Sunday, September 18, 2016

Herbal First Aid Kit - Some ideas

I was working on an herbal first aid kit for a friend earlier this week and they asked if I could make a cheat sheet for the items included. So, I am writing this blog to do a quick materia medica on a few things you may want to consider having in your first aid kit.

When choosing what items will be in your personalized first aid kit consider the type of ailments that tend to slip into your life and those you spend a lot of time around. For example: Got allergies? Anti-histamines. Have children in your life? Lots of stuff for cuts and scrapes. Make sure you have something to cover those basic ailments.

Here are the items I put in this particular kit and some uses as well as basic medicine making information.

Ragweed - Ambrosia artemisiifolia
Ragweed is used as an herbal anti-histamine. Dosage can be on the higher end of things, particularly in first aid. Used internally. I would begin with a loading dose of 4-5 mls and would take every few hours until symptoms subside. Combines well with Eyebright - Euphrasia. I know it might seem odd as Ragweed causes allergies for many people. However it is the pollen in the respiratory system that causes these reactions. When you gather this plant to make a fresh plant tincture it is best to gather before the Ragweed begins to bloom. It can be tinctured fresh in 75% alcohol 1:2.

Oregon Grape Root - Mahonia species also species of Berberis can be used as well.
As my herbal mentor, 7Song, would say Oregon Grape Root is used to "KILL SHIT". It can be used when infections are present (viral, bacterial or protozoa) internal and external use. Take 4-5 mls every few hours while infection is present. If protozoa is suspected consider using Activated Charcoal as well (see below). I tinctured this root dried 1:4 50%.

White Willow - Salix species
Willow is Anti-inflammatory so can be helpful for a variety of ailments. Sprains and other injuries, headaches and arthritis are some examples where this might be a helpful plant. If asprin usually helps someones ailment this is a good plant to give a shot. Experiment with dosage here start with a few mls and if no difference is noted take some more 10 minutes later. All Salix species will work, the bark is tinctured fresh or dry. Fresh 1:2 75%, Dry 1:4 50%. Note that Willow can thin the blood a bit so there are some cases where it should not be used.

Activated Charcoal Powder
Activated Charcoal can be used externally and internally. When using externally you should make a poultice by combing the powder with a little bit of water and then applying. The charcoal adsorbs anything it comes in contact with so is a go to for staph infections externally and also internally for infections of the digestive system and food poisoning. When taking internally it is best to take it alone without food or medicines as it may reduce their effectiveness. Internal dosage recommendation is 1-2 teaspoons 2 times a day until symptoms subside. Note: your stool will be black if you take the charcoal do not be alarmed!
 
Digestive Aid Tincture - Blend of Ginger Glycerite - Zingiber officinale - and Medowsweet - Filipendula ulmaria (Chamomile - Matricaria chamomilla and Catnip - Nepeta cataria would also have worked nicely in this blend.) This blend can be used for upset stomachs and nausea. 

Echinacea - Echinacea purperea 
Echinacea is used as an immune stimulant. So is helpful anytime the immune system could use a boost. Take Echinacea in high doses every few hours throughout an illness for best effects. Can be combined with Elderberry and other immune support herbs. I like to make a combination tincture of root and flower. Echinacea is best tinctured in high proof alcohol. Long term use of Echinacea for individuals with auto-immune disease could be of concern as it stimulates and already overactive immune system.

Kava Kava - Piper methysticium 
Kava Kava is a skeletal muscle relaxant and also can help aid sleep. Kava can also be helpful in situations of anxiety. Some individuals find that it makes them a little hyper before making them relaxed so it might work best taken an hour before desired bed time. Tincture can be made fresh or dried. Dosage varies person to person for this particular plant.

Nettle - Urtica diocia 
Nettle is nutritive as well as diuretic. Can be helpful when edema is present. Could be a helpful plant to add into a formula for someone who is nutritional depleted as well. Some individuals find it helpful in allergy blends also. Tincture fresh 1:2 75%. 

