Some people see a metaphor. There’s a story in “Chicken Soup for the Soul” about a father so intent on pulling out dandelions by the root that he’s putting off his promised fishing trip with his daughter. The story ends with her telling him to make a wish and blowing the seeds of hundreds of dandelions into the air. He realizes the impossibility of his task and takes her fishing.
Digging out dandelions has been a favorite suburban pastime for decades. Pesticides have made the job easier (unless you’re concerned about the impact of chemicals on your lawn). Pesticide companies spend millions of dollars creating an image of sad, vagrant dandelions skulking dejectedly down the road after being evicted by their product. An organic lawn-care site mentions a safer way to get the job done: pour boiling water on the plants.
If you listen to herbalist Susun Weed talk about the dandelion, you’ll quickly realize she sees something very different.
“Doctor Dandy Lion [thick French accent on the name] is what we are told to call him,” Weed said. “From dandelion wine to dandelion flower fritters, from dandelion root tincture to dandelion flower oil, the uses of dandelion are too many for any one person to enumerate. Entire books have been written about dandelion.”
Weed’s book, Healing Wise: The Big Green Herbal for Everyone, introduces seven plants, including dandelion. Each gets between 25 and 30 pages. “Just learn one plant at a time! Dandelion is a wonderful plant to start with if you want to learn herbal medicine,” the Saugerties resident advised in a recent conversation. “Dandelion is so generous. You can use any part of it, harvest it at any time of the year, and it will make good food and good medicine.”
That willingness to see things differently is echoed in Weed’s forthcoming book, Down There, Sexual and Reproductive Health — the Wise Woman Way. Baby Boomers, she said, were taught that “doctor knows best.” But as we get older and are nagged by an increasing number of ailments, some of which are life-threatening and others merely annoying, we begin to rethink our expectations. And we’re less pleased by our doctor’s recommendation of long-term medication and/or surgery.
If you watch television commercials, you see an endless parade of happy couples in matching bathtubs, a morose middle-aged man followed by his livelier, more testosterone-rich shadow, and copper-pipe women worried about their bladder control. Is medication always the best answer? Is surgery the only option? Isn’t there another way?
Susun Weed is an expert in the field of herbal medicine. She has written for the Textbook of Botanical Medicine for Women and the Routledge Encyclopedia of Women’s Studies. She offers an extensive training program at her Wise Woman Center, oversees four different correspondence courses, offers online courses, and has taught herbal medicine at universities in this country and abroad.
Her view of the dandelion embraces a tradition of folk knowledge that has been supported by modern research.
According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (http://nccam.nih.gov/), “Dandelion is a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium and zinc. Its leaves are often used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches and teas. The roots can be found in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make certain wines. Historically, dandelion was most commonly used to treat liver diseases, kidney diseases, and spleen problems. Less commonly, dandelion was used to treat digestive problems and skin conditions. Today, dandelion is used by some as a liver or kidney tonic,” as a diuretic, and for minor digestive problems.”
Weed started studying plants in the Sixties. She is finding that interest in herbalism is growing quickly. “Herbal medicine is more, shall we call it, mainstream,” she explained. “More acceptable to people. I was actually more than a decade ago thrown out of a conference for saying that buying local was more important than buying organic. Just because it says it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s good!”
She provided an example. “The organic control for blossom rot on apple trees is copper sulfate,” she said. “After spraying your apple trees with copper sulfate for 25 years, there’s so much copper sulfate in the soil that you can no longer eat the apples from the tree. The non-organic control is a fungicide which bio-degrades in 36 hours.”
The knowledge she’s amassed, not only in her books but in more than 4000 pages of material at her website, http://www.susunweed.com/, and shared in her courses and speeches is staggering. And she’s still learning.
“I, like any writer, keep copious files,” she said. “Because, truthfully, I usually have anywhere from ten to 13 book projects going on at any one time. I started collecting information for my book on the uterus more than ten years ago. And as I realized it was going to get more extensive, I started expanding my files.”
And then she has her students. “They’re so wonderful, so intelligent. I offered my students the opportunity to read this manuscript and make comments. And they did – particularly on the sections that they knew a great deal about. So a great many people have contributed their experiences and their expertise, and I’m able to include a lot of those stories.”
Weed says she’s added little help boxes with each new topic, quick summaries of what’s in each chapter. “The help boxes I hope will make it really easy for people to find and use the information,” she said.
Weed is not dismissive of so-called “modern” medicine, which, she says, has its place. But she believes that wellness requires taking charge of our own health, researching options, incorporating herbal remedies, complementary modalities and, if needed, choosing pharmaceuticals or surgery in an informed and empowered way.
“This is the kind of medicine that I want to see more of,” she said. “The understanding that wherever we start from is perfect and wherever we start from, we can be more powerful in terms of our own health. With very simple changes, we can be healthier. And the very first step toward being healthy is drinking nourishing herbal infusions. I am so passionate about the infusions and my desire to have everyone experience the benefits of them that I offer an online course teaching everyone how to use them at no charge.”++
How To Make an Herbal Infusion
A tea is a small amount of fresh or dried herb brewed for a short time. An infusion, a large amount of (not fresh) herb brewed for a long time, extracts more nutrients than a tincture and more medicinal qualities than a tea. Most infusions are short-lived; they stay good for only two or three days.
Prepare infusions in jars with tight lids. A teapot is not as good, but acceptable.
Usual dose of infusion is one to two cups (250-500 ml) a day, taken hot, chilled, or at room temperature. Infusions may be seasoned with sweeteners, tamari, milk, or any other additions that please your taste. Infusions can also be used as soup stocks, bath waters, hair rinses, facial washes.
This is Weed’s Bonnie Bony Brew:
Nettle (Urtica dioica), 1 ounce/30 grams, dry; horsetail (Equisetum arvense), 1 tablespoon/2 grams, dry; and sage, (Salvia officinalis), 1 tablespoon/2 grams, dry
Crush sage between palms and drop into a quart or liter container with the two other herbs. Fill jar with water just off the boil, cap tightly, and set in a cozy corner to brew for at least four hours (overnight is fine). Strain. Drink as is or heat and add honey. It’s also nice iced. You can substitute red clover, oatstraw or raspberry for the nettles.
Each cup contributes as much calcium as a cup of milk.++