If you live someplace with a yard, the spread of dandelions in your lawn may be a source of frustration and hours of weed pulling. However, if weed control isn’t a part of your life, you may find large expanses of green grass dotted with yellow dandelion flowers a beautiful sight. Dandelions are one of the most common weeds for a reason; they spread easily and their roots grow deep into the ground.
No matter how you feel about dandelions, you may be interested to know that the dandelion plant has a number of health benefits. In Chinese medicine, dandelion is an herb called pu gong ying. It may also be called huang hua (yellow flower) gong ying. For medicinal purposes the plant is harvested when the flowers have just begun to open.
Dandelion is considered to be a cold, bitter and sweet herb, but it’s the coldness and bitterness that are key to many of its important actions. Being cold energetically, dandelion is used to clear all kinds of heat, especially something called fire toxicity, which is a term used to describe infections and abscesses. In addition to tamping down heat, dandelion has antimicrobial properties and is included in formulas to treat all kinds of infections, such as skin infections, intestinal abscesses and lung infections. The bitterness of dandelion also makes it a good choice to clear Liver-related heat, with symptoms such as migraines and painful eye conditions that cause redness and swelling.
Dandelion may be used in formulas to promote lactation, especially when the issue is related to heat. It may help treat mastitis or when heat is causing dryness in the body, making lactation difficult.
Interestingly, in addition to helping to resolve heat-related dryness, dandelion has the action of helping to treat damp heat that may manifest as jaundice or urinary tract infections. When combined with other herbs into a formula, dandelion can help drain the heat through urination or elimination.
Here’s the thing about dandelions—the entire plant is edible and it has a number of nutritional benefits. Dandelion plants are full of antioxidants, which means that they can help alleviate the oxidative stress on your body from aging or living a stressful lifestyle. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, and dandelion is high in many vitamins, minerals, proteins and fiber—in higher concentrations than in spinach and most lettuces. A growing body of research has found that dandelion has prebiotic properties to help with digestion, can help lower blood lipids (cholesterol) and can help lower your blood sugar, making it a good choice for people with diabetes. And as mentioned above, dandelion has antimicrobial actions. Research has shown it being effective in vitro against the human herpesvirus and a number of strains of bacteria.
You may be wondering how to actually eat a dandelion plant, and the answer is that it’s easy! You can sometimes find dandelion leaves at your local farmer’s market or food co-op. However, in the spring, summer and fall, you can pick your own, too. Just make sure the plants you’re picking haven’t been sprayed with any kind of lawn chemicals. Look for medium sized tender leaves, as when the plants get bigger, they tend to become more bitter.
You can use dandelion leaves in salads, soups and as a lettuce topping in your favorite sandwich. Think of dandelion as you do arugula—it’s full of nutrients and gives your recipes a snappy, fresh flavor. You can also eat dandelion like you would any kind of greens; boiled then topped with a little butter, salt and pepper.
Here’s a quick and easy recipe for sauteed dandelion greens:
- Gently sauté 2-3 cloves of garlic in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until the garlic turns a golden color.
- Add 3 cups of cleaned dandelion leaves to the pan and gently toss with the olive oil and garlic over medium-low heat until the greens begin to wilt.
- Remove the pan from the heat, add salt and pepper to taste and toss the contents of the pan with ¼ cup of shredded parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
Dandelions are also an ingredient in a some drinks. I’ll bet you didn’t know that it’s an ingredient in root beer, along with other herbs, spices and berries. Ground up and roasted dandelion roots have been used to make a kind of caffeine-free coffee substitute, which is high in protein. And don’t forget dandelion wine!
As a food item, dandelion is incredibly versatile, full of nutrients, and found free for the taking pretty much anywhere there are lawns or fields. As a Chinese herb, the dandelion plant is versatile, as it can clear the heat of infections, abscesses and inflammation; clear Liver fire, especially manifesting in hot swollen eyes; treat urinary tract infections and even help promote lactation. If you’d like to know more about how Chinese herbal medicine can help you, be sure to give me a call.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.