Friday, January 11, 2013

Herbal Medicine: The Tooth of the Lion

If you want to start learning herbal medicine, look no further than your front yard.  Perhaps you have "been at war with the weeds" and every year expressed frustration and anger at the relentless, sunshine-y flowers and toothy leaves of the much ill-scorned dandelion.  It is interesting that Dandelion can evoke anger, I've watch extended family have really harsh reactions to seeing a Dandelion cropping up in their sidewalk or yard, but that speaks to the plant's medicine:  a liver herb!  In Chinese medicine the emotion of the liver is anger.

It never ceases to baffle me when I think of how modern American society has been indoctrinated to think that a good lawn consists of nothing but the greenest grass pampered with scores of chemical fertilizers and pesticides contributing to the pollution of our land and waters with nitrates and exogenous estrogens.  But that's a big topic for different day.

I will go back to the concept of a "healthy" lawn.  When you learn that many of the weeds in your yard are actually powerful medicines and often foods, suddenly the idea of a "healthy" lawn ties the health of your organism to that of the ecosystem that is your yard and beyond.  Disclaimer here that some plants can be toxic or deadly, so it's good to know them as well, and be positive of your plant ID, for obvious reasons.  But like so many herbalists often do, I'm going to start you with Dent de Lion, or the Tooth of the Lion, otherwise known as Dandelion.

Dandelion is a food, and has been for as long as man has been around to eat it.  Many cultures still consume Dandelion greens and Italian immigrants to the US have not forgotten this practice.  You eat the greens in spring and fall, but the summertime heat lends them an unpalatable bitterness.  They are great in a salad.  The greens are high in potassium and contain sodium and many other minerals.  Dandelion is a diuretic, so the fact that the greens contain potassium is invaluable as the potassium is not leached from your body when diuresis is stimulated.  The French have another pet name for this herb: pissenlit, or piss in the bed.  So don't give it to your kids before bed!

The root is often roasted and used in place of coffee, usually combined with chicory root.  This combination does not contain caffeine, but both being liver herbs gets your liver energy up and moving to get you going for the day.  Dandelion helps regulate stomach acid and its action on the liver stimulates the flow of bile- helping digest fats, and its cholagogue action helps move stagnant bile from the gall bladder.  It is excellent for gallbladder pains and gas pains.  So if you have emotional life events you have held onto (bile=anger (bilious, anyone?) and is stored in the gallbladder), Dandelion is the gentle mover to relax and release the literally stored tension.

When I take Dandelion root tea, then next night I have dreams of moving water in childhood settings, or moving water juxtaposed with characters from my past that caused issues I struggled with at the time.  In dreams water represents the subconscious and emotion, stagnant water is stagnant emotion, flowing water is emotion that is moving healthily.  I think it speaks to Dandelion's gentle and marvelous ability to release stored and stuck bile, and is a testament to the mind-body-spirit relationship that plant medicine--living medicine, helps restore to balance.

Dandelion moves damp heat from the digestion, which can be one of the trickier issues to resolve.  In fact, damp heat can cause the back up of bile; hot, damp, inflamed tissue keeps the ducts from working properly.  Next thing your know, your liver isn't releasing as much bile as it needs to and then you aren't digesting your fats properly and then--oh then--no one wants to talk about the gas, pains......farts.  Embarassing.  And the inflamed tissue can also prevent the downward action of digestion, and acid reflux develops!!  And then you take an antacid which suppresses your acid production and keeps you from absorbing calcium properly and then---oh well, you see how these things can develop I think.

Like other liver herbs, Dandelion helps skin complaints, speaking to its alterative nature.

The flowers are useful as well and are used without the calyx (it's bitter) to make wine, I've even found a recipe for them in hushpuppies which was tasty.

In the store you might find a tincture of Dandelion roots, or of the leaves, or of the whole plant.  The leaves are more diuretic, the roots act more on the liver and gallbladder, the entire plant is a fabulous synergistic whole.  Of course, you can always do what Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine said and "Let your medicine be your food and your food, medicine."

I think he was very wise.

This information is not intended to be a replacement for advice from a licensed medical professional.  It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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1 comment:

  1. This is awesome!!! Love all the information and advice- need to remember to stock my herbs back up and start taking them all again!