Everywhere we look at this time of the year the land is gaily dotted with the bright, bold, yellow flowers of Dandelion. This plant is so prolific it must be known to nearly everyone. Clouds of the feather-light seeds will soon be parachuting through the air, helped by children telling the time by blowing Dandelion ‘Clocks’, one of its country names. Those who love wild foods will be picking the jagged young leaves for their nutritive qualities and the sharp bitter freshness they add to salads. Flowers are being picked for wine, salads, massage oils and even for making marmalade. In the autumn or very early spring we can harvest the roots and roast them to make a delicious coffee, which was very popular in the Second World War when coffee was unavailable.
It is interesting that Dandelion, considered by many as one of the peskiest of ‘weeds’ is also one of our most potent herbal remedies that no herbalist would ever be without. If we consider the energy, vigour and strength of this plant and the way it can survive and thrive almost anywhere, often against the odds (even growing through concrete), then we can come to respect it and understand its medicinal power.
The practice of our ancestors, to take ‘spring cleansing’ or ‘blood purifying’ herbs, such as Nettle, Dandelion and Burdock still holds a wisdom we would be wise to heed. Dandelion is a plant that we can all employ both as a spring food and as a medicine. It is one of our best day-to-day remedies for the liver, being completely safe and non-toxic and suitable for self-administration. The liver has to work very hard in these polluted times, filtering from our blood the toxic residues of man-made chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides, additives and pharmaceutical drugs, many of which we have no metabolic pathway for removing. Liver toxicity and imbalance is implicated in many health complaints, such as migraine headaches, PMT, depression, arthritis, digestive and skin problems and Dandelion has been traditionally used in the treatment of all of these. The liver also helps us process toxic emotions and taking liver remedies like Dandelion is a way to release old angers, resentments and bitterness so we can come back into better emotional balance.
Dandelion is one of the best tonics for the whole of the digestive system, useful for indigestion, gall bladder complaints, constipation, stabilizing blood sugar as well as being a superlative liver cleanser. It is also cleansing and cooling to the blood and has been used for chronic skin problems, such as acne and eczema, boils and abscesses.
The root is considered most active on the liver, while the leaves are more active on the kidneys and urinary system. Dandelion is known in France as ‘pis-en-lit’ and here it has country names like ‘pissy bed’ and ‘wet-the-bed’, denoting the diuretic effect. This is put to use for cystitis, kidney stones and water retention problems and to remove uric acid from the body, thereby helping with gout and arthritic complaints.
The leaves contain iron, magnesium, calcium, Vitamins A and C and large amounts of potassium which is an element removed from the body when urine production is increased. The high level of Potassium makes Dandelion leaf a great herbal remedy for oedema and a good alternative to conventional diuretics which cause significant potassium loss.
Dandelion’s latin name is Taraxacum officinale and it belongs to the large Compositae or Daisy family, the term ‘officinale’ – denoting that this variety is the one recognized as a medicine by the Apothecaries and the name Taraxacum is said to come from the Greek taraxo meaning disorder and takos, meaning remedy or pain, because of its great healing ability. The leaves and roots have been used medicinally since antiquity and have had an important role in Western folk medicine as well as ‘official’ medicine. The earliest records of Dandelion’s use come from the Arabian physicians of the 10th century and it was a favourite of medieval herbalists.
Planetary rulership was one of the ways herbs were described by our herbal ancestors and today this is still a useful way to learn about their energy, innate characteristics and properties. Culpeper, the great astrologer and herbalist of the seventeenth century, assigned Dandelion to Jupiter, a big bold gaseous planet connected with expansion and a tendency to excess. Herbs of Jupiter nourish and enrich the blood and the liver, the organ that has to deal with dietary excesses, and they help us to learn how to better treat our bodies. Dandelion seems perfectly suited to this role.
The name Dandelion comes from the French, dens de lion, the teeth of the lion. It is said that this refers to the jagged, tooth-like appearance of the leaves. Every plant has its own personality and Dandelion’s is certainly bold so perhaps the name also refers to the lion-like courage, power and tenacity of this plant to cleanse and re-invigorate us.