Dandelion; The Wisdom of a Weed By Jillian Borchard, MS, Clinical Herbalist Resident Herbalist for Roots Market As we move into spring, the green plants return to the surface to offer us their nourishment and medicine. Many of the spring greens are bitter in flavor and have a cleansing effect on the liver and kidneys. Traditionally, they provided much needed vitamins and minerals that were absent from the stored foods that had been eaten all winter. One of the most esteemed spring greens is the dandelion leaf. Yes, I am talking about the very same dandelion that people try to eradicate from their lawns with chemicals year after year. In fact, the whole dandelion plant is a source of nutrition and medicinal benefit. The flower has been used in the making of dandelion wine and is a rich source of lutein and other antioxidants. The leaf can be eaten as a salad green, or taken in the form of a capsule, tea, or liquid extract. The leaf is very bitter tasting. Anything that tastes bitter will naturally increases the release of hydrochloric acid and other digestive juices from the stomach. This can be very useful for stimulating a sluggish gut and for indigestion. The leaf is also one of the strongest known herbal diuretics and can be of medicinal benefit in urinary tract infections, blood pressure regulation, pre-menstrual bloating, and kidney support. While the leaf acts primarily on the kidneys, the root acts primarily on the liver. Like the leaf, the root is also considered bitter, though it is quite a bit sweeter than the leaf. The sweetness comes from the sugars that are stored in the root as energy for the plant to feed off of during the winter. Since these sugars get used up during the winter, the spring root is more bitter tasting than the fall root. These sugars are called polysaccharides and are primarily made up of a substance called inulin. Inulin has a medicinal application in its ability to feed beneficial microorganisms that live in the gut. Inulin is often added to probiotic supplements to increase the ability of the body to rebalance the gut flora. The most common use of dandelion root is as a cleanse for the liver. Often it is recommended to use the root in the spring for this purpose. The root increases the flow of bile from the liver, thus increasing the removal of fat-soluble toxins from the blood stream, and enhancing digestion of fats at the same time. For people in the past who relied on stored food, such as meats, during the winter, it was important to support liver function in the spring. Today, it is still a good idea for people to give their livers some seasonal support. In addition to being a great choice for a spring cleanse, dandelionâ€™s activity on the liver makes it useful in many medical conditions, such as acute hepatitis, inflammatory skin conditions, constipation, elevated blood lipids, fibroids, endometriosis and menopausal symptoms associated with estrogen dominance. Dandelion root can be taken as a tea, liquid extract, capsules, or powder. It is also found in many digestive and liver cleanse products. If making tea, whether out of the leaf or root, use 3-4g per cup of water. To make tea out of the leaf, simply pour hot water over the herb and let it steep for 10 minutes. To make tea out of the root, bring the root and water to a boil together, then let simmer for 20 minutes. Dandelion is generally considered safe and has GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) status according to the FDA. People with acute liver or kidney conditions should seek the advice of a practitioner before use.