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Dandelion

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DECEMBER: DANDELION – Teraxacum Officinale

Dandelion Description and Habitat:The dandelion is a native of Western Europe where it grows in meadows, fields and fallow land. It originated in Central Asia, but now grows almost anywhere in the world, preferring moist conditions. It has a rosette of characteristic 'lion's tooth' leaves, from the centre of which arises the hollow stem bearing the yellow flower head made up of 200 or more bisexual florets. The long taproot arises from a short rhizome. All the underground parts are covered with a dark brown bark, but are almost white inside and, like the stem, produce a bitter-tasting white milky sap. The leaves are shiny and without hairs, the margin of each leaf cut into great jagged teeth, either upright or pointing backwards and these teeth are themselves cut into lesser teeth.

Synonyms and Common names: Piss-the-bed, pee-the-bed, lion's tooth, fairy clock, blowball, cankerwort, priest's crown, puffball, swine snout, white endive, wild endive.

It is the somewhat fanciful resemblance of the leaf to the canine teeth of a lion that it is generally assumed gives the plant its most familiar name of Dandelion. This is a corruption of the French 'Dent de Lion', an equivalent of this name being found not only in its former specific Latin name 'Dens leonis' but also in nearly all the languages of Europe.

The name of the genus, 'Taraxacum', is derived from the Greek 'taraxos' (disorder), and 'akos' (remedy), due to the curative action of the plant.

Each bloom is made up of numerous florets of a bright golden yellow each of which is notched at the edge into five teeth, each tooth representing a petal. Lower down, the floret narrows into tube and in this tiny tube is a copious supply of nectar which more than half fills it. The presence of this nectar provides the incentive for the visits of many insects, amongst whom the bee takes first rank. The Dandelion takes an important place among honey-producing plants, as it furnishes considerable quantities of both pollen and nectar in the early spring, when the bees' harvest from fruit trees is nearly over. It is also important from the beekeeper's point of view, because not only does it flower most in spring, no matter how cool the weather may be, but a small succession of bloom is also kept up until late autumn, thus delaying the need for feeding the colonies of bees with artificial food. Many little flies also are to be found visiting the Dandelion to drink the lavishly-supplied nectar. No less than ninety-three different kinds of insects are in the habit of frequenting it.

When the whole head has matured, all the florets close up again within the green sheathing bracts that lie beneath, and the bloom returns very much to the appearance it had in the bud. Its shape being then somewhat reminiscent of the snout of a pig, it is termed in some districts 'Swine's Snout.'

When all the seeds have flown, the receptacle or disc on which they were placed remains bare, white, speckled and surrounded by merely the drooping remnants of the sheathing bracts and this gives rise to another of its popular names, 'Priest's Crown,' common in the Middle Ages, when a priest's shorn head was a familiar object. The Tudors gave it the rather cruder nickname of piss-in-the-bed, a reference to its ability to increase the flow of urine.

Small birds are very fond of the seeds of the Dandelion and pigs devour the whole plant greedily. Goats will eat it, but sheep and cattle do not care for it, though it is said to increase the milk of cows when eaten by them. Horses refuse to touch this plant, not appreciating its bitter juice. It is valuable food for rabbits and may be given them from April to September forming excellent food in spring and at breeding seasons in particular. The young leaves of the Dandelion make an agreeable and wholesome addition to spring salads and sandwiches or as a vegetable similar to spinach and are often eaten on the Continent, especially in France.

The dried Dandelion leaves are also employed as an ingredient in many digestive or diet drinks and herb beers. Dandelion Beer is a drink common in many parts of the country and made also in Canada. Workmen in the furnaces and potteries of the industrial towns of the Midlands have frequent resource to many of the tonic Herb Beers, finding them cheaper and less intoxicating than ordinary beer, and Dandelion stout ranks as a favourite. In Berkshire and Worcestershire, the flowers are used in the preparation of a beverage known as Dandelion Wine.

The roasted roots are used to form Dandelion Coffee, Said to be almost indistinguishable from real coffee, Dandelion Coffee has come more into use in this country, being obtainable at most vegetarian restaurants and stores. Dandelion Coffee is a natural beverage without any of the injurious effects that ordinary tea and coffee have on the nerves and digestive organs. It exercises a stimulating influence over the whole system, helping the liver and kidneys to do their work and keeping the bowels in a healthy condition, so that it offers great advantages to dyspeptics and does not cause wakefulness.

The flowers are an herbal compost activator, dried and powdered can be added to a compost heap in order to speed up bacterial activity and thus shorten the time needed to make the compost. A liquid plant feed can be made from the root and leaves. A low quality latex, which can be used for making rubber, can be obtained from the roots of this plant. A magenta-brown dye is obtained from the root. The plant releases ethylene gas, this stunts the growth of nearby plants and causes premature ripening of fruits. A distilled water made from parts of the leaf blades is used cosmetically to clear the skin and is particularly effective in fading freckles.

