Local Spotlights: Dandelion Root
“One man’s weed is another man’s feast.” I took the liberty to adapt the common idiom of junk and treasure, to fit my topic of the dandelion root! The cute yellow flower that invades our lawns and brightens our fields each spring offers so many rich benefits to our health. While foraging this plant does not get any more local, the blustery crystals falling outside today remind me that the season for such escapades is past. Thus, I want to highlight the root of this plant, which you can find all winter at Alfred’s gem of a grocery store, The Rogue Carrot. Nestled in one of the store’s corners, are beautiful shelves of bulk spices and teas. There you will find the dandelion root which can be prepared for consumption in numerous ways. It can be mixed with chicory root for a nourishing coffee substitute, added to your smoothies, prepared in a homemade tincture; or, my personal favorite, steeped into a soothing tea. However you choose to enjoy it, the health benefits are copious. First of all, the root provides a bitter flavor--which plays an important role in our body. With the onset of industrialization, natural, satiating, and healing fat was removed from many food products and sugar was added to replace it. As a culture, we have increasingly grown accustomed and dependent upon sweet flavors. One of the negative consequences of this shift is a decrease of bitters from our palette. Our bitter taste receptors (T2Rs) not only signal the flavor of food to our brain, but also trigger reflexes in our autonomic nervous system to help coordinate the secretion of digestive juices. What does this mean? When you eat or drink a bitter flavor, your digestion is wonderfully supported! Fascinatingly, these bitter taste receptors are not only on our tongue. They are found in numerous places on the body including the cells that line our intestinal mucous membrane. There they signal the release of hormones involved in appetite regulation (making us feel more full) and insulin sensitivity.  T2R’s in our airways support our immune system to safely handle and balance microbes (bacteria, viruses, etc.). They are also abundant on the heart, where their activation may assist in regulating blood flow, particularly after a meal. The root’s bitter flavor alone improves the digestive, blood sugar handling, cardiovascular, and immune system. But additionally, dandelion root has an impressive nutrient profile of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals which nourish many systems. For example, the antioxidants break down free radicals in the body, preventing heart disease and cancer.  The root is also a great source of magnesium and zinc, which boost our immune system and promote healthy skin. Last of all, dandelion root works as a natural diuretic, reducing water storage and supporting the liver's role of detoxification. Importantly, we must remember this to stay well hydrated: for every cup of diuretic you drink daily, you need to add an additional cup of water onto your daily water needs. (Minimum daily water intake equals ½ your body weight in ounces). Are you ready to give it a try? Whether you are yet accustomed to bitter flavors or not, the introduction of this root will leave you deeply nourished. Prepare it plain, (no added sweetener!) and enjoy the benefits of this gentle bitter flavor.  Rozengurt, Enrique, and Catia Sternini. “Taste receptor signaling in the mammalian gut.” Current opinion in pharmacology 7.6 (2007): 557-562.  Sternini, Catia, Laura Anselmi, and Enrique Rozengurt. “Enteroendocrine cells: a site of ‘taste’in gastrointestinal chemosensing.” Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity 15.1 (2008): 73.  Workman, Alan D., et al. “The role of bitter and sweet taste receptors in upper airway immunity.” Current allergy and asthma reports 15.12 (2015): 72.