by Laurel Vukovic
Years ago, I considered Dandelions pesky weeds and tried my best to eradicate them from my lawn. I spent countless hours digging them out. And still they persisted, sending up their cheery yellow flower heads in defiance of my efforts.
My relationship with this “weed” changed when a European friend introduced me to the tradition of using dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) as a salad green. In the early spring, before the plant flowers, the leaves are young and tender, with a mildly bitter taste similar to endive. (Later in summer, they turn tough and bitter.) My respect for dandelions grew into a definite affection when I learned of their many healing properties.
Now one of my favorite rites of spring is harvesting tender young leaves of dandelion from my backyard. And I even start to crave dandelions mild bitter taste sometime around the first of March. I add a handful to mixed green salads–they’re especially good dressed with a simple vinaigrette made from extra-virgin olive oil and fresh sweet orange juice. I also like to saute young dandelion greens with minced fresh ginger or garlic in olive oil. You can probably find plenty of dandelions growing in your own backyard. One note of caution: Be sure to harvest only unsprayed dandelions and consult a good plant identification book if you have any doubts as to what dandelions look like.
Dandelion: A Safe Diuretic
Most women experience premenstrual water retention. The familiar symptoms of weight gain, bloating, breast tenderness, and irritability can make the week prior to menstruation miserable. While many women resort to over-the-counter or even prescription diuretic drugs, I don’t like using such harsh measures. Synthetic diuretics flush important minerals such as potassium from the body Potassium, along with sodium, helps to regulate muscle and nerve function. The loss of these minerals (called electrolytes) can cause dangerous muscle weakness and loss of coordination, and even heart rhythm disturbances,
Instead of synthetic diuretics, I rely on dandelion leaf tea. Dandelion greens have been used for centuries in Europe as a spring tonic (a medicine that invigorates and strengthens all systems) to help to purify the body after a long winter of rich foods and sedentary living. While this may sound like an old wives I talc, there’s good scientific evidence to explain how the humble dandelion cleanses your body. The slightly bitter taste of the leaves stimulates bile flow, which enhances liver function. One of the most important jobs of the liver is to break down and eliminate harmful toxins in the bloodstream. Anything you do to improve the health of your liver will naturally improve the quality of your blood and overall health. In addition, dandelion greens are one of the richest natural sources of beta carotene, and contain more iron and calcium than spinach.
To make a tea from dandelion leaves, pour one cup of boiling water over two teaspoons of dried dandelion (or four teaspoons of fresh chopped leaves) and steep for ten minutes. Strain, and drink three to four cups daily as needed. While dandelion leaf tea is extremely safe, it’s always a good idea to increase your intake of potassium-rich foods such as apples, bananas, carrots, oranges, and potatoes when using a diuretic.
Temporary Toothache Remedy
My daughter had a toothache in the middle of the night and with no dentist available, I used my grandmother’s toothache remedy. I swabbed her tooth and gum with clove essential oil and it gave her almost immediate relief.
Helen Shutes, Grants Pass, Oregon
This is a good old-fashioned remedy that I’ve also used in emergencies. A friend recently called me late on a Saturday afternoon complaining of a toothache. Although dental work obviously doesn’t fall within the realm of home remedies, she definitely needed something to help her get through until Monday when she could see her dentist. I offered her a bottle of clove essential oil, an old remedy that works well to temporarily relieve tooth pain. Clove oil contains a potent natural compound called eugenol, which has pain-relieving properties and is an ingredient in many over-the-counter toothache remedies. Clove oil is strong and can irritate sensitive gums, so it’s best to dilute it with an equal part (several drops) of olive or other vegetable oil. I suggested that my friend apply the diluted clove oil to her aching tooth and the surrounding gum with a cotton ball. She did, and within minutes her toothache subsided. Clove oil is also an excellent remedy for a baby’s teething pains, but a more dilute solution should be used on an infant’s tender gums. Combine approximately four drops of clove essential oil with one tablespoon of vegetable oil, and gently apply to the baby’s gums as needed.
