It is spring in the northern hemisphere and, wherever they are allowed to grow freely in meadows and grassy gardens, dandelions, buttercups and daisies are starting to appear. Where I live in the southern hemisphere, it is the start of autumn (or fall) and such flowers are not likely to be found anyway – we have other varieties instead.
When I think of dandelions, buttercups and daisies it always takes me back to last May and the little old churchyard behind my son's home in the English countryside where they are to be found growing in the grass among the really ancient tilting tombstones. I looked after my granddaughter during that time while she was poorly with chickenpox and when she felt stronger, we would go round to the churchyard and spend time in the sunshine picking small bunches of the yellow and white flowers and dispersing the seeds of the “blow away” flowers – those seed heads of the dandelion.
Before the invention of lawns, the golden blossoms and lion-toothed leaves were more likely to be praised as a bounty of food, medicine and magic. Can you imagine that gardeners used to weed out the grass to make room for the dandelions? How times have changed.
Today I have been reading a story about dandelions by Laura Grace Weldon in which she lists the wonderful natural health benefits of these “weeds”.
Some of those natural health benefits
She tells her readers that the common dandelion, Taraxacum officinal, has been used in traditional medical systems around the world to boost nutrition as well as treat conditions of the liver, kidney, and spleen; slow abnormal growths; improve digestion; and more. She continues:
Science has taken a closer look at this often scorned plant
No surprise: traditional wisdom holds up under scrutiny.
- Dandelion root stimulates the growth of fourteen strains of bifidobacteria. This is good news, because bifidobacteria aid in digestion. Their presence in the gut is correlated with a lower incidence of allergies.
- Dandelions appear to fight cancer. Researchers, testing for biologically active components to combat cancer proliferation and invasion, note that dandelion extracts have value as “novel anti-cancer agents.” Their studies show dandelion leaf extract decreases growth of certain breast cancer cells and blocks invasion of prostate cancer. The root extract blocks invasion of other specific breast cancer cellsand also shows promise inhibiting skin cancer.
- Dandelions work as an anti-inflammatory and pain relieving agent.
- Dandelion extract lowers cholesterol. This, plus its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities, leads some researchers to believe that the plant may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
- Dandelion shows promise in diabetic treatment. It slows the glycemic response to carbohydrates, thereby helping to control blood sugar.
- Dandelion extract increases the action of estrogen and progesterone receptors. It may prove to be a useful treatment for reproductive hormone-related problems including PMS.
- Leaves, roots, and flowers of the humble dandelion are fully edible. USDA National Nutrient Database analysis proves that a festive array of nutrition awaits any lawn harvester. One cup of chopped fresh dandelion greens are extremely rich in vitamins K, A, and C, as well as good source of vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. The flavonoids found in dandelions are valuable antioxidants and free radical scavengers.
The dandelion and some botanical facts
Hundreds of species of this hardy perennial – dandelion - grow in the temperate regions of Europe, Asia and North America, some to a height of nearly 12 inches. With their deeply notched, toothy, spatula-like leaves that are shiny and hairless, these grooved leaves funnel rain and moisture to the root. Dandelion stems are capped by bright yellow flowers that open with the sun in the morning but close at night or during gloomy weather. The dark brown roots are fleshy and brittle and are filled with a white milky substance that is bitter and slightly smelly.
Why herbalists love this plant
All parts of the dandelion are highly prized by herbalists and botanists for different reasons. The leaves act as a diuretic, increasing the amount of urine the body produces as well as being used to stimulate the appetite and help digestion. The flower has antioxidant propertie while the root is used to detoxify the liver and gallbladder.
Dandelions and avid gardeners
For you keen gardeners, perhaps it is time to take a new look at the dandelion because believe it or not, it is good for your lawn! Its wide-spreading roots loosen hard-packed soil, aerate the earth and help reduce erosion. The deep taproot pulls nutrients, such as calcium, from deep in the soil and makes them available to other plants. Dandelions actually fertilize the grass. But if you really cannot abide them in your grass, there is a safer way to eliminate them instead of the dreadful herbicides.
Let your grass grow 3 or 4 inches tall to shade out the sun-loving dandelions or use specialized tools like the Weed Hound to have a thriving, healthy yard that is safe for your children, your pets and of course all wildlife.