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Dandelion - the bane of gardeners but important medicine on the shelves of the dispensary

About a month ago I took a photo of a tenacious little dandelion that was flowering despite cold weather. A month later and the dandelions are coming out in force everywhere. You are likely to find dandelion or Taraxacum officinalis (its botanical name) in the dispensary of every herbalist. The name, Taraxacum is derived from the Greek ‘taraxos’ meaning ‘disorder’ and ‘akos’ meaning ‘remedy’ while ‘officinalis’ refers to its value as a recognised medicinal herb (more on officinalis and officina). The common name dandelion is derived from the French dent de lion (lion’s teeth) - the jagged leaves look like lion’s teeth. Another common name is piss-a-bed (pisenlit in France) which hints at one of the uses of dandelion, namely as a diuretic. One of the things I heard as a child was - don’t pick dandelions because they make you wet the bed! Well that never happened to me but it no doubt relates to its diuretic action.

All parts of the dandelion can be used as medicines but it's the leaves and roots that are used most frequently.

The leaves of dandelion are a diuretic which means they increase the clearing of urine from the body. This makes it very effective at removing bodily waste via the kidneys, reducing water retention and having a cleansing effect on the body. The leaves are unusual because they contain large amounts of potassium which is often lost when diuretics are given.

Dandelion root is an important herb for supporting healthy liver function and aiding digestion. It increases the secretion of digestive acids, enzymes and bile. It’s one of the herbs I often use in patients who suffer from things such as poor digestion, constipation, skin problems, headaches, tiredness and fatigue, hormonal problems and more.

Dandelion is loaded with nutrients, including vitamins A, B, C, D and E, and minerals such as calcium, iron, manganese and potassium. It probably happens less often nowadays but it used to be quite common for people to eat the leaves in the spring as part of a general tonic. You can add young leaves to salads in early spring, but they become increasingly bitter later in the year.

Did you know, Theseus, of Greek mythology, ate dandelions for 30 days to fortify himself to fight the Minotaur, a half man-half bull that ate the young adults of Athens? You’re probably not going to face any minotaurs in the near future but it’s worth knowing what to do in case you do.

What stories have you heard about dandelions?

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