From the Lion’s Mouth:
The Wish-blown seeds + Bittersweet Hope of Dandelion
Common Name: Dandelion
Botanical Name: Taraxacum spp.
Taste: Bitter, sweet
Energetics: Cool, dry
“It gives one a sudden start in going down a barren, stony street, to see upon a narrow strip of grass, just within the iron fence, the radiant dandelion, shining in the grass, like a spark dropped from the sun”
– Henry Ward Beeche
“Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them”
– A. A. Milne, Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh
If there’s a single personal symbol of hope for me, it’s that golden-faced flower that peeks out from under trash-strewn vacant lots, takes over carefully controlled lawns, bursts from sidewalk cracks and blooms even on land damaged by nuclear radiation and other environmental degradation. Yeah, you know, that weed people are always pulling up and cursing and dumping poison on. Yep, Dandelion. This much maligned wildflower when looked at honestly embodies profound possibility for change and incredible capacity for the regeneration of life in the most hostile of situations.
In many ways, Dandelion is the very definition of insistent wildness, of life that survives and thrives anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Perpetually persecuted, it still adapts to nearly any climate, seeds itself in concrete, rock crevices, chemical-laden yards, vacant lots, and even in a sprinkle of earth and rock tossed atop a slab of metal. Dandelion is persistence, joy in the face of adversity and bliss even while broken-hearted. Dandelion is also sunshine with teeth, for her very name is from the French Dent de lion, meaning teeth of the lion. The name refers to the typically jagged leaves as well as the tenacious nature of the plant itself. This once revered medicine and food is now looked upon as a trouble-making misfit, a smiling badge of resistance that defies all attempts to shut down insistent life and nature’s bountiful diversity.
Not one to be swept aside by convention, Dandelion is a cheerful outlaw as she slowly but surely busts down walls and breaks up sidewalks. She reminds us of the wildness of the earth beneath our feet wherever she goes. Regardless of zoning laws, landscaping plans and subdivision “weed-free” regulations, this vibrant plant is likely to dance in on wish-blown seeds and settle right down, enriching the soil and offering you medicine, whether you asked for any or not. Dandelion is the activists’ emblem, a brilliant spokesperson for necessary action and groundbreaking revolution, no matter the consequences or cost. And like the best revolutionaries, she also shows us how to live fully and encourages us to indulge in a tango or two. The happiness inherent in her nature is imparted by her very presence as well as through nutritional and medicinal means.
The freshly picked flowers of Dandelion infused in olive oil, make a very effective rub for all sorts of aches and pains, from knotted muscles to injured joints. It’s especially helpful for those who feel saddened or depressed by the pain and need a little extra sunshine in their lives. The flowers also make a fabulous wine, and every Spring I’m sure to gather enough to make at least a few quarts of the wine and mead. I specially reserve one of those quarts for my special Southwest Sunset Melomel made with Dandelion flowers, Prickly Pear fruit juice and desert wildflower honey. The wine and mead are a wonderful cheering tonic for the long Winter days and the blues that often accompany them. Small doses of the flower tincture can also serve the same purpose.
A nomad with deep roots, this plant travels far on the white wings of her seeds but also sends her taproot down far wherever she settles, fully engaging with the land wherever she is and provides us with an excellent example of presence, focus and a life fully lived. The bittersweet roots are grounding in nature, restoring the proper circulation of fluids in the body and nourishing the kidneys and heart in the process. Dandelion leaves and roots are very effective diuretics and especially helpful for those with a constitutional tendency towards high blood pressure, gout, bloating, feelings of excessive heat, a sense of too-tight skin, water retention and scanty urination.
The roots tend to be more bitter and diuretic in the spring and more sweet and starchy come autumn frost, teaching us the value of living by the seasons and that a plant’s medicine changes through the year. The bitter taste of both root and leaf can initially turn many people off, but this same unpleasant experience is part of Dandelion’s most important medicine. It increases the release of gastric juices throughout the digestive tract and improve digestion, especially if there’s symptoms of heat and acidic imbalances. The leaves make an excellent food-based digestive bitter and can be added to all manner of salads and cooked greens for their bitter bite and their high mineral content. They’re a great addition to pestos (as are the flowers), soups, pickled greens and even kraut! The roasted roots make a bittersweet but pleasant and hearty brew, well accompanied by cinnamon, nutmeg and a splash of cream.
Dandelion is also a primary medicine for almost anyone with hepatitis. The cooling, heat-draining nature of the herb is wonderful for relaxing and cooling an overworked, irritated and liver and accompanying hepatic functions. For the same reason, it can be very helpful in clearing up red, itchy rashes as well as many chronic skin issues such as eczema and acne that are rooted in an inflamed or stuck liver function. The bitter taste promotes the movement bile and prevents sludge and stones from from forming. However, care should be taken if there are already existent stones, as moving the bile in such a case could actually lodge a stone in a duct and cause further problems as well as pain.
The medicine of this wild and rampant weed is pervasive and wide-ranging, and lifetimes could be spent delving into her generosity. Children are naturally drawn to the bright spark of her flower and share the blossoming exuberance that accompanies her presence. Every time I see a Dandelion, I smile, and am filled with the reminder of what a powerful teacher this plant is. Her courageous insistence to not only survive, but thrive in the face of hurt and hostility, has repeatedly given me renewed hope. I take her fierceness and fervent joy to heart, and close my eyes and make a wish every time I spread her seeds with my breath. We healers and earth people are all dandelions shattering concrete with delicate, yet infinitely strong roots. Every wild food, plant medicine & healing choice that takes us closer to wholeness is a revolutionary act and a step towards radical wellness on a planetary level.
Cautions & Contradictions: A generally very safe and food-like herb, Dandelion is still a strong diuretic and those with low blood pressure or already excessive urination should avoid its use. Additionally, avoid if you have active gallstones.