A Bunch of Dandelions: An Autumn Cleanse for Health

Life is a curious journey, especially if we’re paying attention. 

It was All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween as we have come to call it. In the pagan calendar, along with Beltane, six months opposite on the calendar wheel, the veil between worlds is said to hang at its thinnest this night—an opportunity when spirits and intentions easily cross between the realms. It has long been held as a supremely potent time for ritual, magic and intention.

Recently returned from travels to New Mexico, I was feeling unwell. Grudgingly walking the dogs in our quiet, tree-filled neighborhood by the sea, bundled in a jacket and favorite French scarf, feeling poorly and tired, I barely noticed my beautiful environment. How unlike me to not follow the noisy gossip of Jay, nor the raspy jokes of Crow on a high pine branch, nor even hear the jovial family conversations of Woodpecker as I stroll. Mostly I just wanted to get back home to lie down. 

Healer, heal thyself.

After more than two decades working in the healing arts, I’m fairly well in tune with my body.

So-called ‘alternative’ health has been a life path for me, an ongoing journey of seeking wellbeing, transformation and balance. I embraced long ago that food is medicine, that it has a direct effect on our health, and that we are, indeed, what we eat. Two decades ago, I studied and taught Ayurveda (the ancient healing system of India, a sister science of yoga), and those principles still flavor how I cook, eat and live. The years of wrestling with my blood sugar issues have educated me about my own biochemistry; similarly, in my struggles with depression I’ve learned firsthand that what I eat—or avoid eating, like sugar—along with exercise and being in nature, is the single most important factor in keeping my little blue boat of the psyche upright.

autumn_treePlants, in particular, hold powerful medicine and are hugely effective in helping us shift and balance our biochemistry. I’ve often mused that if I was going to start a new career at some point—as I’ve done several times in my life—I would study to be an herbalist. (At this point, I’ll probably stick with my writing thing, but I would still love to learn and apprentice to the plants, if only for my own well being and personal evolution.)

In the past couple of weeks, as autumn has swept onstage dressed in a gown of painted leaves and a shawl of cool, windy weather, I’ve found myself feeling increasingly out of balance on the physical level: a sense of discomfort and congestion in intestines, liver and (perhaps) gall bladder. Chest and lungs, too. In Eastern medicine, spring and autumn are the ideal and important times to undertake a personal cleanse—a reset of the body systems. Autumn, in particular, is the juncture when we most easily go out of balance (particularly those with a constitution high in Vata, the dosha of wind and ether elements).

Home now from dear Taos and Santa Fe, feeling distinctly ‘off’ inside, I realized that it has been over a year since my last detoxification or fasting (something that I typically undertake yearly, at least). Definitely time for a cleanse, I decided, especially with further travels looming near. I needed something more than the golden turmeric-infused honey I was eating daily (one of nature’s strongest antibiotics). Listening to my body, what I felt was a craving for loads of fresh, raw greens.

Already I steer clear of wheat, sugar, and meat, and other than a bit of organic butter (or ghee) from grass-fed cows, there is essentially no dairy in my diet. I decided that my emphasis would be upon raw greens (though Ayurveda would lightly steam them), quinoa (warming and alkalizing), blended soups of raw vegetables, green ‘superfood’ drinks, raw probiotic-rich kimchi (a Korean-style sauerkraut), and my homegrown kombucha, the slightly fermented tea that delivers a rich source of probiotics. Acidifying coffee is rare for me, so that is an easy thing to continue avoiding on a cleanse, and much as I adore wine it proves increasingly difficult due to its residual sugars. Best to skip that, too.

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My chest felt tender, my insides cramped, inflamed, yellow and bilious. Walking the Whippets in a foggy malaise, suddenly my attention was grabbed by a large clump of dandelions alongside the road that the boys had stopped to sniff (and subsequently pee on). Those dandelions were glowing—distinctly different from every other living thing around them. It was like someone turned them into a neon-sign. I could almost hear them calling to me, singing for my attention.

Among herbalists (especially those attuned to the spiritual side), there is a belief that when a person is unwell, the plant that he/she most needs will appear in his/her environment—even if it has not been there before. It’s also not unusual for the sick person, perhaps noticing the plant for the first time, to feel a strange allurement towards it.

