Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain

Handy Dandy Dandelions!

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It feels like it has been a year since I have been able mentally and physically to sit down and write. Migraines have been a real problem this year, as well as edema which is really cutting into my life since you have to elevate your feet. The right side has also been breeched, but the battle continues but the CRPS is slowly progressing into the arm and leg. But! Despite all that, I am starting to finally feel like I am on an upswing. That inspired me to talk about something that no matter how hated they are by others, I have always loved and felt like it was a bit of sunshine that always managed to grow in the harshest of places.

The humble, the tenacious dandelion.

Yes this humble little plant may have saved many lives!

The Rodney Dangerfield of the plant world

 

I even remember the first time I found out they were edible, watching a Pippi Longstocking movie (man I love those movies!) and I saw her eat one and immediately had to ask Mom about it (since there was no wikipedia then, Mom was my food information guru) and she told me that you can eat dandelions, but that she didn’t much care for them since they were bitter. Her mother used to make the greens when she was younger, and would tell her about how she used to eat them as a kid during the Great Depression.

I know the first thing you are thinking, they’re just weeds aren’t they? Why would you want to eat weeds?! This is not the Great Depression! But they are so much more than weeds! They are a wonderful plant that got a bad wrap. You should respect the dandelion, no matter how much man tries to keep it down, it bounces back. We have thrown everything at it, and we still can’t eradicate it! I can only hope to be as strong as this humble sunny flower.

Thankfully for all of us it has survived and grows everywhere, which means its FREE! The best price! You can also eat the entire plant, and it is ridiculously good for you. More reasons why you should love this much slandered plant! It got many people, my grandparents and my husband’s too I am sure (possibly even your own) through really rough times, especially ones when food was scarce. They are so plentiful and cheap that one famous millionaire cheapskate, and vegetarian, Henry Ford, was known to pick greens from the side of the road, including dandelions. While his ideas about nutrition were probably not the most sound, he did have one thing right. There was all this free food just sitting around, why go to the grocery store? Ford was so well known for eating “road greens” he was even featured in a cracked article for it.

If its good enough for Ford, it is good enough for you!

When you realize that dandelions are high in a ton of vitamins (A, C, B2, and K, as well as potassium, and manganese, and more calcium and iron than spinach) eating “road greens” sounds a lot less silly. All of these vitamins and minerals are not only essential for normal body function they are a large chunk that you need to consume for nerve health as well as help assist in fighting or preventing pain. Dandelions were a great source of vitamin C which helped keep people from succumbing to scurvy, and the preserved versions helped keep people going through harsh winters and other hard times. Dandelions also produce a natural lecithin, which you may (or may not) remember from the Kava post. Dandelions are so good for you they are even mentioned in Greek mythology. According to some versions of the Minotaur of Crete stories – Hecate feeds dandelions to Theseus for thirty days, to make him strong enough to kill the Minotaur of the labyrinth. Since it rivals spinach in its iron and calcium content, Hecate is basically giving him the ancient Greek version of Popeye’s spinach!

He is probably singing “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am”

They also contain inulin, taraxacin (the bitter flavor and a possible diuretic) and levulin (basically a type of starch). Dandelions even contains small amounts of vegetable proteins, and fats, as well as fiber and other starches in the roots. It also produces a milky latex like substance, that is being used in the production of natural rubber. This dandelion milk has been a folk remedy for wart removal for a long time, and I have found some blog posts with people praising its efficacy, but there are no scientific studies to back this up. Sadly I don’t have any warts to test this on but I would love to know from someone directly if it works… so if you try it, let me know!

Dandelions have made their way across cultures, time and continents. The Romans knew well of its properties and was included in medical writings as well as gardens. The Romans helped to spread the dandelion to the Celts and Gauls, and they were immediately integrated into the food and medicine of the area. The earliest medicinal reference to dandelions comes from Arabic physicians from the 10th and 11th centuries. It is possible they gave the dandelion its Latin name as it is named Taraxacon in Arabic, but it could also derive from Greek. Taraxos in Greek means “abnormal health condition” and akos means “remedy,” or even taraxo “I have caused” and achos “pain” could be the name origin. As we move West, there are mentions of dandelions in some Welsh 13th century medical writings, and the usual litany of properties are listed. The name we English speakers currently use, dandelion, possibly comes from an Anglo-Saxon, corruption of the Norman French name Dent de Leon or “teeth of the lion,” for its serrated leaves. Though there are the writings of a surgeon from the 1400’s that says it is as powerful as the tooth of a lion for fighting illnesses.

