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Taraxacum officinale, also known as a common dandelion, is a perennial herb that belongs to Asteraceae family. It has a branched root, which goes almost vertically into the ground and reaches a length of 50 centimeters (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). On the external part of it, it is possible to see the channels for the transportation of latex in the form of dark rings if to use a magnifying glass. Its leaves are gathered into a basal rosette, and their size depends on the location where the dandelion grows. For example, in dry climate and the conditions of bright sunlight, their length usually does not exceed 15-20 centimeters (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). On the on the hand, in the wet and shadowy ditches, they often grow up to three times longer. By looking closely at the leaf of a dandelion, it is possible to notice that it has a groove in the middle (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Its purpose is to collect moisture for the plant.
The flower stalk of a dandelion is thick, leafless, cylindrical, and fistular, carrying a yellow-golden head on its top. However, it is not a single flower, but rather an inflorescence in the form of a basket. Each of its components represents a tube with the five fused petals and five stamens firmly attached to them. The inflorescence behaves differently during the day, depending on the weather conditions. In the afternoon and during the rain, they are closed, preventing pollen from getting wet. In case the air is dry, they open at 6 am and close at 3 pm (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Thus, dandelions can be used to tell the time.
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The fruit of a dandelion is a weightless dry achene that represents a long, thin rod attached to a feathered parachute, which can be easily blown away by the wind. It should be noted that the parachutes fulfill their purpose quite accurately as the achenes do not sway or roll over during the flight, always pointing downwards. Therefore, they land being ready to germinate. The minimum germination temperature ranges between two and four degrees (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). This process usually takes place at the end of April and throughout the summer, with the shoot turning into the overwintering plants. Dandelions blossom during May and June (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013), producing several thousands of the new achenes that are also being blown away by the wind.
Common dandelion grows in the countries of Europe and Asia, being brought to the other continents by the travelers and merchants as a food crop. Nowadays, it can be found throughout the entire Northern Hemisphere, except for the Arctic regions. In the United States, it grows almost everywhere. In particular, it can often be found in the disturbed habitats, with its seeds either being carried by the wind on its feathered parachutes or growing from a seed bank. In the second case, they retain their viability for several years (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Considering the fact that a single dandelion plant is capable of producing more than 5,000 seeds per year, it can be said that it spreads quickly over the new territories. Moreover, they can adapt to the majority of soils and do not require special temperature conditions to germinate. In turn, dandelion is capable of growing in meadows, orchards, vegetable gardens, abandoned places, and near the human dwellings. As a result, it is often perceived as a nuisance. Moreover, due to its resilience and the ability to spread quickly, it often causes a significant economic damage to the agricultural sector (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013), and thus is considered a weed.
People have been using dandelion for many centuries. For example, In the Western Europe, it has long been cultivated as a garden plant. At the same time, it is primarily valued for its medical properties. In particular, dandelion it used for the treatment of the chronic liver diseases and gallstones, atherosclerosis and inflammatory diseases of the kidneys. Dandelion is also used in case of intoxication. Moreover, it belongs to the category of the so-called bitter plants. As a result, it is used to improve the digestion (Hobbs & Gardner, 2013). Its reflex action is manifested in the irritation of the taste receptors on the tongue, which increases the activity of the food center of the medulla oblongata. In turn, this enhances the process of secretion of gastric juice, as well as the activity of the digestive glands. It also improves the general condition of the patient by normalizing metabolism and reducing the cholesterol level in the blood. Biologically active substances of dandelion also have diuretic, antispasmodic, laxative, expectorant, sedative, and diaphoretic properties.
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Still, the simplest and most common means of using dandelion is as a food crop. In cooking, it is consumed in fresh, dried, and canned form, and can be used to make a variety of hot and cold dishes, jam, candies, and even wine. The dried leaves and flowers of dandelion are used for brewing tea while its roots are one of the ingredients of coffee substitutes. Very young and tender dandelion leaves are used to prepare salads (Hobbs & Gardner, 2013), which improve metabolism and are useful in case of vitamin deficiency.
