Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelions are plentiful throughout rural and urban environments all year round but are particularly abundant at this time of the year. In Irish dandelions are called Bearnan Bride – 'the indented one of Brigid' due to the serrated edges of their leaves and the fact that they are almost the first of wild flowers to come into bloom following her festival. Dandelion used to cultivated in medieval Irish monasteries such as Holy Cross in Tipperary.
All parts of the plant can be used. The leaves have an affinity to the kidneys and are renowned for their diuretic properties (increasing the flow of urine). Dandelion has a similar action to frusemide which is a chemical diuretic. However, unlike the synthetic version which depletes the body of potassium, dandelion is naturally high in potassium which enables it to be used safely for long term treatment without causing an imbalance. Its diuretic action enables it to relieve fluid retention and hypertension. The leaves can be eaten in salads, juiced or boiled as a vegetable or made into a tincture.
The root of dandelion has more of a therapeutic action on the liver. The chemicals in the plant cause the gallbladder to contract, releasing bile and stimulating the liver to produce more. Its bitter action stimulates digestion. The root can also be roasted to make dandelion coffee, which is caffeine free.
The flowers can be eaten straight off the plant and have a mild sweet taste. The flowers also make a refreshing dandelion beer and are often combined with burdock as they have a synergistic affect on the body. Dandelion root and celery seeds are used together if there is an arthritic condition in the body to due elevated levels of acid or if digestion is compromised.
The white sap traditionally was taken as a Spring tonic and was known as Caisearbhan and Bainne na n-Ean. It can be used externally to treat warts, corns, calluses and rough dry skin. Simply squeeze enough juice out to cover the affected area and protect with a plaster or dressing and repeat daily. The area will go brown as it heals.
So the next time you go to remove dandelions from your lawn or garden, just stop and think about the many ways they can be utilized as food and medicine...