Chapter from Thirty Plants That Can Save Your Life
Parts Used: Root
Remember This: Human Dust Buster
Reasonable uses : toxin mover, toxin remover, cleansing agent, to increase the liver and kidneys removal of toxins from circulation, constipation, reduce water retention, lack of vitality due to toxin retention, poor complexion .
History and Traditional Uses .
Its tiny, parachute-tufted seeds have helped dandelion blow itself to the four corners of the globe, and wherever it lands, people usually make it into vitality tonics.
Dandelions scientific name comes from the Greek words for “disorder” and “remedy.” The Greeks felt that no matter what ailed you, dandelion would help In China, dandelion has been used to treat serious conditions for more than 1,000 years. Globally people believe dandelion stimulates the organs of waste excretion, and with the toxins out of the body, health and vitality shines through.
Scientific Back Up
Dandelion contains sterols, flavonoids, mucilage, and compounds called eudesmanolides which are unique to it. The unique cocktail of compounds found in the plant have been established to stimulate the immune system, increase the liver and kidneys cleansing of the blood, and act as anti-cancer agents. The ancients said that dandelion increased “wellness” be ridding the body of waste and lab workers have backed them up.
Herbalists use it to……
Clean Up a Personal Toxic Dump
Some people live the life of a garbage pail. They pour every known toxin in their mouth and, surprise, surprise, their health begins to slip. Sometimes for some unknown reason, these self-destructors see the light and clean up their act. Herbalists recommend these folks use dandelion to get the garbage out of their system and thereby reclaim their health.
Loosen the constipated
Dandelion contains compounds which increase the livers production of bile, the bodies own natural laxative! With regular use people make more regular visits to the toilet.
Dry water retainers
Dandelion contains sugars which act as diuretics, that is they increase the kidneys production of urine. Increased urination means reduced fluid in the tissues. For most woman water retention is cyclical. Dandelion can be used to reduce cycle based bloating.
Energise the Weary
If you feel run down, tired, and lethargic all the time and for no good reason, dandelion may be the tonic for you. It stimulates the liver which results in increased energy levels. Herbalists find it gives an energy boost to those that find their get up and go has gone for no apparent reason.
When purchasing dandelion tincture make certain the labeling states dandelion root. If it does not make this plain move on until you find one that does. Avoid products containing other herbs.
Dandelion increases bile flow which can be a problem for people with obstructed gallbladder ducts. If you know you have gall bladder disease, avoid dandelion.
Constipation: Slipper Elm(Ulnus fulva)
Water retention: Astragalus(Astragalus membranaceous)
The dandelion is a plant that everyone knows, even the people that have never seen greenery save in a public park. The dandelion lives on all continents, sprouting up in yards worldwide. Though the dandelion has made the world its home with its blowing puffy balls of seeds, it’s actually native to Asia . Over the centuries of trade the dandelion is likely to have spread from the Orient to Persia , then on to Arabia, then on to Europe, and from Europe to all points by way of the colonials. It’s hard to imagine a world without the dandelion. Most of us hate the dandelion, the curse of the front yard. How sad that we hate the dandelion, it is a leader in the tonic hall of fame.
The name dandelion derives from Dent de Lyon, the lions tooth. If you look not so closely at the leaf, you understand the reference. No one is quite sure when people started calling it that, but in an herbal dating to 1488, the author, Johann von Cube, calls the plant Dens leonis, so however it got started, the name has stuck for almost five hundred years.
But look at the list of synonyms: blow ball, peasants clock, cankerroot, down-head, yellow gowan, witches gowan, milk vetich, swine snout, puff ball, lion’s tooth, white wild endive, priest’s crown.
The plant is tough and adaptable, manifested in its colonialization of the entire world. The dandelion has an interesting physical feature built in, the plant grows in a funnel shape so that any water that falls rolls right down to the plant’s center, towards the root, exactly where it is needed. The seeds, which have a helicopter built, fly from the plant in every direction, another plant adaptation that makes the plant impossible to eradicate. One white bloom hit with a good gust of wind can start 200 or more new plants. Built to last, I like to say.
When you start looking into the top tonic plants the world has known, you realize that these same plants are surrounded with myth and legend. The dandelion is no exception, take a look at some of the myths collected in Utah by a folklorist:
“If a dandelion held under the chin, reflects yellow onto the skin, it means you like butter.”
“Blow dandelion fluff three times, and the number of seeds left tell you what time of day it is.”
“If you can blow the fluff off the dandelion in one puff, your mother needs you at home.”
A commonly held belief is that the dandelion captures and holds the power of the sun. The plant is said to trap the sun’s energy, and store it in its leaves, root, and flower.
