When I say dandelion – what springs to your mind? Wretched weed? Happy childhood memories of playing ‘what time is it’ with the puffy seed head? Or ‘oh yes, I’ve heard it’s good for your liver’?.
As a naturopathic herbalist, it's no surprise that I love glorious dandelion and all it's magical properties! Dandelion - bold, invasive, seemingly indestructible, a ‘plant of civilisation’ that grows wherever it wants. It doesn’t obey the laws of neat garden beds or tidy lawns, it pops up everywhere and seems to follow civilisation in ‘developed’ nations. There’s a theory that the plants that do this, plants of civilisation as they’re called, are the ones we really need (especially as we stray more and more away from traditional diets and eat more processed foods). Dandelion, with its cheery sunshine yellow flowers, is no mere pesky weed. It’s an outstanding herbal medicine, a richly nutritious food that grows without fuss, without needing pesticides or fertiliser, and it certainly doesn’t care how much water it gets. It’s funny how we place such value on things that are rare and hard to come by and we overlook what grows at our doorsteps.
So, what does Dandelion offer as a herb?
There’s a long list of all the wonderful properties of Dandelion but very simply: it’s a powerful liver and kidney tonic.
Both the root and leaves are used herbally
The roots, best harvested in Autumn, are one of the best liver tonics known. They're also a bitter tonic to stimulate digestion, help relieve constipation, and are a diuretic. I frequently use an extract of it in my herbal medicines.
The roots can be roasted then ground into a 'coffee' or tea (you can do this at home, or there are many forms available commercially too...even mixed with other spices to make things like Dandelion chai). Tender, fresh roots can be chopped like a carrot and added to stir fries and soups, or, if you want to juice the roots, harvest them in spring.
The leaves, best picked in spring, are a mild diuretic helpful for fluid retention (any females with that fluidy bloated feeling that can come before your period?), bladder and kidney problems, bile flow and constipation.
The leaves are also rich in iron, calcium and other minerals. They can be steamed, boiled or added to salads.
The flower heads can be infused in oil to make a wonderfully soothing balm for aching, tired muscles (the flowers can be made into wine too…mmm)
Dandelion does have a bitter taste. A lot of us aren’t used to that these days, but it’s the bitterness that has a lot of the curative action on our bodies. Start with small amounts until you get accustomed to the taste, or add other herbs like parsley to it.
Fun facts about Dandelions
How to tell a true dandelion from a false one? True dandelions – the flower stem is hollow, not wiry and there’s only one flower head per stem
The root can grow as far down as 15 feet (about 4.5 metres)
A single plant can produce over 5,000 seeds
Dandelions are said to have evolved about 30 million years ago in Eurasia, possibly near the Himalayas
In Alaska, there are Dandelion fossils dating back over a 100,000 years
It’s said that merely picking dandelions can cause you to wet the bed (not true)
Rudolph Steiner, philosopher, social reformer and the founder of bio-dynamics among other things, called them ‘messengers from Heaven’
For more dandelion fun, watch the first few minutes, tap your feet to the beat and enjoy The Dandelion Man.
Next time you visit my clinic in Concord West, please ask me about dandelion. I'll likely have plenty growing and can give you some to make a delicious recipe like this horta (a staple recipe in Greece, and a delicious and simple way to enjoy beautiful dandelion).
3 bunches dandelion greens
6-8 cups water
Pinch of salt
Extra virgin olive oil and lemon, to serve
1. Clean and chop the dandelion greens (I like to put them in a bowl of water to give them a good wash as they can be quite gritty from dirt).
2. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add the dandelion.
3. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes, until the dandelion is soft and tender.
4. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Enjoy!
Top tip: save the water you boiled the greens in and drink it!