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Food & Medicine from Dandelion

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), also known as blow ball, Irish daisy, monk's head, priest's crown and lion’s tooth, is a member of the Asteraceae family, which makes the herb related to daisy, sunflower and aster. The herb gets its name from the French phrase dent de lion, which means “tooth of the lion” and is a reference to its deeply lobed leaves. Another French nickname, pissenlit, which translates to “wet the bed,” alludes to the historical use of dandelion as a diuretic.

Although some people consider dandelion a nuisance weed, the plant is one of the most amazing botanicals to work with and benefit from. Aside from the obvious rewards of dandelion flower wine and jelly, the leaves and roots also have much to offer. In fact, the entire plant is loaded with good things.

Dandelion Pharmacology

Dandelion root and stems contain a milky latex, which is more concentrated in the latter. If you have a known allergy to latex, then you’ll want to avoid contact with this substance and, possibly, avoid use of the herb at all. Otherwise, this milky material is incredibly healing for the skin. It’s the best remedy for warts – period. Just apply the milky sap three times a day, and at the end of three days the wart will be reduced to a distant memory.

The young leaves of dandelion are tasty additions to salads and are one of the richest sources of vitamin K, which plays an important role in preventing bone loss and neural deterioration associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The leaves are also abundant in fiber, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamins A, B-6, C and potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. The herb also provides various flavonoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin.

The sunny yellow flowers of dandelion are also beneficial. In addition to their culinary virtues, the flowers contain agents that act on inflammatory skin conditions, either applied as a water infusion or as an infused oil. The roots are chopped and added to soups and stir-fries, or they can be pickled whole. Of course, the roots are also tinctured. Some sources will tell you to harvest the roots in summer, others in fall. Personally, I think digging up the roots in fall is fine if you’re going to use them as food. For medicine, however, I prefer tincturing roots taken up in late fall. My reasoning is that the plant is storing its energy in the roots in preparation for the coming winter, so the concentration of beneficial compounds is greater at that time.

Healing with Dandelion

Prepare the leaves as tea for use as a skin wash or to consume as a mild diuretic. Because the herb is abundant in potassium, it doesn’t deplete the body of this vital nutrient like synthetic diuretics often do. To make an infusion, steep 1 tablespoon fresh herb (or 1 teaspoon dried) in a cup of boiling water for 5-10 minutes.

Thanks to the presence of bitter triterpenes and a compound called taraxasterol, dandelion root promotes optimal liver function and increases bile production. In fact, the bitter compounds in the herb start to stimulate digestion as soon as they hit the tongue because they trigger an increase in salivation.

Dandelion Jelly

3 cups strong dandelion tea

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 box powdered pectin

4 1/2 cups organic cane sugar

Combine the dandelion tea, lemon juice and pectin in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Stir in the sugar. Continue boiling the mixture 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and transfer to sterile jelly jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe off any drips from jars and position lids. Lightly screw down tops. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Let jars cool down and seal for several hours or overnight.

Dandelion Root Tincture

1 cup dandelion roots, washed, dried and chopped

2 cups 100-proof vodka

Rinse the roots in water and pick out anything that shouldn’t be there, like a slug or clump of grass. Spread the roots out on a towel and allow them to air dry, then chop into small pieces. Place the chopped root in a mason jar and cover with enough vodka to leave a ½ of liquid at the top. Cover and set on a sunny windowsill (or place outdoors in the sun) for 6 weeks (mark your calendar or label the jar with corresponding dates). Strain and transfer the reserved liquid into amber or cobalt blue glass bottles with droppers. Label and store in a cool, dark place.

Dandelion Flower Oil

This oil is traditionally used to help soften dense breast tissue and to reduce pain associated with fibroids and PMS (so is St, John’s wort flower oil, by the way). It’s also great for sore muscles, swollen joints and minor skin irritations. Note: This recipe results in a product that’s more like a salve since coconut oil is a solid at room temperature and will harden again once cooled. If you prefer a liquid product, use olive or hemp oil instead.

1 cup dandelion flowers, packed

2 cups coconut oil, melted

4 drops vitamin E oil or rosemary antioxidant oil (optional)

Rinse and pat dry flowers, inspecting for insects and debris as you go. Spread the flowers out on a towel and let air-dry for several hours or overnight to permit the flowers to wilt. Don’t skip or rush this step. If you do, you risk the tincture being contaminated with moisture and the development of fermentation (read that as mold).

In a small crockpot or in the top of a double boiler, melt the coconut oil (or gently heat an alternate oil). Add the dandelion blossoms and stir. Continue to heat the mixture for 45 to 60 minutes, watching carefully and stirring often. Remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh sieve or a layer of cheesecloth. Squeeze every drop out of those blossoms! Pour the finished oil into glass bottles, label and store in a cool, dark place for up to one year.

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