"I have a present for you, Mama," my six-year-old daughter announced the other day.
She drew her hand out from behind her back and presented me with a bundle of fresh dandelion leaves tied with a red ribbon. What kid doesn't love to bring their parent mud pies and "dinner" made out of leaves, pretending to cook. My kids get to do the real thing. It is usually the spring that brings on the harvest of tender dandelion leaves and petals to be added to our salads. But this year a summer drought made much of the plants go dormant and fall rains have simulated a second spring. Hence this gift of morning greens.
I am pleased to see that all of the leaves actually appear to be dandelion. All the grass and other weeds have been cleaned out. This is real food and kids learning hundred-thousand-year-old art of gathering.
When we can we'll often eat flower petals and leaves (dandelion, violets, daisies, calendula and others) on our salads. And my kids have recently fallen in love with a recipe for flower-petal-flavored muffins. Dandelion leaves contain particularly healthy amounts of vitamins and minerals, much like other dark leafy greens and they have a flavor that even the kids accept, when chopped fine. But as much as I love to eat dandelion leaves even before the spring spinach is up, I know that they are really primarily markers for the buried treasure beneath.
I am writing about dandelion in September rather than in the spring because the most potent medicine in dandelion is held in the roots, which are best harvested in the fall. If you pay attention to where dandelions grow in areas that are not treated with any chemicals, you will be able to dig the roots up and use them to make tinctures and teas as a potent prevention against chemical toxins, cancer of various types and influenza.
Dandelion has been considered a "detoxifying" or "tonic" herb for centuries. Many herbalists recommend a "spring tonic" consisting of drinking dandelion root tea (sometimes combined with nettle leaves or burdock root) for a couple of weeks in the spring to cleanse the body of the chemical residues of winter smog and mold. This can be very helpful and result in a burst of energy. The chemical reactions that make this tonic work, lead to even more startling uses however.
A study has found that dandelion and other herbs protect DNA against damaging toxins. Dandelion is particularly valuable in protecting the liver from toxins, including alcohol poisoning. And the root has also been found to combat the formation of cancerous tumors in mice and to assist in the treatment of prostate and breast cancer. Even more exciting is a study that shows dandelion to be potent in treating chemo-resistant melanoma, one of the most dangerous cancers for younger people. It may also protect against chemically induced lung injuries.
In short, science is just beginning to make use of the wonderful ability of dandelion root to mitigate the harmful effects of the toxins that have proliferated in our modern environment. How fortunate that dandelions are as prolific as the dangers.
Likewise, dandelion root tea has been found to have surprising antiviral potency specifically against varieties of the influenza virus. Unlike pharmaceutical antivirals, dandelion is chemically complex and effective against a wider range of virus mutations.
Dandelion also contains anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds that help in the treatment and prevention of a list of digestive problems including intestinal infections and chemical-induced pancreatitis,
I expect to be using a lot more dandelion root in the future both for it's protection against toxins and carcinogenic substances but also for its antiviral and antibacterial properties. As always, I have to stress that it is important to combine home medicine with professional help when one encounters a major health problem. No one can prescribe medicine over the internet and this isn't medical advice for a specific ailment. However, there are very few reports of adverse reactions to dandelion root and many of the studies listed have included checks for the safety of the herb. This is another good one for the home herb cabinet.