Beginning in Herbalism: Dandelion

Herbalism begins from the heart, from the memory of something lost.
Let’s get straight into how you can begin your journey into the ancient and powerful study and art of herbalism.

herbs are the peoples' medicine

Herbalism is hard and easy at once

First Steps:
Discovery and Identification

The first step in your journey to herbal mastery is going outside and looking for dandelion, or, Taraxacum officinale. If there’s no dandelion around, look a little further. It lives everywhere. Make sure it’s from a spot that you know wasn’t sprayed with herbicides/pesticides (most lawns spray).
You’ll want to ensure that what you’ve identified is really dandelion. Ideally you have a plant-identification book, but in case you don’t, check out the description from the Plato’s Garden Scavenger Hunt page (Hunt is still free and open to join).
So what you’re checking for is a hollow stalk/stem, a maximum height of 20 inches, only one flower per stalk, leaves in a basal form (growing from the ground, not up out of the stem), hairless, with toothed leaves in a general shape midway between oblong and oblanceolate (oblong is pill-shaped, oblanceolate is “lance”-like, or, pointed).

Observation & Harvesting

One of the most underrated (in practice) herbal skills is observation. Observe the plants that live around the dandelion you found, the direction of the sun and where the shade lays at different times of the day, etc. Do your best to observe the plant, communicate with it if you can, and its character will stick with you.

 When you’re sure you’ve properly identified the plant, and are sure that no herbicides have been sprayed in the area, it’s time to collect it. All of the plant is valuable, including its long taproot. The flower-heads are edible, and can be used in making mead, but medicinally the leaves and root are most used. The roots are best collected in the fall, when the energy has drained from the leaves into the ground; and the young leaves are best harvested immediately prior to flowering. But I wouldn’t worry about that, I would begin by finding a flowering dandelion at any time and harvesting the entire plant. With the flower blooming, it’ll be easier to identify, which is the most important thing, and medicinally you’ll still have a good result. The best time of day to harvest is in late morning, after the night dew has evaporated but before the sun is high.

To harvest, use a large shovel or a long trowel and attempt to get down as low beneath it as you can, because the taproot goes very deep and will snap off easily. If you get about 6 inches, that’s pretty good. The root will bleed a milky sap when you cut into it. Once you’ve harvested it, go on to read the next section. 

Washing & Drying

Get a big bowl of water and soak the plant in it, washing each piece individually. The root will need a bit of scrubbing with a cloth or sponge to get all the dirt off. 

For drying, there are two important factors to consider:
1. Sunlight: The sun has an acidic nature, which means that it will disintegrate dead plant matter and the medicinal chemicals we want, so you need to find a place to dry the herb out of the sun. (A few rays of sunlight is okay, but not direct exposure)
2. Air flow: Gentle air flow speeds up the drying process, similarly to how a hair-dryer dries hair- but slower- and will ensure the herbs don’t succumb to mold. In my experience this is especially important for leaves/flowers.

The best methods are dehydrators, on top of screens, or hanging the herbs upside down with a piece of twine. Find a place in your house where there is no direct sunlight, and which has a bit of air flow, and hang your herbs up there. You can also lay them out on a screen mesh, which will allow air to circulate under the herbs. Just remember to think about sunlight and air flow and the drying process should be successful. The roots are less picky about airflow, and if you don’t have a screen mesh, just leave them on a table somewhere out of the sun.

 

Processing

After about 1-4 weeks the herbs should be dry. You’ll know the leaves are dry when they crumble at the touch. If they aren’t crumbling easily, they’re not ready. You don’t want to store the herbs away before they’re dry because even a small amount of moisture can cause mold, even in a sealed mason jar. The root will snap easily when its ready.

How you know you’ve been successful in drying is: if the herb has maintained its color. The leaves should be a vibrant green color (for dandelion), and the root should be a similarly colored brown. If your dandelion leaves are a deep green color, be proud of yourself and know you’ve got some great herbs. 

For storage: find a mason jar, or a similar air-sealed glass container. If you don’t have one, a brown paper bag isn’t a bad option, but the herbs will lose their quality faster. 

Refrain from machine grinding / mortar and pestling the leafy herbs before storing them; only grind them for convenience, or immediately before using them. Maintain the leaves in their full form as long as possible to preserve their quality.  The same rule applies to the root, but because the root gets so hard in its dried form, it’s more practical to cut them up beforehand for the sake of your grinder (unless you have a mortar and pestle, which does the job well).

 

Enjoy

And just like that, you’ve connected with a beautiful piece of nature and created your own health-giving tea. That is what I call taking your power back, or taking your health into your own hands. It may seem like a small thing, but it isn’t. 

Even after studying herbs for 6+ years, dandelion remains one of my favorite herbs, not only because it’s everywhere, almost crying out for us to use it, but because of its tremendous medicinal actions.

The leaf is beneficial to the kidneys, and by its diuretic action (helps frequency and effectiveness of urination) it simultaneously stimulates the lymphatic system. The root is a mild, nonaddictive laxative, a hepatic (liver herb), a choloretic (increases bile production for better digestion), a digestive tonic, and an anti-rheumatic.
So here you have an herbal leaf and root which aid digestion and most of the eliminative channels. Its action is gentle, and has almost no side-effects or cautions. In a society like ours, it’s no coincidence that the flower-head is golden.

Dosage: 1 tablespoon of herb/cup. 1-3cups/day as you like. Pour boiling water over herbs (Infusion). Ideally the root is decocted (20 min simmered down in a pot on low-heat) or tinctured, but you’ll still get good medicinal action from an infusion and herbalists do it all the time.

Will it taste good on its own? Well, I personally like it mixed with other herbs for more flavour. It’ll still make you feel great, and your cells will love you for it. But if you want to enhance the taste and the herbal experience, you’ll need to learn about a few more herbs, and get out into nature and seek them out too. If you’re reading this in the summer of 2024, the Plato’s Garden Scavenger has just begun (see below)  

 


*(Cautions/contraindications: Allergy to asteraceae family,
gall-bladder/digestive obstructions, gall stones. Careful if you have
gallbladder problems / gall stones as it may force the gall stones out
too quickly or at an inopportune time.)

 

 
tea bags, herbal tea, chamomile-3817453.jpg
If you've read this entire article, well done! You're well on your way to increasing your knowledge of food and health. Please leave a comment if you have any additional details, comments, or questions. Follow us on one of our social media for video content and updates, and I hope to see you again in a later post by Plato's Garden. If you are seeking an herbalist, please take a look at our website. I'd love for you to book an appointment with us.
Justin McArthur
Herbalist

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