By Forest Grace
She brightens the meadows and hillsides, lines the walkways and peeks up through cracks in the asphalt. She takes her place in lawns and is the apparent bane of many a gardener. Yes! It is the one with the deeply serrated leaves with unevenly pointed teeth – the one with the round, hollow milky stem – the one with the bright yellow flower head – the one with white parachute-like seeds. The tenacious one, that holds tight to the underground with her strong and mighty root and never lets us forget about her as she sets to propagate anywhere that seems fit. It’s the virtuous dandelion, whose botanical name is, Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae.
If you are like me, you are now wondering the origin of this botanical name. Taraxacum is derived from the Greek taraxis, meaning disorder and akas, a remedy. The species, officinale, means used in the office or dispensary. Asteraceae, refers to Aster from the Greek meaning star for the star-like form of the cluster of flowers on a stem.
Dandelions are excellent “Dynamic Nutrient Accumulators.” This means that with their lengthy taproots, which can be branching and measure up to 10 inches long and sometimes longer, they are able to mine the soil for nutrients. This allows them to survive in nutrient-poor environments or to catch and hold, rapidly leaching nutrients in a disturbed environment. Many dynamic accumulators aggressively colonize sites. Many are deep-rooted plants, so you can use them to concentrate minerals scarce in your topsoil but less scarce in your parent material, or to catch and recycle leaching nutrients before the system loses them completely. The nutrients accumulated by dandelions are calcium, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, silicon and phosphorus.
Weeds like the dandelion also provide a nectary that attracts beneficial insects that need food, shelter, water and the right condition to reproduce. Many beneficial insects overwinter or lay eggs in dead vegetation, so gardeners could, and perhaps should, delay their post-season clean-up until spring.
Still want to weed them out of your garden? Perhaps consider the leaves as a mulch and/or create a garden weed tea, with the entire plant, to recycle all these nutrients back into the soil. It’s good nourishment for your garden. There are reliable websites that instruct how to do this.
With all those nutrients previously mentioned, it is quite understandable why their young leaves, roots and flowers are wild edibles as well as the entire plant being an herbal medicinal ally. Remember, the species “ officinale “ refers to its official use in the office or dispensary alluding to the medicinal attributes.
Dandelion is a nutritious, free food that can be eaten raw or cooked and the leaves blend well with other fresh salad plants. In fact, the leaves are deemed a superfood.
Along with the nutrients mentioned above, they also contain vitamins A, C, some B-complex vitamins and D. Yes, they are bitter (younger leaves less so) and this bitterness aids in digestion by increasing hydrochloric acid in the stomach and encouraging bile production. With their phytosterols, they also work on lowering cholesterol levels. With their diuretic properties, they are also a safe way of eliminating congestion and fluid swelling. Dandelions are rich in potassium and do not leach potassium from the body as with some conventional diuretics.
Dandelion (using specific parts) may help to relieve: intestinal gas and poor digestion due to insufficient bile production; constipation due to sluggish liver activity; difficulty in urinating or in water retention; as a blood purifier to treat chronic auto-toxemia which contributes to rheumatism, arthritis and/or skin eruptions. They also have pain relieving properties and are said to be a good friend to the heart. Dandelion blossoms are emollient and vulnerary and can help externally with conditions such as rough chapped skin, windburn, sunburn, large pores, age spots and insect bites.
For the last few springs, I have prepared an external use cosmetic oil with the blossoms which in turn becomes an ingredient in my Dandelioness Face Cream.
Dandelion Face Cream
I steep the fresh, dry-wilted* (*to allow some of the moisture from the blossoms to evaporate) blossoms in a carrier oil of choice using the double boiler method. This will contain the oil and blossoms and will macerate over a low heat for three to five hours to extract the medicinal constituents. For cosmetic use in a cream, a lighter oil such as sweet almond oil, is used as the menstruum. Olive oil can be used for medicinal purposes for use as a massage oil for arthritic joints, stiff necks or back tension. Care must be taken to not allow moisture from the steam into the oil. After maceration, the blossoms are strained and the oil reserved in a canning jar or bottle (allow to cool before placing the lid due to condensation forming) and kept in a cool, dark place until ready for use. I like to let the oil sit for a few days to see if there is any plant sediment or moisture settling to the bottom of the jar. If so, I would then restrain it leaving the sediment and moisture behind. The oil can be refrigerated to extend the shelf life and will harden over time. This is normal. Wipe out any condensation with a clean paper towel. The shelf life is about six to 12 months depending on the type of plant and type of oil. Trust your senses. Look for any signs of deterioration (eg. mold which would occur as a result of moisture) and familiarize yourself with the scent of the plant and the scent of the oil at the beginning and throughout the shelf life timeframe.
With the Asteraceae family being one of the largest family of plants, it’s always a good idea to see who else is a member. If you are allergic to ragweed you may have a sensitivity or allergic response to other plants in the Asteraceae family such as dandelion.
As with any plant, always research and ensure you have properly identified with a reliable botanical guide, and cross-reference, before wildcrafting. Stay away from near roadside foraging due to vehicle emissions or any places that you know, or may suspect, have been sprayed with herbicides, pesticides and are used as dog walking.
Forest Grace is an Herbalist-in-Study through renowned Herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar’s Practical Herbalism Programme. Living in the forest of the West Nipissing District for the last seven years has given her the opportunity to expand her knowledge first-hand with the plants and trees that are natural to the Boreal Forest. She is keenly interested in botany and preserving wildlife and their habitats..