I hope you got some good ideas for starting your first aid kit! More herbal first aid to come. Feel free to post in comments with any questions or if you have any particular plants you would like us to cover as far as first aid use goes.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

How to Make a Garlic - Mullein Flower Ear Oil for Ear Infections and Earaches

Earaches happen to all of us--perhaps that cold starts in your throat and ends up in your ears?  Or perhaps you have an ear infection.  These common ailments can be aided with a simple ear oil recipe. This is exactly the herbal oil you need to address ear infections. This post will cover how to make and use garlic-mullein flower ear oil!

Ingredients for Garlic-Mullein Flower Ear Oil

This herbal oil has three ingredients:
  • Fresh picked mullein flowers (see photo of a part of a stalk on the left); a good sized handful
  • Fresh garlic - 3-4 cloves
  • Organic olive oil - approx 1/2 cup
Beyond that, you will need:
  • A double boiler
  • A strainer
  • A glass jar
  • Jars for storage

Harvesting Mullein

The key ingredient in this ear oil is mullein flowers, from a common mullein plant. Mullein plants spend their first year in a basal rosette of soft, fuzzy leaves and send up a tall flower stalk that produces beautiful yellow flowers in their second year. Each day during the flowering season (in this part of the country, July to late August) the mullein flowers bloom over a long period of time, slowly working their way up the stalk, day after day.

To effectively harvest them, you have two options.  Once is to visit a place where there are lots of mullein plants growing, and harvest the open flowers and freshly fallen flowers from a number of plants.  The second way is to visit a few plants over a period of days.  If you put the flowers in the fridge in a bag with a piece of wet paper towel, they will keep good for up to a week while you harvest each day.

Step by Step Instructions

1. Gather your ingredients (as listed above).  Use the freshest garlic possible.  You can have a little bit of green on the mullein flowers (like I do in this photo). Garble your mullein flowers (that is, check to make sure you have only mullein flowers and that you don't have any bugs--let the bugs gently back outside).


2.  Peel and chop your garlic up finely.


3.  Add your garlic, mullein flowers, and olive oil to a double boiler and coat in oil.  Usually, for a small amount (like I'm doing today) you might need about 1/2 cup of oil.


4. The mullein flowers are quite delicate.  You don't want to cook them or fry them, so keep your heat on low.  Because this is a wet material operation (and we don't want water in our oil) don't add a lid (then the steam can evaporate off).

 I typically heat this oil for 24-48 hours.

The photo below is at the end of my infused oil preparation--you will note that the garlic has not browned and the mullein flowers have browned only slightly, but are still intact and not crispy.  If they get crispy, you've used too much oil. 


5. Pour off your oil through a strainer and into a clear vessel.  In this case, I'm using a wine glass.  You want something that you will be able to see clearly to the bottom because, after it settles, you are going to check to see if there are any particles and/or water droplets in the bottom.


6.  Let the infused oil sit overnight, or a minimum of 8 hours.  This will give it plenty of time to settle and you can then check to see if you see plant particles and/or little bubbles on the bottom (those are water droplets).  Both water droplets and plant particles will make your oil go rancid quickly so you want to pour those things off before bottling.


7.  I strained my oil (avoiding the last little bit to avoid several small water bubbles) into small jars.  These will keep for at least a year on the shelf.

Using your Ear Oil

If you start to feel an earache coming on of any variety, you can use this ear oil.  Warm the oil (I use a double boiler for this, putting it in some hot water while it is still in the jar); make sure the oil is only warm, and not too hot.  Gently tilt the head to the side, and using a dropper, put 1-2 drops of ear oil in the ear, slowly and carefully.   It is much easier if you get someone else to do this for you! Use the oil twice a day in both ears.

Please note that this should not be used for swimmer's ear (when water is stuck in the ear) nor if you have a perforated ear drum.

Enjoy!

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Herbal First Aid Kit


The Herbal First Aid Kit:

I (Briel) just spent 9 days doing First Aid at the National Rainbow Gathering in Vermont. At CALM (the First Aid Station) we treated everything from scrapes and cuts to diarrhea and back around again. We had a great team of healthcare providers including an emergency room doctor, some EMT, WFR and Street Medics, Acupuncturists and a ton of herbalists. We even held two dental clinics in the woods, there was a hygienist and and emergency doctor that gave people fillings right there at CALM!

