This Spring and Summer many of you will have seen the TV commercials demonstrating the powerful weed-killing effects of ‘Round Up, a toxic chemical used against common weeds such as dandelion.
Many of us consider dandelions as nothing more than an annoying weed to be destroyed, yet humble dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) have an array of health benefits and are frequently used in Western herbal medicine. They are beautiful perennial plants with delightful golden flowers, growing wild in most parts of the world. In continental Europe they are cultivated for their young, tender Spring leaves, filled to the brim with powerful nutrients such as vitamin A, B, C, D, and K1. They are added raw to salads or juiced for cleansing and tonic benefits to restore ‘health, tone, vigour and function’ to the kidneys. Two-year-old dandelion plants are harvested in the Autumn for their roots, and then dried to use as herbal medicine for the liver and gallbladder. The roots are powerful and effective for detoxification, aiding in the removal of waste products. Both the leaf and root, bitter tasting, act as agents to stimulate healthy digestion.
Dandelions are amazingly useful little plants. For example, the diuretic action of the leaves enables the increase of urination and excretion of metabolic waste products, without displacing the mineral potassium. This is because dandelions themselves contain high levels of potassium, unlike pharmaceutical diuretics which cause loss of potassium. Therefore, dandelions are a feasible option for conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure) by safely reducing fluid retention in the body.
’Round Up’, on the other hand, contains glyphosate, a herbicide yet to be fully tested for safety, but documented by some as having a high correlation with ‘cancer, endocrine disruption, damage to DNA, and malformations of the reproductive, neurological, and developmental systems of animals and humans’, as well as polluting our soil and water.
It seems ironic that there is now promising research indicating dandelion root extract in the prevention and treatment of many types of cancer. In 2016 this potential anti-tumour benefit is being studied in preclinical settings, with clinical trials in the pipeline at the University of Windsor, in Canada.
Avid gardeners might also be intrigued to learn that dandelions ‘create drainage channels in compacted soils, restore mineral health to abused soils, and aerate and attract earthworms in all soils.’ Dandelion blooms are an important source of food for honey bees, necessary to humans by helping to pollinate plants that provide our food. You may already have heard that herbicides are strongly implicated in the demise of bees, and other insects and birds!
I have always felt a deep connection to nature and the cycle of the seasons, with a passionate interest in exploring the science and healing art of plant-based medicine, and holistic lifestyle choices to help improve people’s health. That’s why I studied herbal medicine at CNM, where their Diploma Course wove together art, science, tradition, and up-to-date evidence-based medicine. I loved that we were encouraged to become unique, individual and creative practitioners with our intuition intact. It’s why I now practice as a naturopath, herbalist and holistic lifestyle coach. I also tend the land for pesticide-free vegetables, fruits and herbs to serve the local community, and personally, I’ll always see dandelions as a wish and not a weed.
Next time you spy a dandelion on your lawn or peeping through the crevice of a manmade landscape, will you be spraying it with ‘Round Up’, or collecting it for food (dandelion fritters?), for drink (dandelion flower wine?), for herbal medicine, or simply admiring and embracing its bountiful pharmacy?
Emma Schade-Stylli studied Naturopathy and Herbal Medicine at CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine), which trains students in a range of natural therapies, across the UK and beyond. www.naturopathy-uk.com