That drank the fire of the sun:
Hawkweed and marigold,
Cornflower and campion.
Dandelions have been said to predict just about anything you can imagine, from the weather to the number of children a bride will have. The important part here is that the plants were so powerful that people thought they had to be magical, and many magical traits were conveyed onto the plants. Many people use the fact that these plants have superstitious beliefs attached to them as a means to discredit their folk medicinal beliefs, this is a mistake. When a culture bothers to create myths around a plant it is because the plant has proven to have some power.
Let’s look at some of the health powers of dandelion. In that the plant is grown worldwide, we have a large selection of uses to study. Let’s go back to Utah and see what the folklorists found there.
“Herb tea to remain strong in old age: peppermint, dandelion greens, spearmint, alfalfa. Dry tea, steep, but do not boil, honey may be added to improve the taste,” told by a seventy year old man from Logan , Utah .
“In the spring dig dandelion and brown the roots, then make drink from them. Make at tea from the tops of the plant. Dandelions prepared this way, they are very good in organizing the blood in the spring, clear the blood for the summer from the winter thickness,” told by an 86 year old woman from Providence , Utah .
“To purify your blood, boil dandelion roots and hip roots into a kind of root beer. Add yeast and sweeten it.”
“Parsley tea and dandelion greens are good for the kidneys,” told by an 87 year old informant from Province, Utah .
“To cure rheumatism, drink tea made out of dandelion greens.”
“Dandelion juice and alcohol is good against sprains and problems with the joints.”
You will notice the informants from Utah were all packing some age, which tends to be the case. The younger generation in America never learned the home treatments that were available in the yard.
The notion of purifying blood with the dandelions springs from an old medical notion of feeling but not knowing. People could feel sluggish but didn’t always know what the sluggishness was from, nor did they care. They had the solution growing out in the field. In this case dandelion greens.
Knowing full well my readers out there are nodding their heads saying “yeah right, dandelions, the things I dig up every spring and toss out, could save my life. I think we will do a little globe trotting and check out what other people have said on the topic.
Next stop, Santa Fe .
The region we now call New Mexico , the upper Rio Grande was once a place of wild cultural interaction. The Spanish settlers met and mixed with the Native Americans, the cultures shared information and a cultural marriage occurred. The time is the 1820s, the place the parched land of the New Mexican landscape.
Dandelions came to New Mexico with the Spaniards, but the Native Americans quickly learned of the plant’s usefulness. Chicoria as it was known, was used for both food and medicine. To cure heart trouble the yellow blooms were collected and boiled in water until the water turned bright yellow, then the liquid was allowed to sit out of doors over night, then a glassful drunk every morning for a solid month. The yellow of these teas appealed to the Indians and they used the same flowers to dye deer skins yellow.
Travel a few miles in the other direction, to San Ildefonso Pueblo, and we find the mothers of the villages grinding the leaves of the dandelion and applying the paste to broken bones, wrapping the wound with bandages encrusted with the fresh leaves. The feeling was that this dandelion poultice speeded healing. In Santa Clara , ground dandelion leaves were added to dough and applied to really bad bruises to take the blood out.
Moving northward on the map and backwards in the history books, our next stop is French Canada. In 1748 the Swede, Peter Kalm, traveled by foot and canoe from the last American fort, Fort Nicholson in Albany to the first French fort, Fort St. Frederic, in French Canada. The trip was quite an adventure, bearing in mind there was nothing but wilderness between the two points. Let’s say it was one of the first outward bound kind of trips ever taken. Our friend Peter was a botanist, at least in heart, and guess what he found in French Canada? the dandelion. He said the Frenchman has carried the plant to the new world and were using the roots of “dent de lyon” as a bitter addition to a healthful tonic salad.
Let’s move downward on the map and on the time line to Pennsylvania , mid eighteenth century. Here we find a large group of Mennonites, having fled Germany due to religious persecution. The Mennonites believed killing was against God’s orders, and refused the draft in Prussia , for which they were shown the door. To Russia , and North and South America they flew. With them came Pissabet or bittera tzelaut, the dandelion. The young plant was used as the first green eaten in spring as a tonic for the whole body. This was rather smart of the Deutche, the leaf contains six or seven times more units of vitamin A per ounce than lettuce or carrots, and it is also a source of vitamins B and C.
In the Mennonite home the dandelion was the chief home remedy for any kidney or liver trouble a person might be having. If the liver was acting up, manifested by jaundice or yellowing of the skin, dandelion was immediately administered.
