Healthy Routes Column: Dandelions for Health – Again!

by Gladys Kublik

Those beautiful yellow blooms that brighten our meadows, pastures, ditches and lawns are really very pretty at the height of their season before those white puffs of seed raise their heads. If they weren’t so hard to remove from gardens, lawns, flowerbeds and even sidewalk cracks they could be appreciated for their fleeting spring beauty and then forgotten. However, we hoe them off, dig them out and even spray them in our lawns, hazarding our own health, our pet’s and the neighbours.

Again the burning question is asked, “Why would anyone in their right mind bring such a weed to the New World?”
Native to Eurasia, dandelions have been used in Chinese medicine for over a thousand years. It was recognised for its health giving properties by Persian pharmacists around 900AD and considered highly medicinal by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. In much the same way as the Romans brought roads, the Roman alphabet and a structured legal system to the far reaches of the empire, they also brought medicine, herbs and the dandelion.

By the time all of Europe was looking West to the opportunities of the New World, the dandelion was a prized and treasured medicinal crop in its materia medica. It was the spring tonic, the multivitamin, the cleanse and detox powerhouse of the Middle Ages. Seeds were guarded, carefully planted and lovingly tended because, in the time of the Jamestown settlement, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock and Samuel de Champlain’s settlements in New France, the health of the settlement and even life itself depended on the vitality of its medicinal herbal garden.

As you look out on your yellow dotted lawn you may think, “They need not have worried about the dandelion.” Yet, it was only in the twentieth century that the dandelion was classified as a weed, and that came about with the invention of lawns. Before that the ground surrounding your house was put to the purpose of raising vegetables, herbs or potatoes or as a yard for your chickens, ducks, geese, a pig or two and maybe sheep and a cow. Dandelions don’t have a chance under these conditions because animals naturally know what they need and will devour them immediately in spring.

Gardens planted by early pioneers were surrounded with rigorous fencing to keep out, not so much the wild deer and moose which are modern day nuisances, but their own livestock. These gardens were planted with a large perennial herb patch adjacent to the tilled vegetable ground, where in the dandelion would have had its place. This herbaceous perennial grows from a single unbranching tap root capable of reaching fifteen feet and can grow up 5 to 10 years, reaching a considerable size. At this time, after providing yearly spring salad greens and medicinal teas from the leaves, its roots may have been harvested, roasted and ground to make a healthy coffee substitute.

The milky latex oozing from its stems has been used as an insect repellent, and the bright yellow flowers were used to make a yellow dye. At some point in time, it was discovered that these flowers also made a lovely wine, so it wasn’t considered a disaster when the plants escaped the gardens to the meadows, merely a bountiful harvest for dandelion wine.

Here is an interesting fact, dandelions are good for your lawn. Their roots loosen hard-packed soil, aerate the earth and help reduce erosion. The deep taproot pulls nutrients such as calcium from deep in the soil and makes them available to other plants. Dandelions actually fertilize the grass. I know in my strawberry patch, the biggest, juiciest berries were always next to a deep-rooted luscious green dandelion plant.

Dandelions really are one of nature’s Superfoods. So if you are now of a mind to pick a bunch of health giving greens, or a basket of blossoms to ferment or dig up a succulent root or two, please be careful, make sure it has not been sprayed. If you want certified organic teas, coffees, or encapsulated dandelion, stop in and see us at Neighbors Vitamin Shop.

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