Dandelion and Stinging Nettle: Common Weeds with Healing Properties

The healing powers of stinging nettle and dandelion, both of which are used to strengthen the system and improve health.

| April/May 1995

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    This tough opponent of backyard lawn tender is also a healing herb for over a dozen ailments.

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Dandelions are Good for Your Health

Early each spring, as soon as the frost left the ground in my childhood home of Maine, dandelion greens began to sprout, and before their early spring blooms appeared, my grandmother would be out in the yard harvesting the tender young greens.

"A spring cleanser," she said.

She let the greens soak in water overnight to remove the bitterness, then boiled them like spinach. A complement of vinegar, sprinkled over the steaming hot greens, made them a perfect addition to dinner for a week or two each spring. As soon as the flower buds began to form at the crown of the root, she stopped harvesting them.

"Too bitter now," she would always say.

Dandelion is difficult to categorize. We think of it as a weed, sometimes a vegetable, but dandelion an herb? Certainly. What is an herb? Any plant used for culinary, fragrant, or medicinal purposes, according to my Webster's . Of course, it is so common, so pervasive, and so familiar, our association of dandelion is mostly that of weed. But while best known as something to rid from a lawn, it is used for both food and medicine and, therefore, is an herb.

Dandelion is known to botanists as Taraxacum officinale , an extremely variable biennial or perennial herb species. Over 100 different variations of this simple herb have been described by European botanists. Probably native to Europe, it is widespread throughout the northern hemisphere. Wherever humans find home, so does the dandelion. The stemless leaves arise from the crown of the root in a rosette. The flower heads, those crowded familiar yellow blooms, are actually a "composite" of hundreds of tiny flowers packed together, rather than a "single flower." It is a member of the aster or composite family.



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