Dandelion is one of those plants we tend to think of as a weed. It pops up everywhere, and early; it continues to grow wild unless we pluck it out; and it self-sows at the drop of a hat. So, if you have one dandelion, chances are you’ll soon have about eight hundred to pull up.
Dandelion as a Culinary Ingredient
Dandelions reproduce asexually, so each new dandelion is a genetic copy of its parent plant. In recent years, dandelion has also seen a surge in popularity as a culinary ingredient. Its bitter leaves make for a pleasant addition to a savory stir-fry – I recently cooked up a dandelion fried rice dish, myself – and its high nutritional content makes it a valuable addition.
Dandelions contain sufficient quantities of vitamins A, C, and K, and they’re also a good source of calcium, iron, and manganese. It’s more nutritious than even spinach! Also, dandelion root can also be used to make a caffeine-free but very coffee-like drink that people say helps them wean off coffee seamlessly.
Forgotten Medicinal Herb
But few people regard dandelion for its forgotten use as a medicinal herb. For centuries, perhaps even millennia, this “weed” was highly prized in ancient China as well as in Tibetan medicine and the Ayurvedic healing tradition for its use as a natural liver detoxifier and diuretic and to treat gallstones, eczema, and even cancers. Called Pu gong ying in Chinese and Kanphul in Hindi, dandelion is one of the most common of the ancient healing plants, and one of the earliest documented.
Healing Properties of Dandelion
One of the dandelion’s common healing properties is the detoxification of the urine. In cases of urinary tract infection, dandelion helps immensely, creating an effect similar to that of the herb Uva Ursi and flushing out the urinary tract. Dandelion is also a diuretic, so it helps if you tend to retain water — but unlike other herbs with these properties, dandelion does not deplete the body of potassium, which contributes to its antioxidant benefits. It also contains the antioxidant luteolin, a micronutrient that has been shown to decrease swelling and hold antibacterial properties.
Of course, ancient medics didn’t necessarily know the science behind these properties of dandelion. They still found it fascinating, though; in Tibetan and Ayurvedic medicine, dandelion is associated with a cooling effect, and placed in a certain class of foods thought to benefit an unbalanced heat of the body.
Restoring the Balance of Body
This makes sense even in the light of modern medicine, because an inflammation causes a fever as the body begins to fight it. Ayurveda in particular functions by identifying the “type” of the person and then seeking to balance them. Dandelion is known in Ayurveda as a bitter herb with cooling powers and is used to restore the balance in people with Pitta and Ama conditions, especially of the stomach and intestines.
For example, Pittas tend to be “hot” by nature, and when a Pitta becomes imbalanced, cooling herbs like dandelion are prescribed. There’s a vast library of information available on Ayurveda, so you can read more and find out about your own type.
Needless to say, we could go on about the dandelion forever. It’s a fascinating and integral part of these ancient Eastern traditions, and it’s packed with a nutritious punch to boot. We would do well to take this little weed and get more intimate with it – and summer is the best time to start.
Maria (Niina) Pollari is a poet, editor, writer and translator. She wrote two chapbooks, Fabulous Essential (2009) and Book Four (2011). Pollari’s writing has been featured in numerous literary journals as well as the Brooklyn Rail and Jezebel.com. She has received her Master’s in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.