Enter the singing, shouting, electric weeds. Continuing my walk with the boys, I decided that the odd moment with the lion-tooth greens (old English ‘dandelion’ evolved from the French ‘Dent-de-Lion’, tooth of the lion) grabbing my attention was a mysterious message. Perhaps they should be part of my cleanse?

When I got home, feeling certain that I had been signaled by a plant—it was All Hallow’s Eve, after all, and stranger things have happened in my life—I researched the healing properties of dandelions. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that they are perhaps the preeminent liver cleanser (equally for gall bladder), as well as being noted for their bitter constituents ability to remove large amounts of toxins from the GI tract and kidneys. High in vitamins, calcium, potassium and other trace minerals (particularly the root), Dandelion is also useful for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and unstable blood sugar levels. 

Furthermore, dandelion greens are an excellent source of prebiotics (not to be confused with probiotics), the insoluble inulin fibers that feed the microflora of our gut—which more and more studies confirm are essential to our overall health; perhaps even our brain health, as explored in the recently released, Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain for Life, by David Perlmutter (author of Grain Brain). Microbes, which outnumber our own cells by at least 10:1, are essential for our overall health, and the modern American diet does little to nourish these essential symbiotic communities within us. Almost all of us are severely lacking in prebiotics.

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Later that afternoon at Whole Foods Market, I placed a damp bunch of screamingly fresh, locally-grown organic dandelion greens into my basket. Until just an hour previous, I had little knowledge of them other than their mild popularity in salads, and that their bitterness probably held some nutritional and medicinal value.

It seemed slightly absurd to pay $3.64 for a bunch of something that I could forage wild, a ‘weed’ that most people would be happy to have removed from their lawn or garden (though we’re thankfully short of lawns around here). Yet I lacked a good, pesticide-free source of them and, neon lit or not, I didn’t fancy the ones that my dogs (and probably every other canine in the neighborhood) had urinated on. So, into my basket went the bitter greens. In the herbs and teas section, from a glass canister I scooped some dried, organic dandelion root to make into an herbal infusion, and perhaps a tincture, as well. 

dandelion_tea

A dandelion root infusion and bitter greens.

Home, I tossed half the bunch of Lion’s Tooth into the Vitamix blender, along with a chopped apple, fresh ginger and turmeric root, a dollop of coconut oil, juice of half a lemon, and a good glug of coconut water—a variation of the green drink I normally make with kale and cilantro—to which I add kombucha tea after it’s all blitzed together. The rest of the greens I ate later as a salad for my dinner, tossed with some organic pumpkin seeds, goat cheese, and little red, juicy jewels of cherry tomatoes.

I have been practically living on dandelions all week—in ‘tea’ (as Americans like to call our herbal infusions), crisply bitter salads, medicinal green drinks—and the difference in my overall wellbeing is startling. Nearly all the congestion and discomfort I was feeling has disappeared, and I am once again feeling light, clear, energized and positive.  

Healer, heal thyself … with a little help from some friends. Green, quietly singing ones.

That I should feel ‘called’ by a bunch of roadside dandelions and somehow sense that they were important for my healing in that moment, honestly, this doesn’t seem strange to me at all. It’s simply the way my life works. Actually, everyone’s life functions in such manner, it’s just that most people aren’t paying attention or heeding our intuition. 

Maybe it had nothing to do with those green weeds signaling me, that instead it was merely some deeper (or higher) part of myself knowing what was needed. Perhaps. Whatever the case, what I know is that every cell in the body has consciousness and can communicate, and everything is connected to everything else in a quantum web that defies logic and ‘knowing’. And there are myriad ways messages come through. 

Personally, I don’t believe in coincidence, but I have strange faith in mystery.

In our anthropocentric superiority we look down on them, yet I think that the plants are here to help us. In the world of the shaman, medicine man, or curandero, each plant-spirit has a unique song that, if the healer knows it, activates the deepest healing possible for that particular ‘medicine’. I have no song or chant to offer, just a simple gratitude for the mysterious currents of life and my ongoing journey towards health and healing.

Thank you, Dandelion. Blessed be.

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