The amazing nutritional and medicinal properties of the humble dandelion

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Long-considered a weed, dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) has transformed itself of late into a coveted superfood, making its way into health food shops and whole food markets everywhere.

And why not? Not only are its roots are jam-packed with healing properties to rivel any herb, but its leaves make a delicious salad and its flowers are great for anything from fritters to jams/jellies and even wine. The only surprising thing about this trend is that we ever considered dandelion a pesky weed to begin with!

So when did the penny finally drop? Why did these “pesky weeds” become the new gourmet trend?

History

While dandelions may be an aquired taste for a modern palate that has become accustomed to a sweet-salty dichotomy (such as ours in the the US and Australia etc), dandelions were revered as both food and medicine by many ancient cultures including the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians and Chinese. In fact, it is believed they were brought to the US deliberately for nutritional and medicinal reasons.

It’s clear we’ve known about the benefits of dandelion for some time but somewhere along the way our taste buds and our love of the “perfect” lawn led to them being classified as a weed. However with more and more people getting into whole foods, organic gardening and foraging, our palates are finally catching up, opening the way for a renaissance of kale, achicoria, mustard greens and our beloved dandelion!

A nutitional powerhouse

Nutritionally, dandelions are one of the best foods you can eat. They are jam-packed with:

  • Dietary fibre: Helping you maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease
  • Calcium: One cup of dandelion greens has 10% of the daily value of calcium (US), which is great for strong bones and teeth, preventing osteoporosis and proper functioning of the muscles and nerves.
  • Iron: One cup of dandelions has 9% of the daily recommended intake of iron, which is important for healthy red blood cells, brain function and immune system.
  • Protein: Dandelions have more protein per serve than spinach, which is essential for the function of cells, organs and the whole body.
  • Vitamins including A (for healthy skin and tissues and to reduce the risk of lung cancer) , B vitamins (for the brain, nervous system, skin and hair), C (acts an antioxidant, blosters the immune system and reduces the risk of some cancers), E (another antioxidant) and K ( activates proteins and calcium essential to blood clotting).
  • Other essential minerals including copper, magnesium, potassium, manganese and zinc

As you can see dandelions pretty much have it all! For more on the nutrition of dandelion greens (including exact values) check-out this page.

Medicinal magic

Apart from their nutritional properties, dandelions, have also long been used to promote health and wellbeing throughout a number of herbal healing traditions. Today dandelions are believed to treat the following systems:

Urinary: Different species of Taraxacum (to which the dandelion belongs) have been used as a diuretic for over 2,000 years in both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, as well as throughout Europe for several hundred years. And today, research shows that the dandelion leaf’s diuretic effect is comparable to farmaceutical equivalents such Furosemide. However unlike other diuretics (which deplete electrolytes), dandelion is naturally rich in potassium, so it doesn’t lead to serious side effects like potassium depletion, hepatic coma (in liver patients), circulatory collapse, and transmission through mothers’ milk. As such, herbalists use it to treat kidney ailments, water retention, high blood pressure and urinary tract infections (in conjunction with uva ursi).

Digestion: Herbalists also use dandelion (root and leaf) to promote bile excretion from the liver. This helps the body process food and liquids more efficiently, metabolise fat and optimise cholestrol levels. It is also believed to lower the risk of liver diseases like jaundice, gall stones and hepatitis and support the function of the whole digestive system, helping treat minor digestive complaints such as constipation, trapped gas and bloating. As a liver cleanser, dandelion also believed to have a beneficial effect on skin disorders such as acne, eczema and hives.

How to prepare dandelion

Dandelion leaves can be eaten in salads, lighlty braised or sauteed like spinach or prepared as a herbal infusion. While roots can be used to make a decoction or tincture. For more on preparing herbal infusions and decoctions check-out “The art of making medicinal teas”.

Where can you find dandelions?

The most obvious answer is in your own backyard, that of a friedn or neighbour who wants a hand “weeding” or in parks or other natural environments near you (and away from the road!). But if you don’t have the time or inclination to track it down, you can find the dried herb at the following outlets:

As you can see, there’s more to this mighty little weed than meets the eye. have you jumped on the dandelion bandwagon yet? What doe you use it for in your household? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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