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*NEW* Janet Alton now offering Nutrition consultations

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion1The humble dandelion: scourge of garden, lawn, under walls and paths - it takes a mechanical digger to get those long roots out! But our ancestors knew the value of the plant and used its roots, leaves and milky sap as medicines in various ways.

The Latin name 'Taraxacum' is derived from the Greek 'taraxos' (disorder) and 'akos' (remedy), revealing the dandelion's age-old reputation as a curative plant. The English name 'dandelion' comes from the French 'dent de lion' meaning 'lion's tooth' and generally assumed to refer to the toothed leaves. However, the French have an even more descriptive name for the plant: 'pissenlit', which needs no translation, and refers to its great reputation as a diuretic. When excess water is lost from the body, the risk is that potassium reserves will be depleted. The beauty of using dandelion as a diuretic is that the plant itself contains potassium, which more than replaces any that is lost by the diuretic effect. Strangely enough, dandelion leaf tea can be used to help cure bedwetting in children. As long as the child is given the tea to drink during the day and not last thing at night, the effect is to readjust the system's daily rhythm.

Dandelion leaf also has a reputation for treating kidney stones, because in diluting the urine it helps prevent the formation of the crystals which clump together to form stones. In the days long before the mechanisms of heart failure were understood, dandelion leaves were traditionally added to foxglove leaves to treat 'dropsy' - water retention caused by the failing heart.

Dandelion2Dandelion root coffee is a marvellous substitute for real coffee if you have been warned off it because of high blood pessure, nervous tension, irritable bowel syndrome etc. Not only does it make a refreshing drink, but you can feel good in the knowledge that you are helping your liver as well! Many of us remember drinking 'Dandelion and Burdock' soft drink as children, never realising that this was once brewed as a spring tonic, to 'cleanse the liver'. It could also be fermented as a beer. Herbalists prescribe dandelion root whenever the liver seems to need gentle encouragement to clear the body of accumulated toxins. It is the bitter principle in the root that does the trick, acting also to improve the function of the gallbladder. Although it is the leaves and roots that are largely used by herbalists today, the acrid white sap exuding from the stems of dandelion was once used in Derbyshire as a cure for warts.

Quite apart from medicinal uses, dandelion leaves can be enjoyed as a salad vegetable, as long as you pick them young, before they get too bitter. They are delicious in sandwiches (especially brown bread) seasoned with a little lemon juice, salt, and black pepper. Traditionally the leaves should always be torn instead of chopped, as this is thought to preserve the flavour. They can also be quickly boiled like spinach and served with butter, flavoured to taste with grated nutmeg, garlic, or chopped onion. Or make a pasty or a quick pizza with layers of cooked leaves, mozzarella cheese, sliced black olives and tomato puree - wonderful! Another up to date and health-conscious way to serve dandelion leaves is to stir-fry them quickly with vegetables, nuts and spices, which makes a really colourful and tasty dish - try the recipe below.

DANDELION STIR-FRY

  • Several young dandelion leaves, torn (tearing preserves the flavour)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, cut in thin strips
  • 1 stick celery, cut in thin strips
  • A few broccoli pieces
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mixed nuts
  • 1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic, crushed

Spices:

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
  • Salt/black pepper to taste

Prepare the vegetables and have them ready on separate plates. Crush the cumin and coriander seeds, add the turmeric powder, chilli powder, salt and pepper and put to one side. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a wok. When hot, add the onion and stir-fry for a minute. Add the carrot, stir fry for another minute. Add the celery and broccoli, stir-fry for another minute. Add the spices, garlic and dandelion leaves and stir round for another minute. Finally add the nuts, chopped tomatoes and tomato puree and stir until piping hot. Serve with rice. Serves 2.

Dandelion should not be used as a substitute for any prescription drug you are taking. Always consult a professional herbalist.


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