These Germans, soon to be called the Pennsylvania Dutch, held a superstitious belief that also came from the muterland. They felt that one had to eat dandelions on Green Thursday or Maundy Thursday as it was called, to ensure good health through the coming year. Maundy Thursday is the Thursday of the Holy Week celebrating Christ’s last supper. To this day, dandelions are the vegetable du jour on Maundy Thursday on the Pennsylvania Dutch dining table. Health is important to those that work the land with their hands and backs, and dandelions are one of the ingredients used by these refugees.
Next stop, a Shaker village, middle of the 19th century. A very interesting group of people that came from England and picked up some converts along the way. The group was into helping people, doing service, and making the world a nicer place. They got into the herb business and became famous for their health products. It seems in 1837, one such group offered for sale in their catalogue “Taraxacum Blue Pills.” I’m not certain what the common blue pill was, but in the catalogue the proprietor happily states his taraxacum blue pill has, “nearly double the effect upon the liver and its secretions as the common blue pill.” Taraxacum by the by, refers to the plant’s scientific name, taraxacum officinalis.
At approximately the same moment in time in a different Shaker village, a certain Mr. Fowler is recorded to have processed 6 or 8 thousand pounds of herbs into extracts to be sold to the failing of health. He says that that year the demand for extract of dandelion was far greater than any other herb, totaling 3700 pounds. To make a pound of extract requires 10 pounds of dandelions, this poor old boy was out digging dandelions in big buckets.
The Shakers felt that dandelion helped the liver, and from the records of their sales of dandelion products, the public, who commissioned them to make the stuff, felt the same way. These communities of do-gooders didn’t believe in having sex, and with the universal theme taken out of the picture they had a lot of time to get real clear on what plant was good for what condition. Their recommendation is a serious one.
Last stop in North America, the Delaware Valley . As we all know, all it takes is one house in the neighborhood with a health patch of dandelions, and everyone has them. As the white man set up outposts and planted the dandelion, the seed caught the wind and before you know it, they were springing up in the Native Americans’ backyards. The Native Americans quickly got into the act and the Delaware Indians found the dandelion the most excellent spring tonic. The Tewa tribe found the same to be true and esteemed the leaves in spring salads.
Fasten your seatbelt, our next flight is an international one, we have to fly south to the Spanish Americas where we have a number of stops to make. As in New Mexico , the dandelion arrived to the South American continent with the Spaniards, who planted the plant in New Mexico . Costa Rica is rather famous for its herb markets, as the climate produces an incredible range of fruits, herbs, and vegetables, the scene is a melange of wild color, filled with exotic foods, animals running about, children and country people buying the food for the day. And what do we have? a medicinal herb seller in the San Jose farmers market selling dandelions to be used for diabetes.
In our next farmers market, located in Guatemala , we find not one but two different dandelions being sold by the fresh medicine man. A narrow leaved dandelion, called diente de leon , is being sold as a tonic for all over body health. A second variety, called amargon, is being sold as a salad green and is directed to be boiled with water to make a blood strengthener, especially in the case of anemia. In Brazil , the Portuguese brother of this Guatemalan herbsman says the same thing, dandelion is the blood purifier, with added benefits of treating liver problems, scurvy, and any urinary complaint that might be present.
Moving up to Mexico we find the entire plant for sale at the herb market, the herb salesman instructs that the plant should be boiled in sweetened water to increase the appetite, tone the body, get rid of excess water due to menstruation and other causes, and to overcome liver problems and the resulting skin problems.
Let’s jump a flight and make our next stop, the center of the soon to be British empire, its not an empire yet, but it’s on the way.
The dandelion traveled from the Orient in a year that no one knows. The plant is mentioned by Rhazes in the tenth, by Avicanna in the eleventh centuries, and was used in Welsh medicine in the 13th century. By the time we arrive in Britain , it’s been around for awhile.
The year is 1633, disease and urban squalor are on the rise. Herbalists are working themselves into a frenzy to deal with all the illness. An herbalist, Gerard, is working on a new manual to assist other herbalists. Let’s see what he has down in the chapter on dandelions.
“It is cold, but it drieth more, and doth withall cleanse , and open by reason for the bitterness which it hath joyned with it: and therefore it is good for those things for which Succory is.
“Boiled, it strengthens the weak stomach, and eaten raw it stops the belley, and helps the Dysentery, especially being boiled with Lentils.
“The juice drunk is good against the involuntary effusion of seed; boiled in vinegar, it is good against the pain that troubles some in making of water; a decoction made of the whole plant helps the yellow jaundice.
Gerard indicates that dandelion is a body cleanser, a diuretic, and very good in treating liver troubles manifest in the yellowing of the skin. Remember, when the liver isn’t working, its doesn’t get all the junk out of the skin, and the result is toxins build up in the skin. This leads to the yellow coloration.
