Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is one of those herbs that just about everyone recongnizes. What most people don't know is that this little weed is full of ways to help support our health.
In the herbalist world dandelion root is most commonly used as a liver tonic. The dried or fresh root is often prepared as a decoction. This simply means the roots are usually simmered in water for an extended period of time to extract the constiuents that will work with the liver. Most roots are best prepared this way since they are tough and fibrous material. That said, a simple tea of the root seeped for 20 minutes to an hour will work just fine. David Winston, founder of David Winston's Center for Herbal Studies, also sites dandelions ability to stimulate the growth of healthy bowel flora due to it being rich in inulin.
Roots aren't the only valuable part of this amazing little weed. All parts can be used in some manner, and all have at least a mild affinity for the liver. In addition to mildly stimulating the liver and supporting kidney function, the leaves are a great diuretic with an intersting twist. Most diuretics tend to deplete our bodies of some minerals, specifically potassium, as well as fluid. Dandelion is a great diuretic choice as it does not deplete potassium levels. The leaves also serve as a bitter tonic aiding in digestion.
The fresh leaves are often eaten as a tasty addition to spring salads. I say anytime you can eat your medicine as food, do it. You get the full benefit from everything that plant part has to offer. Plant components work in synergy with each other and seem to yeild the most benefit when they are kept together. Take note that the flavor of the leaves changes with the season. They are sweeter in the spring and more bitter in the fall.
Dandelion is very versatile as far as delivery systems go. There are several good products on the market that vary from teas, tinctures, pills, and capsules. All will serve you well just do a little research on the brands and find one you are comfortable with.
Unfortunately this plant has become the poster child for weed killer due to its hardy invasive nature. I believe there is a lot we can learn about how plants can support us by paying attention to how they grow, where they grow, and what attributes they possess. I feel the dandelion's invasive nature exists because it is so beneficial in supporting our beloved livers. All too often we overwork our livers and forget to build them back up. So the next time you see a smiling dandelion in your garden think of his purpose and welcome him to the garden.
(When harvesting wild plants for use be sure no pesticides have been used and do not collect around heavily polluted areas such as highways.)