Spring Clean Your Body & Balance Your Hormones with a Little Dandelion
When you were a child I’m sure at some point when you saw dandelions you probably thought of them as a weed your parents hated seeing in their grass, but you loved it when they dried so you could blow all the seeds away into the wind like most kids…. I on the other hand, as a first-generation Greek kid, grew up with parents who didn’t use weed killer on them, but dug them up from the grass and used the leaves as food. Sometimes we would even venture off into the cattle farm-land outside our home city and raid the edges of farmer’s fields in the spring time and relieve them of all their dandelions. We would collect so many grocery bags full of these dandelion leaves that we would clean and freeze whatever we couldn’t eat by the end of the week, so we would have them throughout the year.
This was my life. It was an embarrassing secret I kept from all my friends who weren’t Greek, but would laugh about with my friends who were Greek and whose parents did the same. Little did I know that as I grew older and began studying herbs I would learn that my parents and grandparent actually knew what they were doing digging up all those weeds and eating them.
Dandelion is one of the best tonics for the body. There is no accident that the spring time brings an abundance of these little weeds that many consider pests in their gardens. Also known as “wild endive,” they taste their best in the spring, young and fresh and not as bitter as they are when collected the rest of the year. This is usually from the abundance of rain in the spring, providing them with much moisture. After a long winter of our bodies indulging in comfort foods, the spring is the best time to cleanse ourselves of excess toxins, and dandelion is a great way to help do it.
I wouldn’t suggest venturing into farmer’s fields or your back yard to collect dandelion leaves unless you are 100% sure that the ground was never sprayed with pesticides in the past, which may have leached into the soil permanently. It’s probably best to stick to the local grocery store, health food store, or farmer’s market.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF DANDELION:
The dandelion has a vast amount of vitamins and minerals. The leaves have the highest amount of vitamin A content out of all greens (14,000 international units per 100 grams raw greens).They also contain a great amount of vitamin D, B complex, and C, and minerals such as iron, silicon, magnesium, sodium, potassium, zinc, manganese, copper and phosphorus. There is also a high amount of choline in dandelion, which is an important nutrient for the liver.
Dandelion is known as the perfect tonic or cleanser of the liver. Research has shown that dandelion root enhances the flow of bile, improving such conditions as liver congestion, bile duct inflammation, hepatitis, gallstones and jaundice. It has helped to be a general stimulant for the urinary system, choleretic, purifier, and helps with hypoglycemia. Dandelion helps with digestion – its bitterness is what stimulates the secretion of salivary and gastric juices. Dandelion leaves help with weight loss, as they have a diuretic effect on the body. Researchers in the past have found that dandelion root extract helps fight cancerous tumors. Dandelion has also been shown to help diabetics from having severe glucose fluctuations.
For those who may be going through symptoms of menopause and severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS), dandelion helps detoxify excess estrogen and other hormones from the liver that trigger these symptoms.
HOW TO COOK DANDELION LEAVES:
Add them raw to a salad and make a vinaigrette dressing with a little lemon, which will kill some of the bitterness that they usually have. They can be steamed, or dropped into a pot of boiling water and cooked until tender. The latter is how I grew up eating dandelion, and would drizzle olive oil and squeeze fresh lemon on top. My family did not throw out all the water that the dandelion was boiled in, but scooped out a cup, added a squeeze of lemon, and drank it as a tea with our meal (usually fish). Any extra dandelion water went into a glass pitcher to drink later on, with more freshly squeezed lemon.
My family also tends to add dandelion to Spanakopita (a very traditional Greek spinach pie), along with other spring greens, which changes the name of this dish to Hortopita – or in translation, Mixed Greens Pie.
If leafy greens aren’t a big thing for you, or if it’s difficult to find dandelion leaves at your local market, try to find dandelion root tea at the local health food store or grocery store health aisle. You would still get the health benefits of the dandelion with this tea, especially if you have gone through a lot of stress, have been eating poorly for a long time, and have a very congested liver.
Hormone imbalances also put stress on the liver, so those who have severe PMS symptoms or who are experiencing menopausal symptoms will also benefit from drinking dandelion root tea or eating dandelion leaves.
Many of us may have waged a war on dandelions in our home gardens, but hopefully next time you see them in the spring, think of them as your friend in health.