If not for its association as a weed, the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is among the most beautiful and robust wild flowers. The hearty dandelion plant is ubiquitous, yet very few people know of its power as a healing plant. From roots to blossom, every part of the plant contains healing properties.
The Less-known Healing Properties of Dandelion
Dandelion is used for weight-loss, contributes to vitality, enhances the taste of food, improves metabolism, and much more.
Practitioners of folk and monastic medicine(or, Klosterheilkunde) believed that nature provided this ancient medicinal plant to revive our metabolism after the cold and dark season. Strangely, we found no record of the healing power of the dandelion in European herbal books until the 15th century. Even Hildegard of Bingen seems to have either overlooked the plant or it was lost in translation.
The Dandelion in Hildegard Medicine
The names Hildegard used for some of the plants in her writings are difficult to identify based on modern nomenclature. Similarities in their attributes coupled with translations from Hildegard’s own words into Latin, again into German and beyond, means that some plants may not have been named as they are today.
Hildegard called one plant of dubious identity “Sunnewirbel“. In the Middle Ages this term was used interchangeably for chicory (or wild succory), rock rose, or dandelion. So while it is possible that Hildegard recognized the medicinal qualities of dandelion, we just can’t be certain.
Although Hildegard of Bingen medicine emerged along with other ancient healing traditions in Asia, use of the dandelion is one area of divergence. Both Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine embraced the use of dandelion as a detoxifying agent for the liver and to treat mammary gland inflammation. These traditions also employ dandelion to help resolve hepatitis and urinary tract infections.
Modern use of dandelion in Germany
In Germany today, dandelion is used to enhance digestion, ease gas and bloating, and as a mild laxative. It can also be used as a diuretic in conjunction with fasting or detoxifying agent. Despite its prevalence in eastern healing traditions, dandelion did not appear in German herbal books until the late Middle Ages. At that time is was recommended as a remedy for diarrhea, fever, liver, kidney and spleen problems.
The Dandelion: Origin and Cultivation
The Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a bald or lightly fuzzy plant that grows up to 20 inches (50 cm) high. It forms a strong, turnip-like root with black / brown external coloration, and a milky-white interior. The leaves are arranged in a basic rosette, elongated and serrated. The stem does not carry leaves and is hollow on the inside. The bright yellow blossoms have a tongue-shape and are combined into a scaly flower head. The fruit resembles a spindle with a shield-shaped flying apparatus (pappus). The whole plant contains a white milky juice.
Dandelion typically blooms from April to May. It originates from Europe and West Asia, but now populates the entire northern hemisphere. Dandelions grow in meadows, fields, and along roadsides. (They grow especially well in manicured lawns.) To harvest dandelions for medical use, excavate by the root, below the leaves, divide the plant lengthwise, and hang in an arid climate to dry.
Medicinal Use of Dandelions
Thanks in part to its bitter flavor profile, dandelion contributes to the foundation of traditional German medicine as a tincture, tea, or extract to combat obesity and high cholesterol. By improving metabolism and through efficient blood cleansing and detoxification, dandelion is thought to contribute to relieving gout, rheumatism, liver and bile ailments, blood ailments, ulcers, skin, and other symptoms of aging. Here it is recommended as a detoxifying agent in the context of a spring cleanse or fall cure.
Modern research (download document here) is sparse but does indicate the potential medicinal uses of dandelion roots for inflammation modulator, diuretic, digestive stimulant, insulin stimulant, demulcent, prebiotic, immunomodulator, antiangiogenic, and antineoplastic.
Dandelions as a Super-Food
The Dandelion is not only used to treat existing symptoms, but also to preserve good health and prevent illnesses. Dandelion is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. Specifically, when eaten raw in a salad, dandelion contributes about 40 times the vitamin A found in lettuce. It has 9 times the vitamin C, 4 times the vitamin E, 8 times the amount of calcium, 4 times the magnesium, 3 times the amount of iron, and 2 times the protein as found in ordinary lettuce.
Dandelion also possesses meaningful amounts of potassium and other essential minerals known as electrolytes. Hildegard would be especially pleased at the amount of trace elements and bioactive plant substances and flavoniods resulting in the bitter flavor qualities of dandelion.
