Friday, 24 July 2015

The ins and outs of dandelion

(Originally published 15 February 2015 here )

Just so you know, it's some kind of agony to be writing about dandelion when there's three feet of snow out there and I won't nibble on one of dandy's tender, bitter & sweet first leaves for at least 2 months.

However, needs must and all that, this post is about due. Looking through the blog I realize I've never done a whole post for this current darling of the internet health sites . Mind you, I mentioned it in passing so often here that if you did a search for it on the blog you'd end up reading half the posts!

Where to start? Well first, I must remind you that I don't quote studies or recommend brands. All I can tell you is how I've used it for myself and others in my care, and how we've fared as a result. My source of inspiration for experimenting with dandelion comes mostly from Susun Weed's books. Her writing is so clear, her enthusiasm so infectious that I recommend them all highly.

I think it best - and easiest for me - if I take you through a year spent with dandelion. And rather than begin in spring (lest I weep as I write) why not start now, in deepest February?

It's dry in the house this time of year. Skin gets itchy. It's difficult to eat well and the only exercise involves firewood, which offers up the chance of pulled backs.

How can I use dandelion now? I can use my vinegars, for one thing. Off and on all spring, summer and fall, I pick or cut or dig up dandelion in its various forms, sometimes just the leaves, sometimes including the flowers. I chop 'em up, (often without even rinsing) put them in jars then pour apple cider vinegar over the plant material. I always put a layer of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar before putting on the lid, as the vinegar tends to rust it and it will get stuck. For a few days I give the jars a shake or a stir as I go by to keep everything submerged, then once I'm sure everything is saturated and will stay down, I put them away and forget about them. I have a tendency to keep things in odd places, so I sometimes find jars that are a couple of years old. No matter, dandelion vinegars keep very well. You can use it after 6 weeks if you're in a hurry.

A splash of dandy leaf vinegar is gorgeous on a salad. A splash of one with flowers is tasty too, but it's so nice on the skin that I'll put some in the basin when I wash my face. It seems to balance the Ph of the skin and relieve dryness. If I find a really big jar I sometimes splurge and pour half of it in the bath. It really does help the itchies.

Some years, I've caught the dandelions just as they are coming into bloom in spring. With those I can make something resembling capers. I take the tightest buds, put them in a jar and pour over a mixture of apple cider vinegar and tamari. Sometimes I'll toss in a bud or two of garlic. I stash it in the back of the fridge. Midwinter is a great time to haul that out as a condiment treat and a shot of something wild. Sometimes it's not about the nutrition or the medicine, but just the need of that taste of wild.

I always have dandelion root tincture on hand. I make some each spring and fall, when the roots are at their fattest, sometimes with their leaves if there is fresh new growth. (When the plants are in full leaf and flower the roots are too wimpy to bother with.) When winter's lack of fresh food and exercise start to take their toll, digestive systems can slow down and that's where this tincture shines. We find 6-8 drops of dandelion tincture taken before meals prepares our tummies nicely for digestion,. It helps with the elimination factor, too, which is a very good thing for someone with a strained back. Unlike herbal "laxatives", dandelion root is neither habit forming nor explosive (ahem). It's gentle, effective and reliable. We use very small dosages, and I always suggest anyone I give it to does so as well, then gradually increase as needed. Frequent small doses are better than taking a lot at once.

Recently I had the opportunity to watch a woman very frail from an accident and subsequent surgery get help from dandelion root tincture. Slim to begin with, she lost a lot of weight and was tired all the time. I could tell she wasn't absorbing her food well. She claimed she ate "a lot", but I suspected she wasn't enjoying her vittles. Her doctors were worried about her borderline anaemia, too. I gave her dandelion root tincture, and you know what? It perked her right up. She reported "just feeling stronger" and she got some healthy colour. Last time I saw her she looked like she'd gained a pound, maybe a pound and a half (she's tiny!) and she says her appetite is better.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the hang-over cure. It's 10 drops every hour until you feel better. That's more than I would normally take, but it has caused me no harm and relieved me of a couple of very nasty, queasy/headache-y mornings (white wine gets me every time, I'm more of a vodka gal).

