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Spring 2011

Urban Jungle

The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark      

April 19, 2011

Dandelions: Eat your weeds

People who curse the dandelions dotting their manicured lawns this spring may not recognize a friend when they stomp on one.

A dandelion's tap root can penetrate and loosen hard-packed soil, pulling up nutrients from as deep as 15 feet, making essential minerals available to other lawn plants, including turf.

Brought to North America by European colonists, dent-de-lion (French for "lion's tooth," named for its fang-shaped leaf margins) has been harvested for use as food and medicine for thousands of years.

Less bitter if picked before the flowers appear, leaves are rich in iron, calcium, zinc, potassium and vitamins A, B complex, C and D. Used medicinally as an appetite stimulant and to support kidney function, leaves are a nutritive medicine, acting as a diuretic without depleting the body of potassium.

Torn apart and eaten raw in salads, the bittersweet yellow flowers contain antioxidants. They can also be fermented into dandelion wine.

Roots are boiled or sauteed for eating, or roasted to make a coffee substitute. Dandelion root may improve gastro- intestinal, liver and gallbladder function, but shouldn't be used with an irritable stomach or bowel.

Dandelion root may even help fight cancer. In a recent study on skin cancer cells grown in the laboratory, scientists from the University of Windsor in Canada demonstrated that an extract from the root causes malignant melanoma cells to die — without damaging healthy cells. Authors of the study suggest that the effect is produced not by a single chemical agent but by the combined effects of numerous compounds found in the root.

Making melanoma self-destruct

In vitro human melanoma cells suffered apoptosis, or programmed cell death, after exposure to dandelion root extract.

Dandelion root extract's effect on malignant melanoma cells.

SOURCES: University of Maryland Medical Center; Steve Brill; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; "The Efficacy of Dandelion Root Extract in Inducing Apoptosis in Drug-Resistant Human Melanoma Cells," Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Common Dandelion: Taraxacum officinale