History: Dandelion was first mentioned in Chinese herbals as late as the 7th century, and in Europe we find allusions to it in the Welsh medicines of the 13th Century and in the 'Ortus Sanitatis' of 1485. It was used by the Arabian physicians of the 10th and 11th centuries. In the West, the root and leaves are distinct remedies, but the Chinese use the whole plant, which they call 'pu gong ying'; it is used as a galactagogue (increasing milk supply). A second oriental species, 'T.mongolicum', is used by the Chinese as a diuretic and liver stimulant, and to treat mastitis. Both are believed to clear heat and toxins from the blood and are also used for boils and abscesses. The plant is cultivated in India as a remedy for liver complaints.

Parts used: Leaves, root and flowers

Collection and Preparation: The leaves are collected before flowering in May. The roots are best collected between September and February, when the plant dies back the energies of the plant are directed into its root system. Dandelion root contains Inulin (a sort of sugar which replaces starch in many of the Dandelion family, Compositae); the percentage of Inulin in the root in autumn is greater than at any other time of the year. Inulin is used increasingly in foods, because it has unusual nutritional characteristics. It ranges from completely bland to subtly sweet and can be used to replace sugar, fat, and flour. This is particularly advantageous because inulin contains one-third to one-fourth the food energy of sugar or other carbohydrates and one-sixth to one-ninth the food energy of fat. It also increases calcium absorption and possibly magnesium absorption, while promoting intestinal bacteria. Nutritionally, it is considered a form of soluble fiber. Inulin has a minimal impact on blood sugar, making it generally considered suitable for diabetics and potentially helpful in managing blood sugar-related illnesses.

Constituents: Leaf: bitter glycosides, carotenoids (including lutein and violaxanthin), terpenoids, choline, potassium salts, iron and other minerals, Vitamins, A, B, C, D (the vitamin A content is higher than that of carrots). Root: bitter glycosides (taraxacin), tannins, triterpenes (including taraxol and taraxsterol), phytosterols, volatile oil, choline, asparagine, carbohydrates (including inulin, up to 40% in autumn, 2% in spring; sugars), pectin, phenolic acids, vitamins, potassium.

Actions: Leaf: gentle diuretic, choleretic (increases the flow of bile and fat to the Liver).

Root: Bitter, mild laxative, digestive and liver tonic, gall bladder stimulant, diuretic, antirheumatic

Indications: Leaf: oedema (fluid retention), oliguria. (decreased or absent production of urine.

Root: cholecystitis (inflammation of the gall bladder), gall-stones, jaundice, atonic dyspepsia (poor digestion, vomiting) with constipation.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Dandelion leaf is a very potent diuretic and is an excellent remedy for water retention. The usual effect of an equivalent drug which stimulates kidney function is a loss of potassium from the body, which aggravates any existing cardiovascular problem. A high level of potassium is particularly desirable when digitalis heart drugs are being prescribed, because if potassium levels fall, the drugs will produce irritability of the heart muscle. Luckily, dandelion is one of the best natural sources of potassium and therefore is a perfectly balanced and safe diuretic. Dandelion leaf may be applied to urinary disorders in general, especially where worsened by the presence of low output of urine.

Dandelion root is a gentle liver tonic and may be used to treat inflammation and congestion of the liver and gall bladder. It can be applied to gallstones, inflammation of the gall bladder, liver-related jaundice, congestive stomach-disorder with constipation and other toxic conditions such as chronic joint and skin inflammations. The root contains bitter substances which are beneficial to the digestive process and also have a laxative effect. The white sap may be applied directly to warts.

Contraindications: Dandelion is contraindicated where there is occlusion of the bile ducts or gall bladder empyema. The milky latex in the stem and leaves of fresh Dandelion may cause an allergic rash in some individuals.

Additional comments & Folklore: Folklore has an interesting spin on determining whether or not you are loved. Instead of picking the petals off a daisy, try blowing the seeds off a dandelion globe. It's said that if you can blow all the seeds off with one blow, then you are loved with a passionate love. If some seeds remain, then your lover has reservations about the relationship. If a lot of the seeds still remain on the globe, then you are not loved at all or very little. Legend has it that the number of breaths it takes to blow off all the seeds of a dandelion globe that has gone to seed, is the hour number.

"Are you separated from the object of your love? Carefully pluck one of the feathery heads; charge each of the little feathers composing it with a tender thought; turn towards the spot where the loved one dwells; blow, and the seed-ball will convey your message faithfully. Do you wish to know if that dear one is thinking of you? blow again; and if there be left upon the stalk a single aigrette, it is a proof you are not forgotten. Similarly, the dandelion is consulted as to whether the lover lives east, west, north, or south, and whether he is coming or not." Source: "The Child and Childhood in Folk-Thought," by Alexander F. Chamberlain

"The dandelion is an excellent barometer, one of the commonest and most reliable. It is when the blooms have seeded and are in the fluffy, feathery condition that its weather prophet facilities come to the fore. In fine weather the ball extends to the full, but when rain approaches, it shuts like an umbrella. If the weather is inclined to be showery it keeps shut all the time, only opening when the danger from the wet is past." Source: "Camping For Boys," by H.W. Gibson

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 December 2010 14:31  

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