Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 27, 2022

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Gardeners, eat thy enemy

Why make war on dandelions when you can braise them instead?

The tastiest garden-variety dandelions come out in spring*. The younger the leaves are, the more tender and less bitter their taste. This is when they’re best in sandwiches and salads. They’re also delicious stir-fried and seasoned with sesame seeds.

Keep it up and you’ll be proudly foraging your weekend lunches. But by July, their leaves are tougher and seriously bitter. You’ll want to treat them as you would kale — chop them up and serve them sautéed with garlic, onions and olives or capers.

Like most bitter greens, they’re nutritionally packed, in this case with vitamins A, B, C and D, as well as iron, potassium and zinc. The leaves act as a diuretic — which explains why Newfoundlanders call them pissabed and the French pissenlit. You’ll need to check for interactions not just with diuretics but other meds: antacids, blood thinners, lithium or diabetes drugs. Chinese dandelion can interfere with some antibiotics.

The petals taste of honey when picked young and become bitter with age. Unopened buds are the best: try them raw or steamed. As soon as the flowers have bloomed, separate the petals to wash them and sprinkle them over salads. If you’re adventurous, make a dandelion risotto, instead of a Swiss Chard version, or risotto alla pissenlit, made with the leaves.

Then there’s the roots. Dig them up, cut off the stringy stuff, wash, chop, oven roast and grind the bark-like bits into a tea. Lovers of the beverage call it dandelion coffee, but that may be setting yourself up for a taste letdown. It’s dandelion tea.

Dandelion roots have been used medicinally since the 10th century for everything from liver, kidney, digestive disorders and wart issues. Of course, none of this has ever been tested on humans. Until recently.

After seeing that the roots killed cancerous cells of chronic monocytic myeloid leukemia (CMML) — leaving healthy cells alive — a research team at the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre in Ontario launched a 30-person trial, due to be completed this year. Participants were all terminally ill and hadn’t responded to any other therapy.

Should this trial prove successful, and the group furthers its research, well, who knows… that unweeded garden you’ve come to despise may one day be a life-saving goldmine. Then you can pat yourself on the back for being such a good gardener.

*Never eat dandelions that grow on roadsides, in parks or lawns that may have been treated with chemicals.

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Showing 1 comments

  1. On March 18, 2014, raquel feroe said:
    Brilliant article. Us docs need to keep advocating for cosmetic pesticide bans. In Alberta alone there are over 1000 acute poinsenings per year (most children under 6). No need to spray "weeds". Thanks for a lovely article.

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