(NaturalNews) It is the time of year to find dandelion greens emerging from the ground. Dandelion leaves are found in basal rosettes, and will stay this way even when it puts up its flower stalk. The leaves are hairless and sharply toothed (the name Dandelion means "tooth of lion.") Milky white sap is found running through the leaves and hollow flower stalk when broken. Other plants like chicory and wild lettuce have leaves similar to dandelion; they can be differentiated by the hairlessness of dandelion, and the fact that the dandelion leaves stay in their basal rosette, while other leaves go up the flower stalks.
In the west, dandelions are known to be potent liver detoxifiers. The tincture of the roots and leaves (recipe below) can help clear up jaundice and other disorders due to liver and gall bladder congestion. Some people take dandelion root tincture daily in early spring for a couple weeks as a cleanse for the liver.
Dandelion leaves are very nourishing; they are 15% protein, and high in vitamins and minerals. One cup of dandelion greens contains 112% daily recommendation of vitamin A, 32% of vitamin C, and 535% of vitamin K. They also contain 218 mg potassium, 103 mg calcium, and 1.7 mg of iron.(1)
In Eastern Medicine, dandelion roots (known as Pu Gong Ying) are dried and used in decoctions, or very strong teas, made from boiling roots and other herbs for at least an hour. Decoctions of dandelion are used to "clear heat and fire toxicity, especially Liver heat with red, swollen and painful eyes." (2) In Chinese Medicine, the Liver energy pathway opens on the eyes, and congestion and heat of the Liver can show up in hot red eyes. Chinese herbalists also use dandelion root to reduce breast and intestinal abscesses, and to promote lactation. (3)
The best time to harvest dandelion leaves and roots is early spring before the flower blooms, or late fall, once the flower has gone by. Dandelion taproots are deep, and are best harvested with a shovel or trowel. Even so, it is unlikely to get the entire root, and the dandelion will be back later in the season; they are very hardy.
Leaves can be picked, chopped and added to salads.
When drying the root, do not wash, or they will mold. Brush dirt off roots, chop the roots and set them in a warm, dark, well ventilated place to dry. If you have a dehydrator you can put them in at 105 degrees, to preserve vitamins and minerals. Once fully dried, they can be stored in airtight containers and used in teas and decoctions. Boil 1 Tbsp root per 2 cups water, the longer it boils the stronger the tea will be.
Dandelion roots can also be roasted to make a rich coffee substitute.
To make dandelion tincture, harvest the root and leaves when flowers are not present. Both leaves and roots can be washed, chopped, put into a glass jar, and covered with alcohol like 100 proof vodka. Steep in dark cupboard for 6 weeks, then strain and save liquid. A common dose is 10 - 30 drops of tincture per day to cleanse liver.
Melissa Sokulski is an acupuncturist, herbalist, and founder of the website Food Under Foot, a website devoted entirely to wild edible plants. The website offers plant descriptions, photographs, videos, recipes and more. Her new workbook, Wild Plant Ally, offers an exciting, hands-on way to learn about wild edible plants. Melissa also runs The Birch Center for Health in Pittsburgh, PA, providing the best in complementary health care: acupuncture, therapeutic massage and herbal medicine.