Every First Aid situation is different. What you are going to need in the woods at a Rainbow Gathering is going to be very different than what you will want/need if you are doing First Aid on the Streets at a political event (what I will be doing next week). So, when you are preparing your kit you have to ask yourself some questions. Here are a few I think about:

-What is the setting of the event?
-What is the weather forecast?
-Will doctors/hospitals/emergency services be nearby if needed?
-What types of injuries/illnesses could arise from the setting I will be working in?
-If you haven't worked this particular setting before ask someone who has and see if they can offer you insight as to what type of injuries you may encounter. 
-In this setting, what things do I need to make myself and my gear comfortable? 

At Rainbow Gathering people came to CALM for all sorts of reasons. I had worked a Rainbow Gathering before so expected some of the following which made it easier to choose what to bring in my kit. Here are some of the things I treated/helped people out with this time around:
-cuts/scrapes
-staph infections
-sore throats
-blisters
-sprained ankles
-plantar fasciitis/tendonitis 
-allergic reactions
-menstrual cramps
-chronic health care questions
-trouble sleeping
-constipation
-diarrhea
-asthma attacks
-animal bites
-muscle tension
-anxiety
-ear aches

Another thing worth noting about Rainbow is that there are a LOT of drugs going around and even more cigarette smoking on top of those. So another big thing we spent a lot of time doing were encouraging sobriety, consulting people wishing to stop smoking and helping people through difficult drug use experiences.
 
Considerations when making the kit and other tips: 
Cleanliness and Sanitation of kit and supplies in kit: This is very important! For example, you do not want to put fingers or used q-tips into the salve jar and contaminate it! It is also great to have everything in plastic bags so it can be wiped off and cleaned with alcohol after an event. If you think something has been contaminated - THROW IT OUT!

Something else to consider when you are making your kit is that for various reasons some individuals are not able to have alcohol. So, having some glycerites and vinegars or other non-alcohol based medicines in your kit is a good idea.

Weight of the kit: Are you going to be walking around with this thing or be stationary? If you are going to be walking around it is important to make sure your pack is comfortable and you just have the essential items.

Have a list of what you have in the kit! That way in quick/emergency situations you are able to reference a list, decide what you want and then go for it instead of rummaging around in the pack and wasting valuable time.

Carry around a small notebook and when you have downtime document what you see and use, this will help you prepare a better first aid kit for future events.

Here are some things I included in my kit that you might consider having in your own First Aid kit and a note or two on what they might be used for/tips:
Supplies:
Ace Bandages - for sports injuries
Acupuncture needles - only if you know how to use these :P
Alcohol prep pads
Face masks: for personal protection when working with specific patients
Bag for trash
Gauze pads/wraps - various sizes and uses
Gloves - to protect yourself
Medical tape
Q-tips - to use when getting salves and ointments out
Scissors
Steri Strips/bandaids - various sizes
Tooth tools
Tweezers
Dixie cups (to dispense medicines out in)
Water bottle (for eye washes and/or to administer peoples medicine in their Dixie cups)

Salves/Ointment:
Aloe Vera Gel - for sunburns and burns
Aloecaine - a medicated pain relieving aloe burn gel
Calendula salve
Hot and Spicy Salve - for joints and arthritic conditions
Neosporin
Plantain Salve
Rose Hydrosol and Which hazel combo - for sunburns and burns
Tiger Balm - for muscle pain/soreness
Vapor rub stick - congestion

Phara Drugs/Homeopathic/supplements:
Activated Charcoal Powder - for food poisoning/stomach illness and staph infections
Benadryl - allergies and allergic reactions
Herba Tussin Cough Syrup
Ibuprofen
Niacin B1
Throat Coat Herbal Pastilles
Tummy Soother Pastilles
Vitamin C powder/emergen-C packs- immune support


Herbal Extracts - 2oz of all unless otherwise noted.
When you are starting to think about what herbs to include in your kit. Reference back to what you brainstormed about the environment that you will be working in and what you might be treating. Also, consider what you have on hand and use it!