There are many many different kinds of dandelions, and some false dandelions, so make sure you always know what you are harvesting if you are picking them wild.

As you can see there are a lot of imitators, but you want nothing but the real thing….baby.

 

Seriously be careful there are a lot of plants that are trying to be a dandelion, that are not good to consume. So be very, very careful and preferably have a professional help the first time you go foraging.

The specific species that we want to focus on, since it is edible and medicinal, is the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) possibly originated in Europe (or Eurasia) and then spread to the west and east from there – east as far as India and west to the Americas. It was well known for it’s diuretic properties which led to some unusual common names like pissabed in English and pissenlit in French. In China it was known as “earth nail” for its long tap root, which is why it is so irksome to gardeners. As the Europeans came over to the Americas, they brought the precious dandelion seeds with them, and seeds were brought west with Pioneers as they expanded. It is sad a plant that was so highly regarded fell so far from grace.

While its diuretic properties are not 100% proven in lab studies, the ones that have been performed do show signs of promise and there is a strong tradition in fold medicine for this which usually indicates there may be some validity in this property. The diuretic properties of dandelions can help with edema, whether its the usual bloating that comes with PMS or edema from pain conditions or CRPS. Another property that is even better to help CRPS, is the anti-inflammatory properties that dandelions have, while they are not 100% proven in human studies, animal studies are promising. Even if it doesn’t have anti-inflammatory properties, the level of vitamins and minerals it has can help to alleviate pains that could come from malnutrition, and it can be taken with other laxative herbs to help replace potassium that most of these tend to make you lose.

Dandelions are also traditionally used for spring tonics, made as syrups, salads and beverages. Possibly due to its diuretic properties, and there is a lot of folk knowledge that says this is also good for the liver. There has been a lot of folk and oral information for this but not enough lab studies to be sure that it can help the liver, and by help that means by stimulating it to produce bile. Which, in my humble opinion, since they are such a great food – again all of it is edible – and so high in vitamins and minerals we all need if they do or do not also stimulate the liver really doesn’t remove from the overall awesomeness that is the dandelion. There is really no downside to eating them, and if it does help your liver it is only another tick in the plus column. Sadly though at this point in time, it is unknown for sure if the dandelion should get credit for this property. There is also a belief that the taraxacin, which is what gives it the bitter taste, helps to stimulate the stomach since “bitters” are usually used as a digestive, though now they are more often to add another dimension to a meal or drink. It could also help with the gall bladder, again by stimulating it, and dandelions are something to add to the list of things that help you go when you can’t go.

There are also studies looking into the possibility that consuming dandelions can help to regulate blood sugar. So if that is interesting to you, you may want to go look into that further. Dandelions are also excellent for the skin, and can help with psoriasis, eczema and acne. or just help keep it looking lovely.

How to Get Them

Dandelions grow everywhere, and as long as they haven’t been treated with pesticides or other chemicals they are great to wild gather. But since they are basically the equivalent of filters for soil, it is best to avoid those found in people’s lawns since they might have been treated with chemicals you wouldn’t want to ingest. But these are one of those things you can wild gather if you are low on cash for food, for medicine, or if the zombie apocalypse has struck and you need both! The two things that are generally stressed if you are going to gather the roots is to dig them in wet weather, since they come out easier (but you can harvest them pretty much any time you see them growing), and to avoid any places that could have pesticide sprayed. Avoid roadsides, people’s lawns (always ask if you are going to dig up plants from your neighbor’s yard), rail road tracks, pretty much anywhere humans go a lot or where they would frown on this flower showing its sunny face. Larger leaves do better if you are cooking them, smaller do great on sandwiches and in salads. All you really need is a good knife, but a tool with tines will work as well. Make sure you rinse the leaves 3 times at least and let them soak for about an hour in clean water. The roots it is traditional to put them in a stream to clean them, but you can scrub them well with a potato or nail brush and then leave them under some running water for a bit to get the dirt out.

If you would like some more detailed instructions here is some info from a guy that is a well known urban forager.

Clara is one of my food heroes, she does recipes from her past and does a quick dandelion salad while showing you how she harvests and cleans them.

