While most Herbalists both ancient and modern classify Dandelion as a cooling bitter useful for dispelling heat in an angry or congested liver, there is something wonderfully heart-warming about the aroma of simmering dandelion roots on a cold winter’s morning. The aroma is sweet yet earthy, grounding and comforting. Dandelion root, typically in decoction, for me typifies the feeling of nourishment. Standing by the stove, stirring occasionally, as the roots gently simmer away in the small pot of water, I can’t shake the sense of ‘home’ that this practice gives me. Perhaps it is an aeons old sense of belonging that we find, where ‘home is where the hearth is’.
Perhaps, it is simply the unrequited longing for my own kitchen. My family and I have been ‘couch-surfing’ (you know, that place between actual on-the-street homelessness and having one’s own dwelling to call home) for the better part of 4.5 years. Simple rituals such as brewing a pot of herbal tea, or simmering a decoction give me a sense of place. It invites one to slow down, and just be. To contemplate, and be at peace.
The botanical name for dandelion is Taraxacum officinale. In the Latin, Taraxacum (or endearingly abbreviated to Tarax. by many a student herbalist) means to ‘stir up’. (The common name ‘Dandelion’ is a derivation of the French name Dens leonis or Dent-de-leon, which literally means the tooth of the lion, in reference to the jagged leaf margins.) We see this principle of stirring up in all aspects of the plants use. And all parts are edible, and medicinal. As I mentioned before, Dandelion is perhaps most well-known as a herb for the liver. The most wonderful (and overlooked) Herbalist, Gardener and Botanist extraordinaire to King Charles I, John Parkinson attributes the bitterness of Dandelion (both roots and leaves) to ‘open and cleanse, and is therefore very effectuall for the obstructions of the liver, gall and spleene, and the diseases that arise from them…[sic]’
While both the root and the leaves possess this bitter principle, the root is used more for the liver, and the leaves, either a salad herb to stimulate digestion, or for it’s potassium-sparing diuretic properties, making it invaluable for conditions such as congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, general oedema (fluid retention) and as a tonic for the entire urinary system. I like to use both the leaf and the root in combination with several other specific herbs for pre-menstrual syndrome where fluid retention and bloating is an issue.
The entire plant is mineral-rich. It’s long tap roots burrow deep into the soil to draw up these minerals, as well as aerate the soil for microbial colonisation. This is especially important in land that has been mono-cropped or laid waste, and this is often why you’ll often find dandelions growing out of any crack in the concrete jungle. This mineral-rich aspect is really good for bone and teeth health. Including lots of young tender dandelion greens in the daily salad will help to remineralise and build enamel on the teeth.
The yellow blossoms have a sweet honey fragrance, and are used by Susun Weed and other herbalists as a muscle relaxant, and as an infused oil to massage lumpy breasts with. The flowers have a softening quality to them.
Dandelion is a wonderful, full body detoxifying but also nourishing botanical that can be incorporated into anyone’s daily routine. It is gentle and safe for adults and children alike. So next time you’re out in the garden, leave the dandelions. They are powerful yet gentle tonic medicine.