Categories can be helpful here. Consider the following categories and think up any other ones that might be relevant for your setting: Nervine/Anxiolytic (Anxiety/Stress Relief, Feeding Nervous system), Digestive Aids, Analgesic (Pain Relief), Sedatives (Sleep Aid), Respiratory Aid,
Anti-inflammatory, Skeletal Muscle Relaxants, Smooth Muscle Relaxants, Anti-histamines/Allergy support, Immune Support/Stimulant and Anti-microbial/viral


Here are some plants that ended up in my kit:
Achillea millifolia – Yarrow: Colds and Flus
Ambrosia artemesifolia – Ragweed: allergies/anti-histamine
Arnica Montana – Arnica: anti-inflammatory, LOW DOSE
Arnica Oil and or Linement: for external use, anti-inflamatory
Berberis aquifolia – Oregon Grape Root: to "kill shit" microbes and things
Bitters – Dandilion and Gentian: Bitter, digestive aid
Centella asiatica – Gotu Kola: Connective tissue repair
Clematis Virginiana – Virgins Bower: idiosyncratic headaches
Comphry Oil: tissue repair for external use
Diosclera vilosa – Wild Yam: Smooth muscle relaxant, great choice for menstrual cramps
Echinacea purpurea: Immune stimulant, colds and flus
Echinacea purpurea – GLYCERITE: Immune stimulant, colds and flus
Eschscholzia californica – California Poppy: Nervine
Garlic Oil - ear infections
Humulus Lup - Hops (4oz): Sedative
Hypericum perfoliatum – St. Johns Wort: Anti-viral, herpes, cold sores
Inula – Elecampange: Lungs, coughing all types of coughs
Inula helnium – Elecampange VINGEGAR
Juglans Nigra LINEMENT (not for internal use) – Black Walnut Hull: tinea
Leonorus cardiaca – Motherwort: Nervine, Bitter
Lobelia inflata: LOW DOSE, Asthma attacks, dilates bronchi
Lobelia inflata – Lobelia VINEGAR
Mellissa officinalis – Lemonbalm GLYCERITE: Nervine
Monotropa Uniflora – Ghost Pipe: Pain relief, assist those having a bad trip
Nepeta cataria – Catnip: Digestive aid, nervine
Ocimum tenuiflora – Tulsi GLYCERITE: nervine
Passiflora incarnata – Passionflower: nervine, sleep aid, circular thinking
Piper methytsticum – Kava Kava: Smooth Muscle Relaxant, Sleep aid
Piscidia pis. – Jamaican Dogwood: Pain
Propolis tincture: liquid bandaid
Prunus serotona – Wild Cherry Bark: sore throats
Rubus vil. – Blackberry Root tincture: Stop diarrhea
Salix spp.– White Willow (4oz): anti-inflammatory
Sambucus nigra elixr– Elderberry Elixr: immune boosting.
Solidago spp. – Goldenrod: Anti-inflammatory
Symphytum – Comphry
Sypyotricium nova-anglae – New England Aster: asthma
Tanacetum par. – Feverfew (headaches)

Turnera difusa – Damiana: Nervine
Valeriana officinalis – Valerian: Sleep Aid
Zingiber officinalis – Ginger GLYCERITE: Digestive Aid, Flavoring agent

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Low-Cost Tincture Press Options and Homemade Tincture Press Instructions

After you've made your amazing tinctures and they are ready to use, the question always becomes--what do do next?  To get every last bit of goodness out of your tincture, a lot of people choose to use a tincture press. But tincture presses can be extremely expensive--costs of several hundred dollars is common for commercially available ones. And so, this post will look at three options that can be extremely low cost and can serve you well for your tincture pressing needs!  We'll also include information on how to build your own tincture press for less than $20.

