Friday 24 April 2015

What to do with dandelions?

Every herb lover has their own favourite story about dandelions (Taraxacum officinale). Brigitte Mars has written a whole book about the plant. Susun Weed has an entertaining chapter written in a French accent in her original Menopause book about dandelion and virtually every herb book mentions it either as part of the materia medica or in passing.  It is a versatile and valuable plant.

Dandelion is native to both Europe and Asia as part of the Asteracea family. There are many, many species which live happily side by side. You may be lulled into thinking the leaves and roots are the only parts used since the various actions of digestive, bitter tonic, diuretic, mild laxative, cholagogue, depurative, anti-inflammatory and antilithic are only applied to those two areas of the plant.

Historically, this may have been the case, along with applying the flower stem sap to warts, but there is one other part, the flower which also has a variety of interesting and beneficial uses. Spring is the time when flowers burst upon the scene in all their golden glory but it is still possible to come across them in sheltered corners at the edge of winter.

If you want to harvest dandelion roots at their most bitter, dig them in early spring when all the sugars gathered during the summer have been used. The roots can be tinctured fresh or dried or can be stored as dry roots for a tea or decoction through the year. If you are drying the roots it is best to slice them into one inch lengths and half them if the root is particularly thick.

I like to harvest my roots in autumn when they are fat and sweet. My favourite recipe is to make a bitter. You can also make dandelion root vinegar and eat the pickled roots in salads.

Dandelion Bitter
Take a mixture of roasted and fresh dandelion roots. Add a handful of fresh or dried orange peel, 1tsp dried ginger or ½-1 inch diced or grated root ginger plus a small handful of either brown or green cardamom pods for added warming effect.
Fill a glass jar with chopped root, peel and spices, cover with vodka for 3 weeks in dark cold place, strain and use. Dose is ½ -1 tsp. 15 minutes before eating or after a heavy meal to release stagnant feeling.

The root is mildly laxative and acts as a bitter digestive and liver tonic, enhancing both appetite and digestion, increasing the flow of digestive juices and aiding absorption.  Where there are no obstructions, it supports the liver in its function as a major detoxifying organ. Dandelion is recommended in liver and gall bladder problems, hepatitis and problems associated with a sluggish liver which may manifest as tiredness, irritability, headaches and skin problems.  

Dandelion’s ability to stimulate bile secretion means that it is contra-indicated if you have an obstruction in the bile duct or gallbladder. I know to my cost that taking a bitter during an inflammatory gall bladder attack makes the pain much worse!

It has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to treat arthritis and rheumatism. It is thought to increase the flow of insulin from the pancreas so may be helpful in supporting people with diabetes.

Dandelion leaves support the kidneys. Their diuretic properties make them useful in water retention, cellulitis and urinary tract infections. Unlike pharmaceutical diuretics which leach potassium from the body, sometimes in dangerous levels, dandelion leaves have a high potassium content, pleasing that lost through increased urination. The leaves can also dissolve stone and gravel, improving the elimination of uric acid, thus making it a helpful remedy for gout.

If you want to harvest leaves, it is best to gather them before flowers appear as the bitterness of the leaves becomes stronger and makes them less palatable. If you want to make a dandelion leaf soup with other vegetables, look for the youngest, sweetest leaves, but even the oldest can make a fresh accompaniment to strong cheese sandwiches.

Dandelion’s ability to increase elimination of toxins and waste products through the liver and kidneys, make it a wonderful ally for skin issues.  It can be used for spots, acne, boils and abscesses often through applications of both leaf and flower infusions. Do be aware that the milky latex in the older leaves and flower stem can cause dermatitis in some people.

Dandelion flowers make one of the first flower essences of the year. Their energetic signature brings joy throughout the year.

Dandelion flower essence
Fill a glass jar or bowl with spring water, cover with dandelion flowers and leave in the sun for three hours. Remove the flowers with a twig or clean spoon and measure 50ml of infused liquid into a jug or glass bottle. Add an equal amount of brandy to preserve the infusion. This is the mother essence and can be diluted further to make a stock essence. Dose is three drops under the tongue three times a day or every half hour in a crisis. Drops can also be added to a glass of water and sipped.

