The Preparedness Papers
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Though ginseng root is regarded as a panacea by herbalists the world over, I'd rather use "poor man's ginseng" which grows, free-for-the-picking, all around us. "Poor man's ginseng is almost as nutritional as ginseng, and can be consumed in large amounts without worry. What is "Poor man's ginseng"? I'm speaking of the common, ordinary dandelion, that wonderful harbinger of spring which dots lawns with its bright yellow flowers. How sad and foolish that Americans spend millions of dollars annually buying the latest poisons for wiping out dandelion. Why do we pay dearly for expensive imported ginseng, and then poison our nutritious dandelions?
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaf contains 7,000 I.U. of vitamin A per ounce. By contrast, lettuce contains 1,200 I.U. of vitamin A per ounce, and carrot contains 1,275 I.U. of vitamin A per ounce. A USDA analysis of dandelion leaf shows that it contains 187 mg. of calcium, 66 mg. of phosphorus, 397 mg. of potassium, 35 mg. of vitamin C, and 76 mg. of sodium per 100 grams.
Although dandelion is originally from Greece, it quickly naturalized throughout North America where the American Indians used it for food and medicine. Ancient Russian home medicine practitioners refer to dandelion as "Life Elixir," and it is widely used for liver treatment, digestive disturbances, and as an expectorant and sedative.
Taking advantage of the nutritional qualities of dandelion is simple. You eat the young leaves raw in salad, and you can steam the greens as a cooked vegetable. Since dandelion leaves become bitter as they mature, only the youngest leaves of each season are used in salad; due to its rubber content, dandelion has been used as a "binder" for turkey stuffing, meatloaf, walnut loaf, etc.
The carrot-like taproot of dandelion can be dug, washed, steamed, and served like a vegetable. The root can also be sliced thin and served in salads if it is still young enough so that it lacks both bitterness and fibrousness. Large, older roots can be used for making a dandelion coffee substitute. Dry and roast the roots. Grind the roots, and then slowly roast again until the roots become chocolate in color. Then percolate as you would coffee grounds.
Dandelion is a mild diuretic and a mild laxative. The fresh leaves are used by herbalists for skin diseases, diabetes, pancreas and spleen problems, and fever. The root is a tonic, mild laxative, and diuretic. Dandelion roots were included in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1831 to 1926.
According to a study published in 1990 in the Berkeley Wellness Letter, dandelion greens are a rich source of beta carotene. (Beta carotene is one of a large group of substances called carotenoids.) It used to be thought that the benefits of beta carotene were due to its conversion to vitamin A, but research suggested that beta carotene itself is the more potent protector against cancer. Numerous animal studies have suggested that beta carotene can defend against tumors and enhance the immune system. At least 70 studies on humans concluded that humans who don't eat enough fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids have an increased risk of cancer; lung cancer in particular. One large study, presented at the London conference by Dr. George Comstock of Johns Hopkins University, found that individuals with low levels of beta carotene in the blood had a far greater risk of developing lung cancer as well as melanoma, a lethal form of skin cancer.
Interestingly, in the published report, there was an accompanying chart listing dandelion greens as the richest source of beta carotene: one cup of the cooked greens yields 8.4 mg. Yet, in spite of this, not a single mention of dandelion was made in either the headline or the article. One large carrot contains 6.6 mg. of beta carotene, and so carrots were mentioned in the headline, and the article emphasized that "Mom was right! It is good for you to eat your carrots." While we have no quarrels with eating carrots, this was a prime example of prejudice against "weeds". When dandelion is found to be the richest source of beta carotene, it is virtually ignored in the reporting.
Since some beta carotene is destroyed by cooking (the longer you cook, the more is destroyed); the beta carotene content of dandelion and other foods are highest if consumed raw.
According to herbalist Gene Matlock, dandelion is an excellent tonic for the liver. He states, "Dandelion is probably a thousand times greater than ginseng, but it is scorned for being so common and prolific."
In her book, Indian Herbalogv of North America, Alma Hutchens writes that "Herbalists use dandelion more generally than any other herb as it combines well with other herbal preparations for the liver and is mild, wholesome, and safe. The natural nutritive salt in dandelion is 28 parts sodium; this type of organic sodium purifies the blood and destroys the acids therein."
In his book, Back to Eden, Jethro Kloss states that "Anemia is caused by the deficiency of nutritive salt in the blood," and he recommends dandelion to counteract this deficiency.
During World War II, dandelion was used as a rubber source. The fresh plant contains one percent rubber and the dried plant contains 16 to 17 percent rubber. Specially cultivated dandelion (such as the Russian species, T. koksaghya), can yield as high as 20 percent rubber. When, during World War II, the Germans invaded Poland (where dandelion grows best), they were amazed to see mile after mile of dandelion fields under cultivation for rubber production. They thereafter used the dandelions for their own purposes throughout the rest of the war. Today, some dandelion is still cultivated in Poland, as well as sections of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.
Dandelion, commonly found in lawns and fields, is easy to identity. It first appears as a ground-hugging basal rosette of leaves often reaching up to nine inches in diameter. The flowers mature into
a cottony tuft of winged-seeds that children love to blow into the wind. Dandelion is perhaps
America's most commonly-recognized weed.
In spite of all its virtues, you can inspect the broad array of persistent herbicides developed to kill dandelions at any nursery or garden supply shop. Lawns and fields thus poisoned are your greatest threat when you forage for dandelion.