If you are collecting and not using the roots immediately you can always cut them into uniform (as possible) 3-6 inch pieces, and dry them in a low oven, commercial dehydrator or the sunshine. They should be brittle enough to snap but still white inside. You can dry the leaves too but I think they are better fresh for cooking, but best dried if you are making teas. If you need help with drying here is a good quick instructional on drying all parts of plants.

How to Use Them

You can really just steam or lightly boil or fry the greens with olive oil or lemon, or as a plain salad with the same. This is the most traditional way of eating the greens. But here are some great recipes for food, and medicinal recipes. Most are both, as Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”

ProPetalTip: When you are removing petals from the flowers make sure you wear latex gloves, or use scissors to trim the petals from the top of the flower. It may not cause a rash but it can stain. It is also a good idea to wear gloves when foraging for the flowers to protect from the sap.

Dandelion Cold Salad

  • Dandelion leaves (collect enough dandelions to fill all the bowls of people that will be eating)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Onions, tomatoes, feta cheese – one, two or all of these can be diced and included
  • Olive oil, to drizzle over
  • Lemon juice, to drizzle over
  • Optional – crushed garlic

Wash and tear the dandelion leaves until they are bite sized, toss with other ingredients and drizzle with oil and lemon juice. These are a great side to most summer barbecue dishes, or picnics, or just whenever! Remember dandelions are seriously good for you, so this salad it is OK to have seconds and thirds of. You can always make Clara’s cold salad recipe as well.

Hot Dandelion Salad

  • 3 pounds of Dandelion greens, well cleaned
  • ½ cup Olive oil
  • 5 large cloves of Garlic
  • ½-1 teaspoon Sea Salt
  • A generous squeeze of lemon juice
  • optional: a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, or basil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add greens. Cook until the stems are tender, usually 10 minutes, then drain in a colander and rinse under cold water. Press the leaves after to get rid of any excess water. Heat the olive oil, gently it burns easily, add garlic and pepper flakes if you want them, cook until golden. Add the greens and increase heat to medium and add the sea salt. Toss the greens so that oil coats the leaves evenly and everything is heated through – about 4 minutes. Squeeze lemons over and serve hot.

Pennsylvania Dutch Dandelion Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing (found here and slightly adapted)

  • 4-6 bowls of Dandelion leaves
  • 5-6 rashers of Bacon
  • 1½ cups Water
  • 2 tablespoons Flour (cornstarch or arrowroot for gluten free)
  • 3 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons Honey (sugar, or even molasses will do)
  • 1 tablespoon good Mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste (my mom always added some sugar)
  • hard boiled egg or eggs if you like them (I don’t so I leave this out)

Wash the dandelion leaves really well (wash them like Clara does) they need a wash and a soak for at least an hour, and a few more washings. Fry the bacon and remove it from the pan and chop it into pieces. Pour out half the fat, and save the rest bacon grease is really useful. Mix everything else except the egg and dandelions together well and add to the hot bacon grease. Stir and cook until thick, if it is too salty add a pinch or two of sugar. Pour hot dressing over cleaned dandelion greens and garnish with chopped bacon and diced egg.

Dandelion Syrup

  • 1 ½ cups Dandelion flowers (or petals), or about 100 flowers
  • 1 cup Honey (liquid glucose, or agave nectar could work here too)
  • 3 cups filtered Water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or a teaspoon citric acid)

If you haven’t already, remove the petals from the green part of the flower, the sepal. You want just the petals, none of the green bits should get in or it will taste horrible. Throw all the petals in a pot and cover with the water. Bring up to a light simmer, and let it go for about 10-15 minutes you don’t want a rolling boil so keep it low. Remove from heat, and cover and let the water and petals sit over night. Pour through a cheesecloth, and twist and press it to squeeze all the moisture from the petals. Return the petal water to the pot and add honey and lemon, and simmer on low heat until thickened. Store in a clean bottle. You can use sugar but I find honey is a better flavor. You can use this syrup on pretty much anything – pancakes, french toast, ice cream, or even with a little gin and tonic for a sunny cocktail for a summer evening. It is packed with all sorts of good things for you and it tastes good! There is all sorts of recipes for dandelion syrup, so just try the one that seems best to you if you don’t care for this one. I even found a traditional Scandinavian syrup recipe you can try here (it has apples and looks like it would taste delicious!).