What kinds of tinctures to press

One of the things that's important to realize is that not all tinctures can, and should, be pressed.  Spongy material that absorbs the water in alcohol, or that had water in it to begin with, should be pressed.  This includes some mushrooms (reishi), all flowers and berries, and much other plant matter.  This is because most of the alcohol is being held in the plant matter.

On the other hand, there is no point is pressing hard or woody material: most roots and barks, for example.  You won't get much more out of it by pressing, and I've found it's easier to just put a bark tincture in a small strainer and let it drip for a bit.

You can also press infused oils of spongy material.  This is better for pressing oils made from dried ingredients. Otherwise, you'll press the water right into your oil, and then you've got another problem on your hands!  If you do decide to press your oil with fresh ingredients, you can let the oil settle in a mason jar and then pour off the oil from the water (the water will make it go rancid).

What not to use as a press

The two things that I found that are not appropriate to use are a french press (the glass can easily break with too much pressure) or anything made out of aluminum, as the high proof alcohol can easily erode it and make a funky aluminum tincture.

Option 1: Stainless Steel Potato Ricer

The simplest option for a tincture press is to purchase a stainless steel potato ricer. I like this option, and I use it fairly often when I need to press just a little bit of something and sheer arm strength will be enough. You can usually find these second hand, or you can purchase one new for about $25.

Pros: Extremely easy to acquire, easy to use, easy to clean up.
Cons: You don't get as much "press" with this as you will the other options I present here.

A simple stainless steel potato ricer with three "disk" options for pressing.

Option 2: Small Fruit Press

A second good option, if you can find one used, is a small fruit press.  I was lucky enough to find one at a local thrift store in really good condition for $47.  If you can get one of these, I would highly recommend it for "big pressing" jobs or jobs that are not easily done by hand.  This thing is a workhorse, and not only can I press large volumes of tincture easily, and with minimal muscle effort.

Pros: Presses a very large volume of plant material easily and completely
Cons: Can be more expensive upfront, can be hard to find at a reasonable cost, requires more work to clean
Here's my badass fruit press--the inside of the press itself is about 8" in diameter

The fruit press disassembled. 

Option 3: Build Your Own Tincture Press for $30

Both of the above options have some problems, so I have come up with a third option that is actually my favorite of the three, but that does require some initial work.  This combines the cost-effectivenss of option 1 with the pressing power of option 2, and can do smaller amounts of pressing.

Pros: Very reasonably priced, can be customized to your needs, very good pressing action, works for small batches (depending on the size you build)
Cons: You have to build it (although I think the process is fun). 

Now, I'll walk you through how to create it, step by step!

Supplies:

  • One very large C-clamp (probably the largest you can find); I found mine at a home improvement store
  • One stainless steel cylinder (you can get this at a restaurant supply store; I bought mine online).
  • Cheese cloth for pressing (can be reused if washed carefully)

Tools:

  • Coping saw or other way to cut two wooden circles
  • Pencil for drawing lines
  • Sand paper
  • Drill and large-ish bit
  • Epoxy or some other glue (ONLY for outside of the press, see instructions below)

Steps to Make Your Press

You will be creating a press from two wooden disks, a c-clamp, and a stainless steel cylinder.

1.  You will need one wooden disk to support the bottom of your metal cylinder, and you’ll need a second to function as the “press” inside.  And so, start out by figuring out what size of wooden disks you will need to fit on the outside.  I found that a canning jar lid worked well for the size I was looking for.

 2) Cut out your circles.  I learned through this process that my coping saw skills leave much to be desired–but in the end, I had two circle-ish wooden disks.

3) Drill some holes in one of your disks; the one designed to go into the press itself.
4) Sand your disks, making sure your pencil marks are sanded off and the edges are smooth.


5) Glue your second disk onto the bottom of the metal cylinder–this will hold it in place and make pressing much easier.

Now you are ready to press!

