Taraxacum officinalis – Asteraceae family
To early American colonists, dandelions were carefully tended crops. Europeans brought this ancient food with them to plant in their gardens for use as salad greens, beer bitters, wine base, stockpot roots and vital medicine. It’s difficult for the modern gardener to imagine long rows of “weeded” dandelion beds, but this plant has been cultivated for centuries.
The healing ways of dandelion spread as quickly as its seeds parachute in the wind.
The Chinese were the first to describe dandelion’s medicinal virtues in purifying the blood and increasing the immune system. By the eleventh century, Arabic cultures were sharing its use to treat troubles of the liver and kidneys. Soon all of Europe was using dandelion in their kitchens and storing it in their medicine cabinets.
The Asteraceae (or Sunflower) family Dandelion belongs to is one of the largest in the plant kingdom. Any one who has allowed a stray lettuce head to bolt in his or her garden recognizes the familiar yellow inflorescence that defines this family. Dandelion separates itself from the multitude of lookalikes by its smooth, toothed leaves, milky stem sap and fleshy taproot. This root, which can grow to up to one foot in length, is one source of this species’ strength. It is a busy chemical factory, gathering nutrition from deep within the soil and as well as absorbing pollutants.
The high amount of vitamins, calcium, potassium and other trace minerals in this root balance the diuretic effects herbalists utilize when controlling a patient’s blood pressure. Healers also count on dandelion’s highly volatile and bitter constituents in the root to isolate toxins in the body and flush them from the system. It is ironic that the poisons gardeners use to eradicate dandelions are the same toxins this plant offers to weed from our bodies.
For more information on dandelion, buy The Pocket Herbal: Medicinal Plants that Changed the World and The Practical Herbalist’s Herbal Folio: Dandelion: Herbal Medicine Rooted in Your Front Yard.