Plants are the original green living experts, and we can learn a great deal from them. Whether we call them plants, crops, weeds, or herbs, they each have a part to play in the drama of life on Earth. They contribute to the health of our bodies, the health of the planet and all the creatures that live here. They are the ultimate recyclers, taking sunlight and water, free and abundant, and transforming it into nourishment for themselves, for the soil, for animals, and for us.
Wild plants, especially, can teach us about adaptation, beauty in harsh conditions, evolving in harmony with one’s environment, and healing. Consider, for example, the dandelion. When I give herb walks, even toddlers know the name of these sunny yellow flowers! This plant, often unappreciated to say the least, provides numerous benefits to the living things around it, including ourselves. The seeds are eaten by wild birds, including Canada geese. The leaves are eaten by creatures such as chipmunks, rabbits and even bears. Of tremendous importance, dandelions also provide an all-season food source for bees. And to top it all off, they improve the health of the soil they grow in rather than degrading it.
Did you know that dandelions tend to grow in areas where the soil has been demineralized, and that they help to heal it? The deep taproot brings up beneficial minerals like calcium and potassium, to be incorporated into the leaves and roots. If the plants are not removed, they redeposit these beneficial minerals into the topsoil as they decompose, making it richer and more fertile. They also anchor loose soil against erosion, create drainage channels in compacted ground, and attract earthworms to aerate the soil. Gardeners may want to consider these benefits when weeding! A student of mine taught her 3 year old son that where the dandelions grow, it is OK to play. Where there is only grass and nothing else, herbicides have been used.
This plant’s amazing ability to concentrate minerals makes it a wonderfully nutritious food. All parts of the dandelion are edible, and there are no poisonous look-alikes. Dandelion leaves are tastiest when they are smaller, especially in the early spring, when I like to eat them as part of a wild salad. As the plant matures and puts energy into its flower, the leaves grow more bitter. If you have been put off in the past by the intensely bitter taste of the large dandelion greens sold in stores, I suggest chopping them small and sautéing them until tender in some olive oil and garlic. There is nothing wrong with adding a bit of honey or sugar at the end if you prefer, or you can eat them like your grandmother did – with a splash of vinegar to increase mineral absorption.
In addition to being nutritive, quality herbal preparations made from dandelion are safe and effective medicines. For example, did you know that a tea or tincture (extract) of dandelion leaves is the only known diuretic that does not leach potassium from the body? Scientific studies done on rats in the 1970s found, to the surprise of the researchers, that dandelion leaves acted as a diuretic only if one was needed. Dandelions have been used by both traditional and modern herbalists around the world to make remedies for indigestion, increasing lactation, stabilizing blood sugar, and much more. The sap even dissolves warts. The fresh blossoms can be prepared as a facial (see recipe), while dandelion wine is one of the few alcoholic drinks that is actually good for your liver!
On a spiritual level, the yellow flower of the dandelion speaks to the third chakra, which in many traditions is associated with self-esteem, self-care and self-protection. The spirit healing properties of dandelion are said to include: being aware of and appreciating one’s beauty, inner and outer; delight; playfulness; pleasure; enjoyment; taking things lightly. Picture yourself sitting on a hill in summer, blowing dandelion seeds – how do you feel as you hold that image in mind? Truly, we have much to learn from this untamed and exuberant plant.
Dandelion Blossom Facial
Place fresh dandelion blossoms in a bowl or jar, and cover with boiling water. Cover the container, and let steep for at least one hour. Strain, reserving both flowers and liquid (infusion). Put the warm, wet flowers on your face and lie down for at least 10 minutes. Meditate upon your beauty, both inner and outer. Then wash it all off with the infusion. Do not rinse. You can also splash the infusion on your skin before going to sleep. Cleanses the skin, minimizes pores, and gives a healthy glow.
Photos: John Kamerling