Friday, April 20, 2012

Herb of the Week - Dandelion

Dandelion Flower

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Few things herald the coming of spring more than the dandelion. While those wishing their lawns to be a monoculture of green revile it, I cheer its arrival. The bright yellow of their blooms is a welcome sight after the long drab months of winter.

Our ancestors cheered it as well. That is why the dandelion traveled to all the corners of the globe with them. It is a hardy and robust plant - ask those that try to remove it from their lawns. But more than that, it was a plant of great nutrition and medicine sprouting up in the Spring when it was most needed for the cupboards had gotten quite bare in the long, cold winter.

Dandelion leaves have a host of vitamins and minerals including: Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Copper, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese. [Source]

More than just nutritious, the dandelion offers us a number of pleasing beverages. The roots can be roasted and ground for a fine coffee substitute - with no caffeine! The flowers, roots, and leaves can be used to make a pleasing tea. But probably the most famous beverage is dandelion wine made from the flowers. The wine recipe is quite simple. But speaking from personal experience, it is a hard one to master!
Dandelion Leaves & Buds

Dandelion, the root especially, is commonly used in a variety of herbal remedies. Two of its most well known uses are as a cholagogue and as a diuretic. For more on the traditional medicinal uses of dandelion please see the Plants For a Future or the Modern Herbal entries on dandelion.

The plant also has provided great amusement for untold generations of children of all ages - who can resist scattering the seeds of the dandelion blow ball when the plant has gone to seed? I seem to also recall having read a long time ago in a book of old-timey amusements that the hollow stem dipped into soapy water could be used to blow bubbles. I think I'll pass on that one. The bitter sap would be a definite turn-off!

Finally one thought to leave you with, the history behind the name "dandelion." It is from the French phrase, dent-de-lion, meaning "lion's tooth" - which is certainly in reference to the toothed leaves. Our springtime friend the dandelion has not only the ruffled yellow mane of the lion, it has its teeth as well!