I was going to call this the Witch’s Medicine Cabinet, as at some points of my nutritional career I have been labelled as such. Once in my advisory centre when we lived in Ireland in the 90s, a male client arrived in need of a complete lifestyle makeover prior to a heart operation. I asked him how he had heard of me and he ruefully responded…. ‘My doctor told me to get myself down to the witch at the dietary clinic and get some weight off before the operation.. he also told me not to say he recommended you!’
What is Herbal Medicine
Herbal medicine has been part of our ancient and more modern history for thousands of years. Unfortunately there is no money to be made by the pharmaceutical companies when only a plant is processed. Therefore in the last twenty years particularly there has been a focused effort, at a very high level, to downgrade all alternative therapies including herbal remedies to quackery. We can only now suggest that an alternative therapy MAY help you.
I have met many therapists over the years and the vast majority are professional, learned and dedicated men and women. Of course there are some who are in it for the money and are not worthy of the long and honourable tradition of healing. But you only have to read the headlines on both sides of the ocean to discover that doctors and other medical practitioners are not all they should be either!
Some of the statistics from the USA for 2020.. include the following
- Roughly 12,000,000 Americans are misdiagnosed each year.
- Medical errors cause an estimated 250,000 deaths in the United States annually.
- A little more than 4,000 surgical errors occur each year.
- It’s estimated that 7,000 to 9,000 patients die every year from medication errors.
Conservative estimates in the UK are that 12,000 plus patients die each year because of basic errors in their medical care. There are studies that put those impacted by bad diagnosis, incorrect prescribing of drugs and the side effects of those drugs on patients as several times that number. I think it is telling that the NHS has a provision of over £18billion to pay negligence claims and to support patients effected for their lifetimes.
There have been some cases of bad reactions to a herbal remedy, for example, St. John’s Wort can cause photo sensitivity, but I have seen more headlines about peanut, hair dye allergies and other similar causes for a reaction, than I have serious side effects from using high quality tinctures.
Which brings me to a commonsense warning about herbal medicines.
Herbal medicines should be treated with respect and should only be used if you have read all the contraindications, possible side effects and never with any prescribed medication unless you have cleared with your doctor first.
This is particularly important if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant as taking specific herbal medicines can cause harm.
Go to a qualified herbalist or if you buy over the counter on online read all the instructions beforehand or enclosed in the packet. I always buy the more expensive and professionally prepared tinctures and have stayed with that brand for the last twenty years.
Having established that; I want to introduce you to herbs that can be taken as a prepared tincture but also those that you can include in your diet which may improve and maintain your health.
I am kicking off the series with Dandelion..
This herb has been used medicinally, over the centuries, for a number of conditions that relate to the health of the blood. This includes anaemia, cholesterol problems, circulatory problems and diabetes. Additionally, it is a common component of detox complexes due to its diuretic properties and to help clear chest congestion, jaundice, rheumatic pain, gout, gallstones and insomnia.
It is an all-rounder and has enjoyed many different names in folklore. We know it most commonly as the Dandelion and are used to seeing its yellow flowers in the hedges and fields in the early summer. As children, most of us would have tried to tell the time by blowing on the puff-ball of seeds it produces in the autumn.
Its botanical name is Taraxacum officinalis and the name dandelion comes from the French dent de lion or lion’s teeth, a description of the distinctive serrated leaves of the herb. In Tudor times its diuretic properties were well known and it was given the more apt name of piss-in-the-bed. There were a number of superstitions surrounding the plant including its ability to foretell the number of years before a girl married and apparently if you saw the seeds being dispersed by the wind from the puff-ball rain was imminent. We have evidence that it was used medicinally since around 650 AD by the Chinese and it first appeared in European apothecaries in the late 15th century.
Today, dandelion is mainly used as a diuretic. Most chemical diuretics cause a loss of potassium but this is not the case when using dandelion. As potassium is vital for correct fluid balance in the body, taking dandelion is a safer way to reduce any excessive water retention. However, taking any diuretic to remove excess fluid should always be done with caution. Fluid is essential to life and if you force your body to excrete fluids on a continuous basis you will be losing critical minerals and salt too. Only use occasionally and if your water retention persists then do consult your GP as it could be the result of an underlying systemic problem.
The roots of the dandelion have traditionally been used in liver tonics. They are rich in Choline a B vitamin that prevents fat from being trapped in the liver. When the liver is blocked with fat, metabolism is affected and can lead to liver disease and elevated cholesterol levels.
Gallstones tend to be formed if the gall bladder does not completely empty of the bile it has produced. Dandelion improves both the production and the delivery of the bile and can be used as a preventative for people prone to this problem.
The herb also contains inulin which is a naturally occurring oligosaccharide (simple sugars linked together). Inulin is indigestible by enzymes that normally metabolise starch so it is not broken down into simple sugars (monosaccharides) that can cause fluctuating blood sugar levels. It has been used by diabetics to help regulate their blood sugar levels but should always be used under medical supervision. If you are losing weight, however, it will help reduce your sugar cravings in the first few weeks until your body has adjusted to a lower sugar intake. Quite frankly the taste will do that for you anyway!
If you are overweight dandelion will help re-balance the fluids in your body and get rid of excess amounts initially. One of the other problems associated with obesity is inefficient fat metabolism and as bile is essential for this process increasing its production will also contribute to a healthy weight loss.
If you suffer from a bacteria and flora imbalance in the intestines, such as an overgrowth of Candida Albicans, eating dandelion leaves can help. The herb is a very efficient prebiotic which stimulates the growth of healthy, probiotic bacteria in the gut. Other probiotic formulas in yoghurt and milk are subject to various chemical processes on their way to the intestines before they can be effective. The dandelion is indigestible until it reaches the gut so is a much more potent source of friendly bacteria.
How to include Dandelion in your diet.
You can pick dandelions from the hedgerows and use as a food or buy an herbal tincture from a health food shop.
There are a couple of restrictions. If you are currently taking prescribed medication such as diuretics, insulin or anti-coagulants you should not take without medical supervision as it may affect the potency of your drugs. Similarly, if you have already suffered from gallstones or a liver condition such as jaundice or hepatitis then you should take advice before using.
Dandelion as a food
Apart from being used as a medicine, blanched dandelion leaves can be used in salads or prepared in the same way as spinach and dried leaves have been used for many years to make beer. A word of warning before you dash off and include as a speciality dish for your next dinner party, it can cause wind problems – as it is not digested or processed until it reaches the intestines.
As a food dandelion offers a great nutritional package – Vitamins: A, folate, B6, C, E, and K. Minerals: Magnesium, copper, phosphorus, calcium, iron, potassium and manganese.
- Dandelion leaves picked from the hedgerow can be used as salad leaves but always remove the woody stems and wash very well. Apart from additional protein in the form of bugs, dogs for some reason love peeing on them!
- Apart from salads, you can throw into a soup pot with a vegetables and then blend for a lovely creamy soup.
- Cook like spinach and eat with rich meat dishes.
- Use raw in sandwiches with egg or avocado.
- Some hardy souls have ground the dried roots into a substitute coffee, but do not expect to see in Starbucks anytime soon!
- It does however; make a good tea although I tend to get from the health food shops as they usually have a high quality selection.
As a little word of warning – I suggest that you use the tincture and tea earlier in the day and also the leaves with lunch, as there is a good reason that in medieval times it was called piss-in-the-bed!
©Sally Cronin – Just Food for Health – 1998 – 2020
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2020
Your feedback is always welcome and if you do find that following any of the programmes that I have shared are beneficial then it would be great to hear about it.. you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.