19 December 2015

Dandelions may save your life

I love dandelions. In early spring, when the landscape is still grey-brown, and the streets are filthy from the accumulated sand and salt laid down over the winter, that sunny yellow face emerging hopefully from a crack in the sidewalk warms my bones.

Unfortunately not everyone agrees about dandelions. The City of Calgary is inclined to think of them as a noxious weed that should be eradicated, not appreciated. I have never understood why a sea of bright yellow flowers in a city park aggravates The City so. The plant is actually a beneficial garden companion: its taproot brings up nutrients for shallower-rooted plants and adds minerals and nitrogen to the soil. Yes, I agree, when the flowers burst into parachute balls for seed dispersal, they are less attractive, but a good sweep with the lawnmower takes care of that and green lawns are restored. Does it really matter if the green is grass or dandelions?

In addition to their charm, dandelions are a very useful plant, edible in their entirety. Their leaves are delicious in salads (and highly nutritious), their flowers can be used to make wine, and their roots make a caffeine-free tea.

And that tea is very special. Science has discovered it can save lives. Dandelions have been used medicinally for centuries, now University of Windsor researchers have found that dandelion root shows promise in fighting cancer. According to the university's Dr. Siryaram Pandey, professor of biochemistry, "We scientifically validated that dandelion root extract has very potent anti-cancer activity." A Calgary company, AOR Inc., is conducting a clinical trial of a specially-formulated tea on patients in Ontario. The trial involves 30 patients with blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma who have had no success with conventional therapies.

So hail the humble dandelion, not so much a weed as a crop. May the little darlings prosper everywhere.

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