Dandelion flowers also have an affinity with breast tissue and can used to break up benign congestion through appropriate massage. NB Always get any abnormality in breast tissue checked first! The oil can also be used for light muscle massage to relieve pain.

Dandelion Flower Oil
Pick an amount of dandelion flowers and divide into two. Place half of the herb inside the inner pan  if you are suing a double boiler or inside a glass jar or plastic bowl if you are using a slow cooker and cover with sunflower  oil (or your oil of choice). Replace the lid firmly and place inside the other saucepan or slow cooker which is about half filled with water. Heat the external saucepan so that the water gently boils. Do not let the pan boil dry! Boil for about 2 hours, then remove the inner pan and strain off the oil, squeezing the herb if you can to remove as much oil as possible. Place the rest of the herb inside the inner pan and pour over the oil from the first infusion. Replace the lid firmly and heat the oil in the outer pan for a further two hours. Strain the oil into a heated glass bottle or jar and cap with a screw top lid. If using fresh herb, let the infused oil sit for about three days to make sure any water content separates out. Decant oil. If water drops are left in the infused oil it will go off more quickly. Label the oil with the name and date that you made it.

Make a salve by heating 1oz of beeswax with 8-10 fluid ounces of infused oil. Pour into clean jars but do not seal until cold.  A mixture of dandelion and violet leaf oils make a really nice breast tissue massage medium.

Dandelion flowers also make delightful syrups either on their own or mixed with hawthorn flowers and red clover  in spring or rosehips and sloes in autumn. 

Derbyshire Delight
Pick an amount of fresh dandelions, red clover flowers and stalks and hawthorn flowers. Remove the dandelion petals and centres from any green bits. Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Strain and measure liquid. Clean saucepan. Return liquid to the pan and simmer with the lid off until the liquid is reduced by 7/8s. Add honey in the ratio of 1pint to1lb honey. Stir gently until honey is dissolved. Pour into heated, sterilized bottles. Seal when cold. Label and date.

Whatever the season, dandelion will be by your side to offer comfort, healing or joy in the world around you.


Kristina said...

I look forward to using more weeds this year for their medicinal, culinary, and cosmetic properties. I wish I could get people to give me their 'weeds' like plantain, purslane, and dandelion instead of using chemicals.

selina said...

i purposely grow dandelions for the chooks, they love them but i noticed this year i didn't get as many. i would love to try something with them one year (other than chook fodder) i saw a lovely hand & lip balm somewhere made from dandelion flowers, the leaves sound interesting too, will tell my friend about the dandelion as she suffers from cellulitis in both legs.
am also keen on growing different varieties.
a wonderful post KHW
thanx for sharing

rose AKA Walk in the Woods - she/her said...

I love the sound of your dandelion bitter and may have to give it a go ~ thanks for sharing!

Esmeralda said...

I never heard of Dandelion flower essence. Would appreciate if you could tell something about properties - what it's used for?


Sarah Head said...

Esmeralda, I learned about dandelion flower essence from Henriette Kress. She uses it for joy and I've used it for that purpose to good effect. The flower bring joy to your heart just by looking at them so the energy they provide to the spring water is very joyful and can help to remind you that joy is possible.

Mediarun Admin said...

Sarah, do you have an email address I could contact you on? I am the PR for Baldwins! Neve

Sarah Head said...

Hi Neve
If you go to my profile you can email me from there.

Esmeralda said...

Thank you so much, Sarah, for your reply about the dandelion essence! How beautiful, I simply enjoy that one!:-))

Aniko said...

Everyone in my building has been putting aside the dandelions they've been weeding for me. I am definitely going to make a bitters out of them! This sounds delicious!

Katherine @ Mind Body and Sole said...

I LOVE your dandelion post! Thank you for sharing the tincture, homeopathic, AND a recipe! This would be a great post to share on Wildcrafting Wednesday, I hope you'll join us this week! :)

~ Kathy @