Dandelion Jelly

  • 8-10 cups of Dandelion petals
  • 5 cups of water
  • 6 cups Sugar (you could use honey but I find sugar works better for jams and jellies)
  • 1 packet of powdered Pectin (2 if you use liquid)
  • 4 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Jars and canning supplies, make sure they are sterile ahead of time (if you have never canned before read this)
  • optional: food coloring – green and yellow seem to be the preferred colors

Add your petals to a large pot and cover with water, bring water up to a boil and once it hits a rolling boil turn the heat down to medium and let it simmer for about 5-10 minutes. The water will look a bit brown gold, it is ready to be strained. Take 3 cups of the dandelion “tea” and 6 cups of sugar, mix well and add in the lemon juice. You can add yellow food coloring to brighten things up if it doesn’t look as golden as you would like. Some people prefer green, whatever catches your fancy. Put mixture on the heat and bring to a boil an stir quickly, since sugar will turn on you like a Kardashian you are married to. And that is just as fast as you would imagine it to be. So stir a lot. When the mixture boils and stays the same height where you stir it, add the pectin. Boil hard for a minute, then pour into sterile jars leaving a ¼ inch of space from the top. Scoop off any foam that forms and lid. Process in a 10 minute bath for 8 oz jars (15 if you are in the mountains). Jelly goes great on toast, waffles, pancakes, anything really like syrup!

Also if you don’t make your own bread, you need to change that TODAY. I have used a lot of recipes, I love this one a lot but the hubs didn’t care for it much (he is picky about things). This is the one that he loves most, I have to admit I really enjoy as well. It has a crispy crust and a lovely crumb. And it takes like 10 minutes of actual work, so don’t say “oh I don’t have time” because everyone can make time for 10 minutes. Right so bread.

The Husband’s Favorite Loaf

  • 16 ounces flour (regluar NOT bread flour. trust me.)
  • 1 ounce Raw honey
  • ½-1 ounce yeast (go for the full 1 oz if you want a super tall loaf)
  • 1 ounce melted butter (or oil, butter is better)
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounce milk

Put milk in a stand mixer with a hook attachment, add yeast, add honey. An easy tip so you dont kill your yeast with heat (yeast likes about 75°-86°F, higher will kill it) pour butter in cold milk and stir it around and pour in the bowl, making sure to get any butter bits that try to stay behind. Add flour on top, and then the salt. Mix, immediately no waiting this is why its so easy, until the bowl is clean, all the dough should be in the center and it should make what seems to be a very wet sticky dough. Let rest 5 minutes. Turn out on to well floured surface, seriously needs a good coating this is sticky. Kneed a bit until it stops sticking to you and form into a loose long roll trying to make the top as even as possible. Place into well greased or parchment paper lined bread pan and let rise until it is about an inch below the height you need. Cut a slit long the center of the loaf (this helps it expand and gives it that store bought look). Bake at 410°F for 10 minutes, then drop the oven to 350°F and go another 40. It should sound hollow when tapped.

You could add a tablespoon or two of gluten for a crispier crust but I find it works the best as it is. Also if you aren’t cooking bread by weight you need to try it, it comes out better since cups are unreliable when it comes to giving you precisely the same amount each time.

Dandelion Leaf Tea

  • 1-2 teaspoons of Dried Dandelion Leaf (1-3 tablespoons washed, chopped fresh)
  • 8 ounces of Boiling water

Steep for 10-15 if you are using fresh, 5-10 dried. Drink when cool enough to, this can be bitter so you can add honey or other sweetener to taste.

Dandelion Root Tea (Dandelion Coffee)

  • 1-3 teaspoons of Dandelion Roots in pieces
  • 8 ounces of water

Put roots and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 10-20 minutes, add any sweetener you like and enjoy. You can make this more coffee like if you grind the dried roots into a fine powder, a tablespoon in a cup with hot water added will make a more coffee like drink. Some people like to even add cream.

Both of these are great for inflammation but also have all the dietary pro’s that we went over earlier.

ProErsatzCoffeeTip: Ersatz means replacement foods, and this was often a replacement for coffee when coffee supplies were short. You can add chicory, cinnamon, vanilla, all sorts of things to your “coffee.” If you add the chicory add it in an equal ratio to the dandelion root, and everything else is to taste. If you’re attempting to quit the coffee habit this is a fantastic and nutritious replacement.

