One of my favorite herbs is known to many folks as a common, annoying weed. Each year this wonderful plant is sprayed with lawn chemicals, or dug out of the ground with a vengeance. I remember when I was a little kid, one of my jobs was to dig them up in order to keep our yard looking ‘well kept’. There was even a special gardening tool to dig them up: the dandelion digger.

All parts of the dandelion are medicinal or edible. The flowers can be found in stir fry recipes, or batter frying recipes. The leaves and roots have many uses, and prove once again that some of our best medicines grow abundantly in our backyards.

Dandelion root is bitter tasting, therefore it is good for the entire digestive system; the liver, small and large intestine, pancreas, colon, gall bladder. Anything bitter stimulates digestive processes by increasing the production of bile, which gets the digestive system ready to break down the food it is about to receive. The leaves are also somewhat bitter, but not as bitter as the root. Those of you with an Italian background may remember your grandparents eating salad with dandelion greens. It makes sense that dandelion greens or a green salad has a history of being eaten before a meal, it gets those digestive juices churning to digest the rest of the meal.

So, after drinking dandelion root tea regularly, your small intestine will have a better ability to absorb nutrients, metabolism of sugar will be stimulated, and your bowels may become more regular. It may also help clear up skin problems, as some skin problems are due to poor liver function.

Now, why all the interest in digestion? What we eat is very different, more refined, and much less fresh than what people ate thousands of years ago, of even hundreds of years ago. Most food today has less nutritive value, and is less flavorful, which means less of a work out for our digestive system. Food is likely to sit in our system longer before elimination, and this waste can actually be reabsorbed in your bloodstream, causing a host of problems from general fatigue to headaches to weight gain and malaise. Consider that vegetables used to be eaten right after picking, farm animals did not have hormones and antibiotics that are now fed to them, bitter root vegetables high in fiber were eaten more regularly. Even when we buy organic vegetables, they have often been sitting on a truck from California, and have lost some of their vitality and ‘life force.’ For those of us who also shop at big grocery stores, the produce is under fluorescent lights, which can’t be that good for the food.

All the more reason to use dandelion root, and other bitter herbs and food, to absorb all we can from our food, and optimize digestion and elimination. As a culture, bitters are almost entirely absent from our diet, and processed food is way too prevalent.

Now, I am just as guilty as the next person for not eating enough bitters. But as I have slowly increased my consumption of them, I have begun to crave and enjoy that taste. It energizes me, and I know it is because it wakes up my digestive system.

To prepare dandelion root tea, simmer one half to one teaspoon of the dry root for eight ounces of water. You can make a pint or two at a time and store it in your fridge; reheat if you want to before drinking. Drink about 4 ounces once or twice a day. You will make a grimace when you first start drinking it, and then the taste will grow on you. And, in order to get the benefit of the root; you must taste that bitter taste on your tongue. You can’t get away with taking a tablet. Sorry.

The leaf is bitter also, but has a less profound effect on digestion and liver function. I will talk more about the leaf in another article.

Other bitter foods to consider eating more of: mustard greens, kale, collards, chard, broccoli rabe. Bitter herbs are gentian, yellow dock, and burdock, just to name a few.

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