Using your Tincture Press

1) Start by straining off your herbs into a clean jar (I use a simple plastic strainer, and I let them drip out for a bit). These are hawthorn “haws” that I made into tincture last November.
 2) Place the cheese cloth inside your metal cylinder, making sure it will be sufficient to cover your herbs (I’m using a lot here because there are a lot of haws). Take your herbs out of the strainer and add them into the cheese cloth.  I'll note that for larger stuff, you might not need the cheesecloth, but it is a really good idea for small bits of herbs.

3) Get your press ready–make sure your wooden disk is supporting the bottom (I took this photo before I glued it!) and put your disk with the holes in top of the press. Get your c-clamp into place for the pressing action.


4) Begin pressing, spinning your handle of the C-clamp in a clockwise fashion.  You’ll feel the tension as the herbs are pressed down.

5) After pressing for a bit, tilt your c-clamp and pour your tincture off.  You can continue to press and pour off your tincture till its too hard to press further.  You’ll notice I’m sending it through a strainer to get out any plant material–but I didn’t see any coming out of the press.

A few other notes about using this homemade tincture press:

1) Some of the alcohol will absorb into the wood. I sealed my wood with melted beeswax and that helped quite a bit!

2) You can use this press to press other things, like an herbal oil, if you desire. I’d seal the wood for sure if you are pressing oil (and I'd suggest that you cut yourself a third disk for oils and use that exclusively with the oils).


*Please note: this post was updated and expanded from my original post on the Druid's Garden Blog!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ghost Pipe - Monotropa uniflora

Monotropa uniflora - AKA Ghost Pipe, Indian Pipe, Fairy Smoke, Corpse Plant, Ghost Flower, Ice Plant, Convulsion Root, Pipe Plant, Ova-ova, Dutchman's Pipe and Fit Root.


Through forest floor leaves
      at the base of the Oak
epi-parasitic root mass nestled tight 
   brings fourth
Fairy Smoke. 
         Rising. 
Lengthening in friendly clusters.
    a deep bow in gratitude.
Pollen bright, yellow hidden treasure 
  inside delicate white wax
         an alabaster beauty
      black ghosts for flowers so white. 
                       -poem written by Briel Driscoll  

Many artists have been inspired by this plant and you can find poetry by Emily Dickinson, William Crow, Marge Piercy, Robert Hayden and more!


Botanical Information:  
Monotropa uniflora is in the Ericaceae, (Blueberry) family.
It is a perennial and herbaceous plant. The root structure is a bulbous root mass that flowers in mid summer. Often you will find them in clusters coming from one root bulb. One flower sits on top of a single stalk. The stalk has simple alternate leaves which can look scale-like at a glance. The flowers are a ghostly white and their heads are downward facing. Flowers are regular/symmetrical. Sometimes you will see a variation of slight pink or yellow. Once the seeds have been pollinated the flower heads rise up and will begin to blacken. Will also blacken as soon as its picked so ideally is tinctured/dried the same day it is collected.

This plant has no chlorophyll and so it taps into the connection between certain mushrooms and trees and gets its nutrients that way. This plant is epi-parasitic aka it is a parasite to the fungus! 

Monotropa as Medicine:
Ways to use: Tea, Tincture, Smoke
Parts Used:  Flowers, Roots or a combination. 
For tinctures: I have encountered herbalists that use one, the other or both. Originally I had only made the beautiful purple flower tincture but this past summer I made a combination tincture with the roots and flowers. Tincture is a deep purple color - just like blueberries! And it is in that plant family.

After trying both of those and another herbalists root tincture I think that the combination tincture seems to be the strongest. The downside of this is that you have to kill the plant to make tincture, which is not the case if you are only making flower tincture. This plant is VERY watery I would tincture in high proof alcohol 1:2 95%. You could maybe go down to 75-80% but I have not tried that yet. I do not think this would make a good glycerine medicine. 

As far as smoking this plant goes I have only encountered the flowers being smoked. Not the roots. And as for tea I have always used the flowers.