If I include leaf in the tincture, then I'm adding support for kidneys and by extension the urinary tract. Dandelion leaf is mildly diuretic. Again, though, it is safer and superior to say, over the counter "water pills", because it won't cause mineral depletion. It is so mineral rich that it replaces any that would be lost (and others we're probably lacking). It has a reputation of the leaf being good for gout, I've never had occasion to find out, but I'd love to hear from anyone who has tried it for that.

The tincture is easy to make. I give the roots/leaves a quick swish in a basin of water, then chop them in bits, put them in a jar, then fill it with vodka. It's ready in 6 weeks, too, and will keep, likely for decades.

So now let's pretend spring has arrived (oh how I wish!). The first leaves of dandelion are coming up, their brilliant lively green standing out against the still dead lawn. I can spot 'em a mile away. Some people bring them into the house for salads. Ha! What a waste. Eat them as they are. Susun Weed calls Vitamin C "the bendover vitamin" because in spring if you want your day's supply all you have to do is bend over and pick 3 small dandelion leaves. I'll eat far more than that, every day. I love how some are sweet, some are sweet with a sour after taste and some are straight out bitter. I never know which I'll get and that's half the joy, I love them all. Of course, I'm not only eating dandelion on such days, I'm grazing on cleavers, too, and the tiny first leaves of mallows, maybe yellow dock, chickweed, a bit of wild mustard here and there and violets. But I digress ..

The point is, I can't tell you that it is dandelion itself waking my body and spirit up and giving me so much energy, it's part of the picture, along with sunshine and warmth and bare feet on soil.

While the leaves are at that exquisite nibble stage is when I'll take some roots, too, for the aforementioned tinctures, then the flower buds and the leaves as they get big but are still fresh, for the vinegars.

Next up, the flowers in full bloom. No, I don't make wine, that's not my thing. But I do make a lovely beverage with them. Like a tincture, this involves vodka, but it's strictly recreational. A small handful of flowers, just enough to give you a couple of layers in the bottom of a jar. Make sure to leave out any green bits. Sprinkle on some white sugar, then add a couple of slices of lemon if you have it. Pour enough vodka over it to fill the jar and try to wait at least a day, a few is better. Shake it once in a while as you go by. Then, on a sunny afternoon, have it over ice .. supper will be late, of course.

I eat the stems of dandelion flowers. Maria Treben recommends a few every day as a spring tonic, saying it is good for diabetics. Again, I have no way of telling you what it does for my health, specifically, but I like the taste.

The flowers make a beautiful rinse for the skin and hair. Here's how: Take a large bowl, a pretty one is best, out to the garden, pick a handful of flowers and put them in the bowl. Sit in the grass, enjoy the sun while chewing on a stem or two. Watch the bugs leave the flowers and help them out of the bowl. Then take it in, pour water just off the boil over the flowers - it smells heavenly. Allow it to cool, then rinse your face or hair. It's delightful.

Sometimes I make an infused oil from the flowers that is very nice for the skin. Susun Weed recommends this oil for gently massaging sore breasts, saying it relieves lymph congestion. I've found that to be true, and it is a good all around skin softener, as well. It's important to pick the flowers after 3 days of dry weather, if they have any moisture the oil will get moldy. I shred them a bit, make sure there's no bits of green. I use olive oil, I think it keeps better than others. Fill the jar with the blossoms, cover them with the oil. Poke it with something to get all the bubbles out, and check it daily for a few days to make sure. Keep it out of the sun, and strain it in 6 weeks. Unlike tinctures or vinegars, I find it best to strain this oil as soon as it's ready.

High summer the leaves of dandelion are too tough to harvest for anything and too bitter to nibble more than one or two, but come fall there's another spurt. After a frost has laid low the summer's growth, new leaves offer fresh growth for grazing and vinegaring and the roots are good to tincture again.

And that, my friends, brings us back to winter.


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