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Early spring is the time of year to find dandelion greens emerging from the ground. Though many people try to banish dandelion from their lawns, dandelion is a valuable medicinal plant in both Eastern and Western herbal traditions. In both traditions, dandelions function to rejuvenate the liver, clearing up jaundice and other symptoms of liver congestion. It also makes a tasty nutritious leafy green vegetable.
Dandelion leaves (Taraxacum officinale) are found on the ground in basal rosettes and will stay this way even when the dandelion puts up its flower stalk. The leaves are hairless and toothed; the namedandelionis taken from the French meaning "tooth of lion." Milky white sap is found running through the leaves and hollow flower stalk when broken. Other plants like chicory and wild lettuce have leaves similar to dandelion yet can be differentiated. The dandelion leaves are hairless while chicory and wild lettuce have hairs and/or prickers, and dandelion leaves stay on the ground while other leaves go up their flower`s stalks.
In the west, dandelions are known to detoxify the liver. The tincture of the roots and leaves can help clear up jaundice and other disorders due to liver and gall bladder congestion. Dandelion leaves can be eaten daily in spring and are considered a spring tonic. As one of the earliest spring greens, dandelion historically saved people from malnutrition after long hard winters(1).
Dandelion leaves are 15% protein and high in vitamins and minerals. One cup of dandelion greens contains 112% daily recommendation of vitamin A, 32% of vitamin C, and 535% of vitamin K. They also contain 218 mg potassium, 103 mg calcium, and 1.7 mg of iron(2).
In Eastern Medicine dandelion roots (known asPu Gong Ying) are dried and used in strong teas called decoctions which "clear heat and fire toxicity, especially Liver heat with red, swollen and painful eyes."(3) In Chinese Medicine, the Liver energy pathway opens on the eyes, and congestion of the Liver can show up as hot red eyes. Herbalists both east and west use dandelion root to promote lactation. (4)
The best time to harvest dandelion leaves and roots is early spring before the flower blooms and late fall once the flower has gone by. Dandelion taproots are deep and are best harvested with a shovel or trowel. Leaves can be added raw to salads, or steamed or sauteed with garlic like other dark leafy greens.
To make dandelion tincture, harvest the root and leaves when flowers are not present. Both leaves and roots can be washed, chopped, put into a glass jar, and covered with alcohol such as 100 proof vodka. Steep in dark cupboard for 6 weeks. Strain and save liquid. A dose is 10 - 30 drops of tincture per day to cleanse liver.
1. Gibbons, p.77
3. Bensky, p.89
4. Ibid, p. 89
Bensky, Dan and Gamble, Andrew.Chinese Herbal Medicine, Materia Medica Revised Edition. Eastland Press, Incorporated. 1986.
Gibbons, Euell.Stalking the Wild Asparagus.Chambersburg, PA. 1962
Tierra, Lesley.The Herbs of Life. The Crossing Press. 1992.
Melissa Sokulski is an acupuncturist, herbalist, and founder of the websiteFood Under Foot, a website devoted entirely to wild edible plants. The website offers plant descriptions, photographs, videos, recipes and more. Her new workbook,Wild Plant Ally, offers an exciting, hands-on way to learn about wild edible plants.
Melissa also runsThe Birch Center for Healthin Pittsburgh, PA, providing the best in complementary health care: acupuncture, therapeutic massage and herbal medicine.
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