Dandelion's latin name taraxacum, is possibly derived from the Greek taraxos meaning disorder and akos meaning remedy. Again this alludes to the curative powers of this plant.
Using your hands, rather than a knife, shred three or four fresh dandelion leaves per person (tearing is preferable to cutting, as more flavour is retained). Grate or dice a tart eating apple, and sprinkle this over the top of the leaves: add a little vinaigrette dressing to prevent discolouration. Top the apple and dandelion leaves with chives, or with chopped nuts, sultanas or dates.
This nutritious salad can be served with dandelion beer as a delicious light meal. Pick several handfuls of fresh young dandelion leaves (preferably in April). Rinse them well in cold running water and mix with lemon juice, olive oil, half a teaspoonful of nutmeg, diced smoked tofu and hard-boiled eggs. Serve with lightly toasted whole meal bread.
To make this spread, you will need a cupful of young dandelion leaves. Wash gently and pat dry on a clean tea towel, then place them in a blender. Add half a cupful of cottage cheese, and a quarter of a cup of chopped nuts: blend together until smooth. Add enough mayonnaise to make the mixture easy to spread.
Dandelion's healing properties were first acknowledged in the tenth and eleventh centuries by Arabian physicians. The Welsh recognized the medicinal powers of dandelion during the thirteenth century, although the roots and leaves had already been used in the preparation of food throughout the land for some considerable time.
In one of his most famous words, Nicholas Culpeper, the sixteenth century herbalist, describes dandelion thus: 'It openeth the passages of the urine' and is 'very effectual for the obstructions of the liver'. Three centuries later Potter's New Encyclopedia of Botanical Drugs states the same: 'It is chiefly used on kidney and liver disorders'.
This drink is traditionally made with a combination of dandelions, stinging nettles and dock leaves.
Take 4.6 litres (8 pints) cold water and a colander full of fresh dandelion leaves. Add a few young stinging nettles or dock leaves and 25 g (1 oz) bruised whole ginger: boil gently for 40 minutes. Strain and stir in one cupful of brown sugar. When tepid, add a piece of toast, spread with 15 g (1/2 oz) yeast and stir well to mix.
Keep the brew warm for six to seven hours, then scrape off the scum and add half a teaspoonful of cream of tartar. Strain into a bottle or bottles, and seal securely. The result is a wholesome dandelion and ginger beer (for a true dandelion beer omit the ginger). The beer was once a popular drink throughout the United Kingdom, especially in the industrial towns and rural areas of the midlands and the north.
TINTUCRE OF DANDELION
Ideally, this beverage should be made with 25 per cent alcohol, but if this is not available then either vodka or gin, both of which are usually between 30 and 40 per cent alcohol, can be used.
Put 100 g (4 oz) chopped, dried herb or ground, dried root into a large jar (if using fresh herbs, double the amount). Then add 2- fl oz (1 pint) of the alcohol (do not fill the jar more than three-quarters full) and seal the jar with a tightly-fitting lid. Leave the jar in a warm place for two weeks; shake it well twice a day.
After two weeks, decant the liquid into a dark-glassed bottle, wringing out as much of the alcohol as possible from the residue left at the bottom. Using a wine press, if you have access to one, makes this step easier and more efficient.
The advantage of an alcoholic tincture is that it will store for longer periods than fresh or dried herbs. Also, some of the active components of herbs are more soluble in alcohol than water. Dosage is 2.5 ml (1/2 teaspoon) in water, 3 times a day.