Medicinal Properties: Overall this plant seems to have an effect on the nervous system.
-Nervine,
-Pain relief: creates distance from pain (either emotional and physical). I have seen this plant aid in first aid situations in combination with other pain relieving plants.
-antinoceptive (increases pain threshold)
-anticonvulsive/anti-spasmotic (no personal experience with this one but I have encountered information in text on this topic so could be something to experiment with, sedative, pulls you back from the edge
-Fresh juice has traditionally been used for eye inflammation
-A good herb to consider to help ease bad experiences with other substances like LSD, Cannabis, etc. AKA someone having a "bad trip".

Dosage: Seems to vary a lot depending on individuals and practitioners. Some herbalists are suggesting this in drop dosages and others in ml dosages. Experimenting with the dosage of this plant for yourself would be a good way to go. Start small and add on until you notice its effects. Also, consider the situation a more acute first aid type situation may require a larger dosage than treating something like a mild chronic pain. 

My mother had to undergo some very painful Physical Therapy after having a proceedure. She began to take the Monotropa uniflora before her appointments and found that she was able to relax much easier and get through these sessions. When I asked her about dosages she said she had been taking dosages between 15-30 drops each time.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Delightful Dandelion - Medicine and Recipes!

A dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a hardy perennial wildflower that commonly grows across temperate regions in the Americas, Asia, and Europe. The dandelion is naturalized to North America. Most sources suggest dandelion was brought here by European settlers, like many other beneficial plants found abundantly scattered in lawns across the United States. These settlers found dandelions to be so useful that they carried the seeds with them on ships to the Americas and planted dandelions wherever they went. These settlers’ legacy lives on today, through the beautiful yellow flowers who bring back the springtime sun. It has only been in the last 50 or so years that dandelions went from being a treasured plant ally, worthy of carefully bringing across continents, to an enemy of many who don’t like to see them in their lawns. But this short article will show you why our ancestors spent so much time cultivating dandelions and saving their seeds!  We’ll briefly explore dandelion’s medicinal and edible qualities and I’ll share two recipes that will be delightful to try this spring. 
 
Spring tonic: Folk medicine in many parts of the world suggests that dandelion is a great “spring tonic” and “blood purifier.” Most of the time, these old sources are referring to what we now know as “alterative” action, that is, the dandelion supports the liver, digestive system, and metabolism. Citing several other herbalists, Matthew Wood, in his Earthwise Herbal, suggests that this is because of dandelion’s high nutritional content, its work on the digestive system, and because of its benefits to the kidneys and liver it is a primer spring tonic plant. The practice of ingesting dandelion greens as a spring cleanser when they first pop up was widespread throughout Europe. It is still done in parts of Europe and the Americas to this day. I, too, brew up a big pot of dandelion root tea and drink it for about a week straight in the early spring!

Addressing stagnant states: Another powerful way that dandelion can be used as a medicine is to address stagnation in many forms—stagnation of the mind (lethargy, dullness, listlessness) as well as stagnation in the liver, kidney, or gallbladder functions. Dandelion gets things moving again, and it is taken internally for this purpose as a tea, food, or tincture. I recently made a dandelion leaf tea for the purpose of clearing mental congestion—I dried the dandelion leaves and brewed them up daily as a tea. Dried leaves generally make a better tea than fresh leaves because the drying process breaks down the cell walls of the plant. When you add hot water, the water has an easier time penetrating the cell walls and extracting the nutrients and medicine from the plant (freezing the leaves does the same thing—again, the cell walls are burst by the freezing effect). 

Digestive bitters: One of the primary medicinal qualities of a dandelion is that it is bitter. Bitters are quite common in the wild, and as humans evolved, we most certainly ate a lot of bitter foods (just go sample any number of wild greens and you’ll see exactly what I mean). But as we cultivated plants more and more, and with the rise of industrialized agriculture, we cut bitters out of our diet. The lack of bitters is one of many factors contributing to many digestive issues today. Michigan herbalist Jim McDonald describes bitters as stimulating all digestive functions, including stomach acids, saliva, stomach enzymes, hormones produced in the stomach, bile, and so on. Each of these digestive functions, in turn, helps break down food and add to digestion and overall gastrointestinal well being. Bitters, therefore, are incredibly important to our overall digestive health, and good food digestion rests at the cornerstone of healthy living. In order for the bitters to be effective, you have to taste them on your tongue. Dandelion bitters are tonic; that is, they are something we don't take only when we are sick, but rather something we can take every day to help keep us in optimal health. I take my dandelion bitters about 10 minutes before each meal. A few drops of my dandelion root bitters on my tongue helps my digestion each day (recipe later in this chapter).

