The dandelion is one of the most versatile plants in the garden. Often accused of being a weed, the dandelion is native to the UK, and is a true herb. The word herb comes from herbaceous, meaning to die down during the dormant season, winter. It is also used under the secondary definition of herb; the name officinale in a plant means having medicinal properties.
The common name comes from French, dent de lion, meaning 'lion's tooth'. This refers to the leaves, as they look like sharp teeth, and they make the plant easily recognisable. It has a rosette of long, lobed leaves growing from a single taproot. Growing from the rosette from spring until autumn, are the bright yellow flowers on long stalks. The flowers are really many tiny flowers bunched together, with two rows of floral bracts, which are bent backwards.
After fertilisation, each tiny flower becomes a seed that is formed with a 'parachute' of white hair attached. The seeds are blown from the plant by the wind, or by small children 'telling the time' or making a wish, by counting how many blows will remove all the seeds. The seeds can travel a long way on the wind, before they land and become a new plant. The taproot also is capable of propagating. If it is severed, all the pieces can grow into a new plant.
Dandelions are a diuretic1, which explains the childhood tale that if dandelions are picked, that person will wet the bed. The French call it pissenlit, and the old English name is 'piss-a-bed' for this reason. It can help with urinary problems and fluid retention, as it rids the body of excess water and salt. A mild dandelion tea (made with the young leaves and hot water) can be given to children who wet the bed. If drunk only in the morning, the effects should make sure that the bladder is emptied during the day.
It is also mildly laxative, and hence can give relief from constipation. It is excellent for liver disorders, especially congested liver and gallstones, as herbalists believe that it increases the production of bile and digestive enzymes. It is good for the digestion, and may protect against iron-deficiency anaemia.
The milky sap of the stems can be applied daily to warts, and traditional Chinese medicine makes use of a poultice of the leaves to treat boils and abscesses.
Dandelions are also good for the skin. Drinking dandelion tea can help eczema, and other skin conditions. It can also be used externally, as it is slightly astringent. Washing in an infusion (tea) can be beneficial.
Dandelion and Nettle Face Pack
Gather dandelion and young nettle leaves in the early morning (use gloves for the nettles).
Chop the leaves finely and simmer in water until a thick 'mash' is formed. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool.
Spread over the skin, and leave for 15 minutes. Wash off with warm water.
Full of vitamins A and C, dandelions also contain vitamin B, potassium and iron. The young leaves can be used in salads, boiled as vegetables, and can be made into soup. Combined with burdock leaves, a refreshing drink can be made that will increase the appetite. All parts of the plant can be eaten and/or used to make drinks2.
Dig up the roots in autumn. They will contain more goodness then, as the plant prepares to die down for the winter.
Fresh or dried roots can be used, and they should be placed on a baking tray and roasted in the middle of a moderately slow oven. Dried roots will take about an hour, fresh ones will take longer.
The pieces will need turning at intervals to ensure an even rusty brown colour.
Once the roots have been roasted, they can be ground up and used, one teaspoon per cup.
Gather eight cups of flowers (not stems), and place into a bowl with an equal amount of cold water. Leave for three days, stirring occasionally.
Strain, and boil for 30 minutes. Add two and a half cups of sugar, and the rind and juice of an orange and lemon, and then let it cool.
Add a teaspoon of yeast to some warm water, and add to the wine. Cover, and leave for two days, to begin fermentation.
Pour into a fermenting jar, and leave for two months before bottling. The wine improves as it matures.