18 May

I remember as a child picking bouquets of dandelions for my mother. She did not share my delight for what I perceived as "little rays of sunshine." As I became an adult, they too became a nuisance in my lawn, though my children didn't agree either. Since I believe we can learn so much from viewing life thru the eyes of a child, I decided to do a little investigating into this hated plant that we have labeled a weed. Is it truly a lawn nuisance, or could it just be a misunderstood villain?

The word dandelion is derived from the French word "dent de lion", meaning "tooth of the lion", referring to the coarsely toothed leaves of the plant. They originated in Europe and Asia. If you are looking for someone to blame on how they got introduced to America, just thank a European settler. They actually brought them to America on purpose. However, between other settlers and their unique ability to survive and spread, dandelions are now on every continent except Antarctica. They aren't shy about it either. They embrace their flamboyant personality and show up everywhere - lawns, meadows, fields, even ditches. 

Before the 20th century, dandelions weren't labeled weeds at all. In fact, they were once a highly valued herb, dating back thousands of years and treasured by the Egyptians, Romans and Chinese due to their many health benefits. It is no coincidence that they appear after winter. They are considered a natural spring tonic traditionally used to increase energy and cleanse the system after a long winter indoors  They even offer spiritual meaning, and for centuries symbolized light, hope and healing.

It wasn't until the 20th century that dandelions became the nuisance they are today. Neatly groomed lawns became popular, but the dandelions unique abilities to spread quickly, and survive, made people began to hate how they so quickly littered their green lawns. Seizing a marketing opportunity, herbicide companies took hold of keeping your green lawns green and began campaigns to villainize the once revered and loved flower. Almost overnight, dandelions went from hero to villain.

What you may not realize about these little yellow gems is just what they have to offer health-wise:

1. Dandelions support digestive and kidney health. They can help improve digestion by stimulating the production of digestive juices and promoting the growth of healthy gut bacteria. They also serve to relieve water retention in the kidneys.

2. Dandelions support liver health. Dandelions are a natural liver cleanser and can help detoxify the liver by flushing out toxins.

3. Dandelions regulate blood sugar. Dandelions contain inulin, a type of soluble fiber that can help regulate blood sugar levels.

4. Dandelions contain compounds that can help reduce inflammation in the body, and even support cholesterol levels. Dandelions can help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

5. Dandelions boost immune function. They are rich in antioxidants and can also help boost immune function by fighting off harmful free radicals. 

So, maybe now you perceive those once pesky weeds a little differently. If so, how can you start to reap their health benefits? First, it's important to only use dandelions from un-treated lawns or fields. If you treat your lawn with fertilizers or pesticides, it's best to not consume them. Find an untreated field or land and harvest them from there. Once you find clean dandelions, try to grab the whole plant. There's no risk of eradicating them, and you'll find it's hard to get all of the root anyways. I find, even when I use a garden shovel, that the root breaks easily. The only full dandelion plants I can harvest are the younger ones, which have shallow roots anyways and, as a result, not as much to offer. If you don't have access to clean dandelions, you can actually find the leaves at health-food stores in the produce department. You can buy the dried roots online, for about $19.95/lb.

The leaves can be eaten raw, cooked or even dried as chips. They can be very bitter, especially the bigger leaves. I have sautéed them in butter and added salt, garlic and lemon, but if you don't like bitter leaves, they can be a little hard to get down. The younger leaves aren't as bitter. I find the best way to consume the leaves is in a salad with other lettuce greens. The bitter is far less noticeable. 

The flowers can be used to make tea, jelly, or infused in oil or salves for use in skin care products. The flowers can even be used to make dandelion wine, though the amount of sugar needed to create the wine probably offsets the benefits of the dandelions.

The roots can be dried and then consumed as a tea, or a caffeine-free coffee alternative. 

For recipes, and additional resources on how to utilize all the health benefits of dandelions, visit my pinterest page at: https://www.pinterest.com/angelam1273/dandelion-uses/

If you still hate dandelions, I get it, but for me, I see them thru a whole different lens now. They offer a wealth of health benefits and can be used in a variety of ways to support physical well-being. I think it's time that we remove their unfair weed label and get back to revering them for the little yellow rays of sunshine that they really are. 

Angela Miller is an RN and Transformation Coach. She is passionately pursuing her calling to help people transform pain into purpose. To schedule a free consult, or for more information, visit www.soaringforward.com. 

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