Ignored Herb, Valuable Vegetable

Ignored Herb, Valuable Vegetable

Dandelion, despite its health benefits, has been reduced to a poor man’s plate

Aarif Maqbool

Common name: Dandelion
Kashmiri: Handd
Botanical name: Taraxacum officinale
Family: Asteraceae (Sunflower family)

Dandelion is a perennial plant growing almost everywhere, which can reach 38 cm in height. This plant has only basal leaves. Each leaf is toothed or lobed. The flower-heads, yellow in colour, are up to 4.5 cm wide. The florets number 40 to more than 100 per head. They are yellow or orange-yellow in colour. Blooms first appear in mid-spring and continue into early winter. Seeds are enclosed singly within fruiting bodies and are attached to a long slender stalk that terminates in a parachute-like structure called a pappus. Seeds are transported in the wind. Euell Gibbons in his classic book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, devotes four pages to the many tasty dishes that can be made from this common plant. Rather foolishly, homeowners and gardeners spend on toxins to eliminate dandelions from their lawns.

This familiar cosmopolitan weed grows in moist/grassy areas such as lawns, parks, and meadows. If you don’t know where dandelions grow, you may need to go outside more often.

Edible Uses
The leaves (especially the young ones) can be boiled, steamed, or eaten fresh as a delicious, although bitter, potherb. Parboiling (boiling in one or more changes of water) or soaking the leaves in baking soda decreases the bitter flavour. The flowers are used to make a beautiful, golden summer wine. The flowers also can be eaten raw, or can be battered and fried. The roots can be dried and toasted to make a coffee-dark tea. The flower buds can be pickled as a caper and are delicious. The roots can be cooked and eaten as a root vegetable, and can apparently be pickled, although I have not personally tried doing this.

10 possible health benefits

Providing antioxidants: Antioxidants work to neutralise the harmful effects of free radicals. The human body produces free radicals naturally, but they cause harm by accelerating aging or the progression of certain diseases. Dandelions contain beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage. Research shows that carotenoids such as beta-carotene play a vital role in reducing cell damage. The flower of the dandelion is also full of polyphenols, which are another type of antioxidant.
Reducing cholesterol: Dandelions contain bioactive compounds that may help lower a person’s cholesterol. One study from 2010 examined the effects of dandelion consumption in rabbits. It found that dandelion root and leaf could help lower cholesterol in animals on a high-cholesterol diet. Another study in mice found that dandelion consumption reduced total cholesterol and levels of fat in the liver. The researchers concluded that dandelion might one day help treat obesity-related non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Regulating blood sugar: There is some evidence to suggest that dandelions contain compounds that may help with regulating blood sugar. In 2016, some researchers proposed that dandelion’s antihyperglycemic, antioxidative, and anti-inflammatory properties may help treat type-2 diabetes.
Reducing inflammation: Some studies indicate that dandelion extracts and compounds may help reduce inflammation in the body. In a 2014 study, researchers found that chemicals present in dandelions had some positive effects on reducing inflammatory responses.
Lowering blood pressure: There is little research to support the use of dandelion for lowering blood pressure. However, dandelions are a good source of potassium. There is clinical evidence that shows that potassium can help reduce blood pressure. For example, research has found that people taking a potassium supplement saw a reduction in their blood pressure, especially if they already had high blood pressure.
Aiding weight loss: Some researchers have proposed that dandelion could help people achieve their weight loss goals. This is based on the plant’s ability to improve carbohydrate metabolism and reduce fat absorption. A small study of mice found that chlorogenic acid, a chemical present in dandelions, may help reduce weight gain and lipid retention.
Reducing cancer risk: Some limited, but positive, research has indicated that dandelion may help reduce the growth of certain types of cancer. So far, studies have looked at dandelion’s impact on cancer growth in test tubes and found that it may help with slowing the growth of colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and liver cancer. One study examining cancer growth in a test tube determined that dandelion extract may help reduce the growth of liver cancer.
Boosting the immune system: There is growing evidence that suggests that dandelions can help boost the immune system. Researchers have found that dandelions show both antiviral and antibacterial properties. For example, one 2014 study found that dandelions help limit the growth of hepatitis B in both human and animal cells in test tubes.
Aiding digestion: Some people use dandelion as a traditional remedy for constipation and other digestion issues. A study looking at animal digestion indicated that some chemicals present in dandelions helped improve the digestive system. The study saw a reduction in the resistance in food moving to rodents’ small intestines.
Keeping skin healthy: Some research indicates that dandelion may help protect the skin from sun damage. Ultraviolet (UV) light causes considerable damage to the skin and contributes to skin aging. A 2015 study on skin cells in a test tube found that dandelion could reduce the impact of one type of damaging UV light. Protecting the skin from UV damage can help a person look younger for longer.

Highly Nutritious value
In terms of nutritional content, the dandelion patch in your backyard can join the ranks of the rest of your vegetable garden. From root to flower, dandelions are highly nutritious plants, loaded with vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Dandelion greens can be eaten cooked or raw and serve as an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K. They also contain vitamin E, folate and small amounts of other B vitamins.
Dandelion greens provide a substantial amount of several minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
The root of the dandelion is rich in the carbohydrate inulin, which is a type of soluble fibre found in plants that supports the growth and maintenance of a healthy bacterial flora in your intestinal tract.

Supplement in time of Covid-19
Problems in food availability in Kashmir are rising due to limited supply from other states. Dandelion can be used as an effective local supplement, an alternate vegetable. It has rich nutritious value and also medicinal qualities. It grows everywhere and is cosmopolitan in nature. Just wander towards and into the hills, and it will surround you.

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