Harvesting Dandelion: For any wild food harvesting, dandelions included, you can use the following general guideline: roots in the early spring or late fall, greens in the early spring to early summer, and fruit or nuts (which dandelion doesn’t have, obviously) in the summer and fall. This guideline is based on where the energy of the plant is located—in the early spring, the energy will be in the plant’s root or in its greens (depending on timing). When the energy of the plant is in the roots, the nutrient content is higher and the medicine of the plant stronger in the roots. Once the root sends up its greenery, some of the energy is lost to leaf, flower, fruit, and seed production, and the medicinal and nutritive benefits are found in those parts of the plant rather than the root. Once dandelion flowers, that’s where the energy of the plant is; once it goes to seed, the seeds contain its energy. I discuss harvesting times specific to the different parts of the dandelion plant in the next paragraph, but this general guideline is good to keep in mind. 

To clean the roots, what I have found works best is to fill up a bucket with water and soak the roots for 30 minutes in it. Dump the water outside (or the dirt will clog your drain), and then spray the roots off with a hose. If there is still a lot of dirt left, give the roots another soaking and then spray them again. At this stage, I bring them into the house and put them in my food processor, chopping them up to the desired size. Then I give them a final wash before using them for whatever purpose I have (drying, roasting, tincturing, making dye). This approach to washing the roots works to get the dirt out with minimal work!

The dandelion greens (that is, their new, lighter green leaves) are best harvested in the spring as the plants are shooting up their new growth. You can also harvest new greens anytime a new dandelion plant is coming up—the younger leaves are more tender and tasty. In harvesting greens, the rule of thumb is that the younger the greens, the less bitter they are. You want some of the bitter nature of the plant (more on that in Chapter 5) but too much bitterness may not be so palatable. Again, you can
harvest from any safe place and then wash them lightly before using in whatever way you like.


Roasted Dandelion Root Coffee

The dried and roasted roots make a wonderful coffee substitute (and coffee, like dandelion, is a bitter drink promoting digestion and the healthful regulating of bowel movements). Here’s the process for making your own dandelion root coffee:

1.  After digging, cleaning, and finely chopping your roots, lay them out on a baking sheet.

2.  Set your oven to 250 degrees and place the roots inside. Over the next two hours, check on them fairly often, stirring them to ensure an even roast. Your house will be filled with the wonderful aroma of roasted dandelions!

3.  When they have the desired roasted quality, you can pull them out of the oven and let them cool.

4.  Store the grounds in an airtight container (like a mason jar).  I don’t grind them up to just before I brew the coffee.

5.  Before serving, give your roots a final grind in a coffee grinder or food processor to get a nice consistency. You can use 1 tablespoon (level) for 1 cup of coffee. You'll want to boil it for 10 to 15 minutes (don’t just brew it like regular coffee). Add cream and honey! Delicious!

Spring Sautéed Dandelion Greens

Pick the dandelion greens early in the season for this delightful treat. The younger they are, the more tender and flavorful (and less bitter) they are.  The oil, heat, and pepper compliment the dandelions’ bitterness.

·       2 cups dandelion greens (washed and chopped, with center stems removed if stems are thick)

·       1 clove garlic

·       hot pepper flakes or cayenne pepper powder to taste

·       1 tbsp olive oil

·       ½ teaspoon lemon juice

·       Salt and pepper to taste

·       Two slices of bacon (optional)

Boil the dandelion greens in a pot of water for 8 to 10 minutes or until the stems are soft. In the meantime, heat up an iron skillet with the olive oil (or bacon grease) and sauté the garlic until crispy. Drain the greens and add to the garlic and oil; add other seasonings to taste. Sautee 3 to 4 minutes, then serve.