With spring getting seriously under way my herb gathering becomes a daily activity, squeezed in during sunny spells and in between other work. It is lovely to go out into the fields and green lanes for some quiet reflection and to come back with a full basket.
The latest herb to be gathered is the leaf of dandelion. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote about gathering dandelion root, so why do I gather the root and the leaf at different times? Well there is a very practical reason to separate the two harvests. I like to gather leaves from ungrazed organically managed pasture at this time of the year, this gives the cleanest and highest quality herb. I don’t want to dig roots and save foliage at the same time because I have a much harder job keeping the leaves clean. Even if I cut the leaves before digging the roots, the fact that the plants are growing in cultivated soil means that the leaves are more likely to have soil splashed up onto them than those growing in well established pasture. Harvested leaves could of course be washed after cutting but this slows the drying time and runs the risk of reducing the concentration of the active constituents in the final product. Yes I am fussy about the quality of the herbs I use in my clinic!
Dandelion roots and leaves tend to be used in different ways in herbal medicine. The leaves, although bitter like the root, are probably most often used for their diuretic properties. (The flowers are good too by the way but they turn to fluffballs in the dehydrator so I avoid them when I am harvesting for drying.) Dandelion leaf is actually legendary as a diuretic – its French name is ‘Pis en Lit’. Best not to drink dandelion leaf tea last thing at night!
Nicholas Culpeper in his Herbal of 1653 said that:
“it openeth the passages of the urine both in young and old; powerfully cleanseth imposthumes and inward ulcers in the urinary passages, and by its drying and temperate quality doth afterwards heal them”.
In Culpeper’s time dandelion would have been used to help manage the oedema associated with congestive heart failure (dropsy) as well as general kidney problems. These days allopathic medicine chooses diuretics such as furosemide as part of the symptomatic treatment of hypertension. Research* has shown that dandelion leaf acts in a comparable way to furosemide so it can be useful in the temporary management of hypertension and oedema. I say temporary because as a holistic practitioner my aim is to always find and address the root cause of a problem as opposed to just treating the symptoms.
To say that it acts in a comparable way to furosemide is really not telling the whole story of this wonderful herb. Allopathic diuretics can, over time, deplete the body of potassium, but dandelion is so rich in potassium that it actually supplies more than the amount which is lost through diuresis. That’s one up on furosemide if you ask me!
Now if you are taking allopathic diuretics please do not shout ‘Eureka!’, throw them into the bin and start drinking dandelion tea instead. You need to be sensible and seek advice from both your GP and a registered medical herbalist.
Dandelion leaf is far more than a diuretic though. More and more people these days are exposed to high levels of environmental toxicity. This may be because they are exposed to toxic compounds at their work or because of where they live or even what they put on their skin. Some people are less efficient at dealing with ‘normal’ levels of toxicity. Either way dandelion can be used to help clean the system and clear up resulting unpleasant symptoms. Meanwhile I can work with a patient to try to get to the bottom of the problem so that they can reduce their exposure to toxicity in the future.
All in all dandelion leaf is a very valuable herb in my dispensary. I love the fact that although it is such an ancient medicine it could have been tailor made for modern disease states.
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*Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD, eds. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals . London: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996.