Dandelion Massage Oil

  • Fill a mason jar with fresh dandelion flowers
  • Enough oil to cover

Place with lid tightly on on a sunny windowsill and wait 2-3 weeks, or until the flowers turn brown. Massage into skin, and joints to help with inflammation of those areas or to ease skin ailments like psoriasis and eczema.

There is a traditional soup made in France from dandelions called creme de pissenlit, which I guess would translate as cream of pissabed…it is supposed to be good I haven’t tried making this yet so if you do let me know what you think.

Cream of Dandelion Soup (Creme de Pissenlit from Care2)

  • 2 pounds (about 6 cups) dandelion greens, trimmed and washed
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
  •  4 cups vegetable stock
  •  2 large leeks, white and light parts only, cleaned and sliced
  •  1 carrot, cleaned and diced
  •  1/2 cups milk
  •  1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dandelion buds and/or flower petals for garnish
  1. If using more mature or very bitter tasting greens, blanch them in a pot of boiling salted water, then drain and squeeze out the excess water, chop and set aside.
  2. Heat butter or oil in a large pot over medium high heat, add greens, carrot and leeks and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes.
  3. Add stock and simmer for about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and whisk in milk, cook stirring frequently, until slightly thickened.
  4. Puree mix in a tightly-covered blender until smooth, taking care with the hot liquid. Season with salt and pepper, and add Dijon if you like.
  5. Serve in bowls and garnish with flowers or buds.

Root Beer (with all the roots! Adapted from NourishedKitchen)

  • ¼ cup sassafras root bark
  • ¼ cup winter green leaf
  • 2 tablespoons sarsaparilla root
  • 1 tablespoon licorice root
  • 1 tablespoon ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon dandelion root
  • 1 tablespoon hops flowers
  • 1 tablespoon birch bark
  • 1 tablespoon wild cherry tree bark
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup unrefined cane sugar
  • 2 packets of Red Star Champagne Yeast
  1. Bring two and one-half quarts filtered water to a boil and stir in sassafras, sarsaparilla, wintergreen, licorice, ginger, hops, juniper, birch and wild cherry bark. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and simmer the roots, berries, barks, leaves and flowers for twenty minutes.
  2. After twenty minutes, turn off the heat and strain the infusion through a fine-mesh sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth into a pitcher. Stir unrefined cane sugar into the hot infusion until it dissolves and allow it to cool until it reaches blood temperature. Once the sweetened infusion has cooled to blood temperature, stir in the ginger bug or fresh whey and pour into individual bottles (preferably flip-top bottles which are easy enough to find online, leaving at least one inch head space in each bottle.
  3. Allow the root beer to ferment for three to four days at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator for an additional two days to age. When you’re ready to serve the root beer, be careful as it, like any other fermented beverage, is under pressure due to the accumulation of carbon-dioxide, a byproduct of fermentation. Open it over a sink and note that homemade sodas, like this one, have been known to explode under pressure. Serve over ice.

I found a really yummy looking Dandelion and Lime ice tea that I am dying to try. This is also a good leaf to mix with watercress, and goes well in sandwiches and salads with cress. This goes well on burgers, in wraps, in salads, in anything that greens go good in, and they are the ultimate soul food.

There are as always pre-made preparations you can buy online in pill, tea, and liquid forms. Make sure you read the bottles and follow the directions, also make sure you know what species of dandelion they are using. You will also notice I don’t list or suggest tinctures, and the reason is that the stuff in the dandelion that is useful is not an oil, therefore not a fat, and not hydrophobic. So tincture of dandelion is less effective and probably not very useful. I don’t recommend them.

Everyone is different so do your own experiments see how well dandelions work for you, and even if they aren’t alleviating pain they are good for you! So really there is no reason (besides allergies) to not add these to your diet. Remember play it safe, if you have doubts, ask a professional!

Allergy Warning: If you are allergic to Daisies, Ragweeds, or Chicory, do NOT use dandelions.

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Author: defeatingpain

I am a Texan and in 2008 I was struck by an SUV while riding my bicycle, I have had C5-C6 and L4-S1 fused. While the surgery did a lot, I was left with Failed Back Syndrome and CRPS. I refuse to sit by and not have a hand in my own recovery, so, this blog documents my trials with finding natural solutions for chronic pain.

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