Preparation for the Medical Use
For medical purposes, it is possible to use the ground part of dandelion (i.e. flowers and leaves) and its root (Hobbs & Gardner, 2013). The time of harvest of specific parts of the plant must coincide with a period when it collects the maximum amount of vitamins and other beneficial trace elements. In particular, dandelion leaves are harvested before the flowering period (in May or early June) from the plants that have not yet had time to bloom (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). They are gently removed by hand or cut with scissors and placed in a pre-arranged trays or baskets, making sure that the grass is not wrinkled. The collected medical raw materials must be sorted to remove leaves damaged by the insects, the yellowed and rotten ones, as well as those possessing any other unwanted impurities.
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The inflorescences of dandelion are collected during their active blossoming in May and June. During harvesting, the preference must be given to young newly blossoming flowers from the plants that grow on a dry ground away from highways and industrial enterprises. Flower baskets are to be cut with scissors or picked by hands without sprinkling the pollen contained inside (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). The collected medical raw materials must be stacked in trays or baskets, again, making sure that they are not wrinkled. After harvesting, the flowers must be poured on to a flat surface (for example, the table) and checked for any impurities.
Dandelion roots are harvested in mid-spring (prior to the harvest of leaves) or autumn (September and October). The medical raw material is extracted from the soil, cleaned from the dirt, while the filamentous side branches are to be cut off. After that, the roots are washed in ice-cold tap water and dried in the draft prior to being cut into pieces about 15 centimeters long (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Finally, they must be dried in the open air until they stop producing latex (i.e. white juice) when being broken in two.
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After the described actions, the parts of dandelion can be used as in a fresh form. However, in this case, they cannot be stored for a long time as they might lose their properties. As a result, it is advisable to dry them. The dandelion roots must be spread in a thin layer on a thick fabric or cardboard and placed in the attic or a special dryer. To avoid the destruction of the active substances, the heating chamber temperature must not exceed 45 degrees (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). The flowers and leaves of dandelion can also be spread in a single layer on the mat and dried in a shadowy place under the trees or over the electric driers (in this case, the temperature must not exceed 50 degrees) (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Additionally, they can be left to dry in well-ventilated attics, balconies or verandas. During the drying process, the raw materials must be stirred regularly. The dried dandelion is to be stored in the dark, dry, and warm room with good ventilation. Roots are best to be put in the wooden crates while leaves and flowers can be kept in the paper bags, cardboard boxes or glass containers. The roots of the plants retain their unique beneficial properties for up to five years. At the same time, the leaves and inflorescence of dandelion can be used for cosmetic and medical purposes only within a year (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
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Treatments and Cures
The roots, leaves, and flowers of dandelion can be used for the treatment of the following diseases and conditions. In the case of a reduced appetite, it is required to prepare an infusion of a dandelion root (minced roots are held in the boiled cold water for at least eight hours). The patient must take it before meals (about a quarter of a cup). In case a person suffers from anemia or vitamin deficiency, it is advisable to make an infusion using the boiling water. The roots must soak in it for about two hours in a carefully wrapped up bottle or jar. After that, it must be filtered. The dosage and frequency of intake remain the same as in the case of the reduced appetite. This solution can also be used to improve the metabolism in general. Anemia and vitamin deficiency can also be treated by consuming juice made from the fresh dandelion leaves (a tablespoon must be taken before meals). In case of constipation, a dried dandelion root can be used as a laxative. In particular, it is necessary to grind it thoroughly (for example, in a coffee grinder) to obtain a fine powder, which must be taken three times a day (half of a tablespoon) (Hechtman, 2014).
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Dandelion can also be used to treat severe chill, which may result in flu. In this case, one must obtain the juice out of the entire fresh plant through its grinding, followed by its extraction with the addition of water. It should be noted that prior to this procedure, a plant should be soaked in cold salted water for about thirty minutes to reduce the bitterness of the final product. The obtained juice must be mixed with the alcohol in a ratio of 1:1. Alternatively, it is possible to prepare a tincture by holding dandelions in alcohol for three weeks in a dark place. The medicine must be taken one or two times a day. Fresh dandelion leaves can relieve pain from insect bites. In this case, they must be crushed, and applied to the site of the bite, with the dressing being changed every two or three hours. Finally, the decoction of the dried dandelion leaves can be used for the gentle cleaning of the dry skin. They must be boiled for fifteen minutes, while the obtained broth should be cooled and filtered (Hechtman, 2014). It is possible to increase the shelf life of the brew by adding glycerin.