Hay Fever Relief
Various pollens made my life miserable for several years in my early twenties. Each year I found myself dreading the arrival of spring because it was synonymous with the arrival of intense sneezing fits and itching eyes.
In retrospect, I’m glad that I suffered so intensely from hay fever, because it provided a strong impetus for me to explore natural healing. A friend suggested that I eliminate dairy and wheat from my diet, and that seemed to provide some relief, especially when I conscientiously avoided those foods a couple of months prior to the onset of allergy season. Dairy products and wheat are two of the most common food allergens, and may exacerbate hay fever. (One theory holds that the more allergens one is exposed to, the more likely the immune system will respond with an allergic reaction.) I found several natural over-the-counter remedies that provided short-term symptomatic relief–especially homeopathic hay fever tablets and freeze-dried nettles. But the greatest help came when I discovered quercetin.
Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that inhibits the release of histamine, the inflammatory compound primarily responsible for the uncomfortable symptoms of hay fever. You can increase your intake of quercetin by eating foods that are naturally rich sources, such as citrus fruits, purple and yellow onions, and buckwheat. One friend tells me that simply eating one or two servings of sauteed purple onions daily is enough to help get her through hay fever season with a minimum of symptoms. But everyone is different, and a daily serving of onions was not enough to relieve my allergies. I turned to concentrated quercetin in capsules, and found that taking 250 to 500 mgs twice daily between meals did the trick. I also learned that because quercetin acts to prevent allergies, it works best to start taking it approximately one month prior to the start of allergy season, and then to continue taking it throughout the entire season.
Eating to Lower Cholesterol
My husband’s doctor was concerned about his high cholesterol levels and wanted to put him on cholesterol-lowering medication. We decided to try a more natural approach first, though. After only two months of eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast daily and including lots of garlic in his diet, my husband’s cholesterol levels had dropped enough to satisfy his doctor.
Ellen Fishburne, Cleveland, Ohio
You’ve done the right thing. It’s always worthwhile to try dietary changes first–cholesterol-lowering drugs are expensive and can produce harmful side effects such as liver damage. While many conventional doctors do prescribe medications to lower cholesterol levels, simple dietary changes are usually all that’s needed. As researchers learned in the early ’90s, oat bran is one of the best cholesterol-lowering foods. Oatmeal is an excellent source of soluble fiber, which helps to absorb excess cholesterol in the intestinal tract and sweep it out of the body. Oatmeal doesn’t have to be boring to be healthy–I liven it up with blueberries, bananas, and walnuts, or I cook oats with currants, almonds, and cinnamon (for more ideas, see “Hale and Hearty Cereals,” page 82). Other good sources of soluble fiber include barley and cooked dried beans.
Also, in cultures that eat lots of garlic, blood cholesterol levels are surprisingly low. Not only does garlic decrease levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, it increases levels of beneficial HDL (high-density lipoproteins) cholesterol. Eating only one clove of cooked garlic daily is usually enough to help lower cholesterol levels, but the more, the better. I like to combine the cholesterol-lowering benefits of beans and garlic in a delicious and hearty winter bean soup. I add a whole bulb (at least a dozen cloves) of garlic to a pot of bean soup and everyone asks for my recipe. V into the habit of cooking liberally with garlic, and if you’re concerned about it lingering on your breath, try chewing a few fennel seeds as a breath freshener.
RELATED ARTICLE: QUICK TIPS
I’ve learned to avoid leaving rubber-tipped droppers in my essential oils. Although its convenient to have the dropper in the bottle, many oils will cause the rubber to disintegrate into a gummy mess. I keep my oils tightly capped, with several rubber-tipped droppers close at hand in a glass container. To avoid mixing the oils, clean the droppers with rubbing alcohol after using.
Laurel Vukovic is the author of 14-Day Herbal Cleansing: A Step-by-Step Guide to All-Natural Inner Cleansing Techniques for Increased Energy, Vitality, and Beauty (Prentice Hall, 1998).
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