Weeds of Wonder (Dandelion)
Of all the plants in the world...or at least in the western world, the Dandelion (Taraxicum officinale) must be, without doubt, the poster-child for the world of weeds.
I was talking, in an earlier blog, about the importance of perspective in healing. This concept gains greater clarity when we explore the definition of a weed, according to the Oxford dictionary.
"Wild herb springing where it is not wanted."
With respect to Dandelion, for some people, that definition would include anywhere on their property.
We want the things we value . Sometimes, to value something we need to dig deeper and unearth its hidden treasures. That is what I strive to achieve here.
For those of you who have been following my website, you will notice I recently did another herb walk. The title of this walk was "changing weeds into herbs". I came up with this title to mirror the miracle achieved by Jesus, in the New Testament, when he changed water into wine. It could be easily argued that water has more value than wine, but on the occasion that Jesus created the miracle, wine was in much greater demand. Perhaps the time has come to re-evaluate our demand for Dandelion.
I used to live in a lovely 18th century thatched cottage in a village in Dorset. In the time that I was there I was blessed with having some very kind and patient neighbours.
The boarder between our gardens was defined by a diverse young hedge that we both had a hand in creating. On our side, we allowed much freedom to the natural world, encouraging, or even introducing, many wild plants, some of them possibly being defined as weeds.
When the Dandelion's in our garden reached their peak we would take our fill of them. However, in their abundance we could never use all of them before some went to seed.
At the same time each year our neighbour, Rod, would emerge from his cottage with a tank on his back and a mask on, like some sort of spaceman, and move methodically through his garden spraying his Dandelion crop with poison. I used to laugh and tell him that he should go with nature...and as if to emphasise my point, the wind would pick up and parachute in another battalion of invading seeds from my garden into his.
The whole of the Dandelion plant is useful, both in a culinary and medicinal sense.
If I start with the flowers, it is easy to see the connection the plant has with the sun. The very shape is like that of an impressionist's version of the sun itself, and this little herb pays homage to its inspiration by opening and closing with the rise and fall of that life giving body.
The flowers can be gathered in early spring and made into a lovely wine that embodies the essence of the sun through its spicy warmth. The best time to harvest for this is when the flowers seem to be at their zenith, on the 24th of April (St George's day).
The name Dandelion is believed to have originated from the French, Dent de Lyon....or, Tooth of the Lion. This name seems to be inspired by the jagged expressions of the leaves. I also see a supporting signature of the lion in the flower itself, with its bushy mane circumscribing its head and represented in the German expression for rabbits and hamsters of a similar description being referred to as Löwenkopf (Lion's head).
The stem of the plant, when broken, yields a corrosive white latex. This brings to mind the Spurge of my previous blog. Certainly, like Spurge, Dandelion can withstand the direct exposure to the sun and is able to come back from some degree of drought. Moreover, the similarity to Spurge extends to its application in the healing of warts. I can attest to this as I have personally witnessed the power of its action when employed in such an affliction.
The leaves of Dandelion are very nourishing and should play a large role in spring salads and smoothies. Free and abundant...and appearing in spring (remember what I wrote about the arrival of Nettles and Clivers)!...Rich in vitamins A,B and C as well as minerals...and naturally lacking in serious pest problems (without herbicides or genetic modification). Don't you think someone is trying to tell us something?
Some sources suggest that Dandelion is made more palatable if closhes are used to blanch the leaves, thus rendering them less bitter. However, it is the bitterness that is of great value to us due to its action on the liver. It improves digestion by stimulating liver, gall and pancreatic function. Consequently, it acts as a mild laxative. This combined with the diuretic action of the leaves makes it one of the herbalist's prime choices for a detoxification regimen.
Like many plants...Dandelion keeps its best secrets hidden underground. In fact I am aware of a traditional school of herbalism that prescribes only roots in its medicines. The roots of the Dandelion are packed with power. Bitter and with a strong affinity for the liver, they make an excellent remedy for heated conditions originating in that organ. It is in recognising the power of that bitterness that some herbalists break with tradition for gathering roots in early spring or autumn and suggest they are best harvested in summer when this constituent is said to be concentrated. My experience is that there is sufficient amounts of the bitter element from early spring to autumn to meet the patient's needs.
The roots can also be harvested to make a beverage that will also have health benefits. For this the roots should be lifted, washed and split, then cut into half-inch segments (1 cm). These are then gently roasted in the oven. Much like coffee, the darker the roast, the stronger the flavour the end product will yield. Once roasted and cooled, it should be stored in an air tight glass jar. To make the Dandelion Coffee use a spoon to a cup and gently simmer in, preferably, an enamel pan for about 15 minutes. The taste has an earthy body somewhere between coffee and tea...and provides a good substitute for anyone trying to ween themselves off those beverages.
If I make an extra quantity of Dandelion coffee, I leave it in the pan and then just add fresh root to the mix the next day. I can do this for a couple of days before I chuck the spent root into the compost and start again with a fresh batch.
Dandelion is the herbal equivalent of the the American Buffalo, all parts are usable. And in the spirit of that theme, I think too of how aware we used to be of our own indigenous resources....How the diversity and freshness of our food has diminished, along with the vast and powerful supply of phyto-nutrients that brings....Given what we now know, we would be mad not to re-evaluate our relationship with Dandelions!
Health and Happiness!
The Green Man