If you have no desire to pick the dandelion fresh, you can use dandelion powder, generally made and powdered from gently dried dandelion juice.
Dandelion in the Kitchen
Dandelion tastes great and serves as a great source of food medicine according to Hildegard nutrition. The leaves can be enjoyed in salads, smoothies, juice, soup, in tea, or simply as a standalone vegetable. The flowers can be made into dandelion wine, dandelion beer, and dandelion blossom jelly. In the old German tradition of using flowers as a garnish to decorate dishes, dandelions are served right next to the iconic edelweiss.
Dandelion root contains the highest density of active medicinal substances. Therefore we often see dandelion root used for herbal healing purposes. As with dandelion leaves, one can also enjoy the root as a food, most commonly in the form of dandelion coffee.
The leaves, stems and blossoms are the basis for a delicious soup.
- Lightly dice and fry one onion in oil
- Add 2 dandelion leaves over brief heat
- Add leeks, tomatoes, carrots or other wild plants
- Allow 20-30 minutes to simmer at low heat
- Puree by hand or with a blender
- Season with salt and pepper
Along with other healthy alternatives to coffee, like spelt coffee, an herbal coffee can be made from the dandelion roots. Start by dicing and drying the root. Once dried, place in a pan or on a baking sheet to gently roast while stirring, and eventually running through a coffee grinder. Combine one cup of water with 1 tsp of the ground, roaster dandelion root powder, and cook briefly. Add milk, cinnamon and honey for taste.
Dandelion tea stimulates digestion and acts like a diuretic food or drink to help reduce swelling legs. Most traditional German herbal remedies call for tea preparations using the whole dandelion plant.
The tea preparation works best with dandelions harvested during the spring, before flowering. First, clean the dandelion by brushing it off, using a dry cloth or gentle brush (no washing with water and / or soap). Cut the plant lengthwise into strips and dry in a warm and arid place for a few days.
Place 2 tsp per cup of the dried dandelion herb in cold water overnight, then boil the tea briefly and allow it to steep for 10 minutes. Drink 2-3 cups before meals every day, always followed by a glass of water. Due to the diuretic (flushing) effect of dandelion, avoid consuming the tea before bedtime.
Dandelion-Fresh Pressed Juice
You can also produce fresh pressed dandelion juice yourself. For this process, use a grass juice press or a powerful kitchen juicer. For this process use enough dandelion leaves to produce 50 milliliters of juice.
Ideally, drink the dandelion juice very slowly, preferably on an empty stomach, and always about 30 minutes prior to a meal.
Certain finished products of dandelion juice may also be available. Ideally, if the product is carefully manufactured by a trusted source, using organic quality product, you can obtain the health benefits of the whole dandelion (leaves, blossoms and roots).
Dandelion for the skin
The dandelion can also be used topically for acne and warts. Applied to acne, dandelion sap helps inhibit microbial infection. It also encourages skin to retain its natural moisture, leading to fewer breakouts and a cleaner, fresher appearance.
Topical application of dandelion leaves the skin feeling soft and supple. Ideally, apply the white dandelion sap from the stalks to acne or other blemishes two or more times a day to eliminate and prevent blemishes over weeks of use.
Those who see the dandelion flower blooming in meadows – or in their yards, may think of many things, but its doubtful they ever think about wine. Wine can, however, be made from the dandelion’s yellow blossoms.
For preparation, collect a bucket of fresh dandelion blossoms and add another bucket of boiling water. Allow the combination to sit for 3 days. Add 1.5 to 2 kg of sugar, a piece of ginger, one orange rind, and one lemon rind.
Cook everything together for one half an hour in a large pot and then let the mixture cool. Add yeast, and pour the wine into a barrel. After two days of fermentation, lock the barrel.
After allowing to rest for two months, you can begin bottling the dandelion wine. It can be stored for years, and like a fine wine, the bouquet should improve.
For intestinal inflammation, gallstones or other intestinal issues, be sure to consult with a doctor about the use of dandelion. If you are allergic to plants in the ragweed family it is best to avoid ingesting dandelion.