In Thackeray, Philip, II., we find an interesting quote that reflects Gerard’s opinion:
“You are bilious, my good man, go and pay a guinea to one of the doctors in those houses, he will prescribe taraxacum for you.”
Taraxacum, the old English word for dandelion, has its root in the Greek word taraxis, or trouble. The British notion was that when your health troubled you, dandelion was the cure. This may be culturally very true as alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver are common problems in England , and dandelion is said to help the liver out.
Let’s imagine the British Empire has come and is about to go, the English scientists have come to the conclusion that dandelion does, in fact, stimulate the flow of bile into the duodenum, and helps the liver eliminate toxins and lessen congestion in that all too important organ. The improved liver function sees a return of healthy skin, or so they say. Mid 18th century, dandelion is also used to treat rheumatism, a belief shared by Americans some years later. The plant was listed in the British pharmacopia until recently as a bitter tonic, the taraxacin and insulin contained in the plant useful in treating diabetes, experimentally proven to lower blood sugar levels. They liked it so much, they imported the roots from Germany . The German roots were said to be the best, often the size of parsnips. By the by, if we had time we would skip over to Ireland , and find that they use the plant for the same things, health and liver function. The Irish stipulate the root should be dug in the fall.
Lets board the Orient Express and see what the Chinese have to say about dandelion. It is their plant originally and they have been working with it for the longest period of time, so they should have it all wrapped up. Oh my, here’s a list handed to me by a Chinese scientist reporting all the actions the annoying weed can have on the body:
Somehow I knew a trip to the homeland would prove interesting.
The dandelion is, in fact, well known in China , it may have originated in the Yangtze Valley as it is found there growing great guns, but due to its happy habits, it can be found all over China growing on the side of fields and in waste places. The names for the plant in China , should you be there and want to impress your Chinese hosts, are as follows:
chiang nou tsao: plowing and hoeing weed
chin tsan tsao: golden hair pin weeed
huang hua ti ting: yellow flowered earth nail
kou ju tsao: dogs milk weed
It comes as no surprise that the dandelion is mentioned in all sorts of ancient documents, including the pentsao and the tang materia medica. Like on our other stops, the dandelion has been both food and medicine.
The Chinese feel the active ingredients of this plant enter through the liver and stomach channels, and it is there they do the most good. The plant is said to “clear heat and detoxify fire poison” from the liver, dissolve tumors of all sorts, and increase the amount of milk a mother produces. Speaking of breasts, the dandelion has been used to treat breast cancer for over 1100 years. Other uses of note in China:
While we are here we might as well go into the lab and see what the Chinese scientists have tacked down about the dandelion.
- Dandelion extract has in vitro bactericidal effect against Staphylococcus aureus, even when these bacteria were resistant to other antimicrobials. It has an in vitro bactericidal effect against Streptococcus pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Shigella spp., Neisseria meningitidis, Corynebacterium diphtheriae,
inhibitory activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis, ECHO virus, and Leptospira.
- Root, leaves, juice, and extracts were effective in treating infections of various kinds (e.g., upper respiratory infections, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, hepatitis, etc.) with few side effects (Kiangsu-2459).
It stands to reason that if the liver is in good functioning order, cleaning out all the toxins known to cause cancer, dandelion may indeed be a cancer preventative herb. Back to staying well, it’s interesting to note that the plant has been proven to kill bacteria, which is in effect purifying the blood. Our friends in Utah would be happy to know that dandelion does indeed clean the blood out of the things we don’t want there. We won’t bother going to India on this trip, but they share the same beliefs the rest of the world does, dandelion is good for the liver and staying well.
Dandelions are not plants that you have to mail order or buy at the garden center, all you could ever use are available free for the picking. In fact, Most of your neighbors will be more than happy to share their bounty of the not so ornamental blooms around the yard. Remember, the companies that come and spray lawns are not your friends when it comes to collection dandelions, the stuff they put down is toxic to all involved, and using dandelions treated with their spray of death could lead to yours. Only collect dandelions from insecticide and herbicide free ground. You can buy them at the nature food store, but by the time you drive their, park the car, shop and make the return trip, you could have picked some fresh herb. For your tonic they are best collected in the fall after they have spent the season soaking up sun, or power, as I like to think about it. The whole plant should be gathered and tossed into your tonic plot nice and fresh, or they can be dried in the sun for later use.
I grow a patch of dandelions so I have them on hand whenever I need them, and if you like those tres chic bitter greens offered at fancy restaurants, dandelions are the easiest of the bitter greens to grow. Go gather some roots and plant a good row of them in the garden. Once they are well established, which won’t take long, cover the plants with straw for two weeks, remove the straw and gather for salad. The absence of light blanches the leaves to a white yellow, reducing the bitter contents to the point the plant is a little more pleasant to eat.