What I love about the Algarve is that, even in the depths of winter, spring herbs abound.
Wonderful weeds like nettles, dandelion, cleavers and chickweed are so chock-full of therapeutic activity that I often do workshops centered around just these four herbs.
Each year around this time I write about a different spring herb – this year, it’s the trusty dandelion.
It’s the bitterness in dandelion that makes it so good for your digestion. Bitter herbs and foods stimulate the secretion of digestive juices, including stomach acid, bile and pancreatic fluid.
The root is used by herbalists the world over for treating digestive and liver-related conditions in clinical practice, such as jaundice and hepatitis, constipation, gallstones, migraines, a tricky menopause, PMS and endometriosis.
Hormonal conditions are helped by dandelion root due to its ability to enhance the elimination of hormones via the bowels, and support detoxification of environmental oestrogens via the liver.
Bitters also balance blood sugar levels, making them really useful when trying to detox after the festive season, or in conditions like type 2 diabetes. They open up the appetite and are given to those recovering from illness to boost digestive function, or older people who have lost enthusiasm for food.
Can you be-leaf it?
If the root isn’t available to you – it’s best to harvest them in autumn but they are nice and ripe until about March – dandelion leaves are another treasure trove of medicinal activity.
Sprinkle them on salads to give your tastebuds a bitter kick – they are full of minerals like potassium, calcium and folate as well as vitamins A, B, C and D.
The young leaves are particularly valued as an easy ‘spring detox’ remedy – traditionally speaking, they are herbal ‘depuratives’. This means they stimulate lymphatic flow, cleansing the blood of impurities and increasing elimination via the kidneys.
Dandelion has a true diuretic effect, making it a good herb for treating urinary tract infections, kidney stones, swollen ankles, fluid retention and mild high blood pressure. However, it also has a strengthening effect on the urinary system, and is effective for bed-wetting in children and incontinence in adults.
Dandelion’s ability to cleanse impurities from the blood and encourage the elimination of toxins via the digestive system means it is also indicated for chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and rheumatic complaints like arthritis and gout.
Getting to the root
Dandelion root, like all root plants, has a grounding, centering action, helping to focus those who are scattered or excitable.
Dandelion also strengthens, contributing to a stronger sense of self, increasing emotional resilience and giving a person the confidence to act or respond in the way they want to.
As a bitter, the leaf and root work on feelings of bitterness and hostility. Emotions like anger and resentment are held in the liver – dandelion helps to liberate these and release emotional stagnation.
Spring Detox Tea recipe
For an easy, fresh, vibrant spring detox tea, simply go outside and pick some dandelion leaves, cleavers, and stinging nettle leaves (use gloves). Put a handful of each into a teapot, pour on boiling water and let them steep for 10 minutes or more. Drink 2-3 cups a day.
This refreshing, cleansing, anti-inflammatory blend will ward off sinus congestion, hay fever, urinary infections and skin eruptions, and put a bit of spring oomph into your post-festive step.
By Poppy Burr
Poppy is a UK-trained medical herbalist practising in Praia da Luz. She offers consultations and treatment in Western Herbal Medicine, incorporating Functional Medicine testing and nutritional strategies where appropriate. For more information, visit poppytheherbalist.com.