Bring on the horta! Dandelion Greens are so good for you, they are a veritable superfood! Lifestyle & Health Columnist Roula Marinos Papamihail explains.
Dandelion greens (horta) are a traditional staple in the Greek diet. Traditionally eaten as a side or main course they’re either boiled or blanched, served cold or warm, often drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, and sprinkled with salt. Even though they can be purchased at some grocery stores, I have many memories of my parents and extended family members spending hours picking them from open fields and even off the side of expressways. While pulling over on the local expressway to pick dandelion greens, today, would most likely lead to a significant fine, read on to see why you need more horta in your life.
Food of the Ancients
This 30 million year-old plant is not only enjoyed by modern Greeks, but was highly valued by the ancient Greeks as well. Its official name, Taraxacum officinale is derived from the ancient Greek words taraxos (disorder), and akos (remedy), indicative of the curative action of the plant. And while modern Greeks tend to only eat the roots and leaves of the plant, the flower is also edible and often used by herbalists for medicinal purposes, along with the rest of the plant. Let’s talk about the many health benefits of dandelion greens.
Dandelion greens promote healthy digestion
Dandelions contain large amounts of fiber and diets high in fiber have been linked to a multitude of health benefits such as lowering cholesterol levels and stabilizing blood sugar levels. In regard to digestive health, a diet high in fiber has been found to prevent constipation, prevent hemorrhoids and prevent obesity.
One type of fiber found in dandelions is soluble fiber. Soluble fiber soothes and regulates the digestive tract, stabilizes intestinal contractions (meaning prevents abdominal cramping), and normalizes bowel function from either extreme. It prevents and relieves BOTH diarrhea and constipation.
Insoluble fiber, also found in high amounts in dandelion greens, is a type of fiber that remains undigested in our guts, retains lots of water and speeds our digestive transit times. As a result, it removes toxic waste through our colon in less time.
Finally, a specific type of insoluble fiber can be found in dandelions called inulin. Inulin is non-digestible and dissolves and ferments in our gut. This makes it a strong prebiotic; feeding the growth of pre-existing probiotics by traveling through our intestines and settling in our colon. Inulin is used in the colon as a food source by the microorganisms found there, making for a healthy optimally functioning colon.
Keep in mind that fiber may cause gas and bloating in some people and this may be a result of the amount or the type of fiber being ingested. Drinking plenty of water, chewing thoroughly, reducing the amount and experimenting with different types and sources, will help to alleviate or diminish any negative effects.
Not only do the types of fiber in dandelions support, improve and treat all of the digestive difficulties mentioned above, but a chemical compound called taraxacin, (one reason for dandelions bitter taste) also significantly supports digestive processes. Taraxacin is believed to trigger the gallbladder and liver to release bile and stimulate the digestive system. Bile is needed for the appropriate digestion of fats and a deficiency in bile may prevent proper dietary fat utilization, cause acid indigestion as well as a backup of toxicity in the body.
Dandelions are a strong liver detoxifier
Besides your heart, your liver is probably the hardest working organ in your body. It has a dual role; it’s both the main organ for detoxing as well as a digestive organ. In today’s world many people have overburdened their livers through diet and lifestyle and a few signs that your liver may need help detoxing are:
- abdominal bloating
- pain or discomfort over the liver – (right upper abdominal area under the rib cage)
- trouble digesting fatty foods
- unexplained weight gain and inability to lose weight even with calorie restriction
These can all be indicators that your liver is blocked or clogged up with unhealthy fat – in extreme cases, called fatty liver. The toxic build up prevents the normal uptake and utilization of nutrients.
The liver can also struggle with filtering blood, drugs, and hormones when blocked.
Dandelions are one of the most frequently recommended herbs to help with liver detoxification. It is the best lipotropic known (compound that breaks down fat), flushing excess fat from the liver, thereby helping to relieve chronic liver congestion. Dandelion’s bitter constituents (many still unidentified) also help to flush out toxins from the liver.
Ironically, some of the same toxins that dandelions help flush out of our livers are the same toxins used to eradicate them! In other words, the common herbicide glysophate (found in RoundUp) used to kill dandelions, inadvertently ends up in our bodies. Dandelions help support the liver detox pathways that assist the body with removing this toxin.
Dandelions contribute to strong bones
Dandelions provide 535 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin K, which may be the most important source of any other plant-based food to strengthen bones. Vitamin K is related to a protein called osteocalcin. This protein works synergistically with vitamin D and it regulates the production of cells that remove old bone so that new bone can be deposited in its place. Simply put, it enhances the bone building process by attracting calcium to the bone.
Vitamin K has also been found to inhibit the formation of osteoclasts; the term used to describe bone reabsorbing cells. These types of cells make or secrete enzymes that break up or dissolve bone that inevitable cause the bone to collapse. Vitamin K seems to counteract this process.
Finally, Vitamin K also reduces the amount of calcium in the urine and frees up more calcium to be used by the bone building process.
It’s important to note that vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin and should be taken with a fat source. The traditional Greek practice of adding olive oil to dandelion greens actually allows for optimal absorption of vitamin K in the body!
Can help improve skin and vision
Dandelion greens also provide high amounts of vitamin A. Vitamin A acts as an antioxidant and protects cells against cancer and other disease. It enhances immunity, may help to heal gastrointestinal ulcers, and is needed for the maintenance and repair of skin tissues.
Dandelion greens contain large amounts of carotenoids, a class of compounds related to vitamin A and sometimes act as precursors to it. Carotenoids are particularly good for the skin, mucus membranes, and vision. They help protect the skin against premature aging and skin cancer. Carotenoids (and vitamin A) cannot be synthesized by humans, making them only available from outside sources.
Finally, one type of many flavonoids (phytonutrients), related to carotenoids and identified in dandelions is called zeaxanthin. This specific flavonoid protects the retina from UV rays by protecting delicate eye tissues from the dangers of oxidative stress and high-energy blue light.
Do you enjoy eating your horta wilted and as a side to some type of meat? Carotenoids bioavailability within the body actually improves when food containing it is cooked and protein is optimally utilized within the body when eaten in conjunction with vitamin A (1). Another example of the benefits of eating dandelions the traditional Greek way!
And there’s more!
Dandelions have been found to help possibly prevent and or stop the progression of certain diseases such as leukemia, melanoma, and other types of cancers. Dandelions are also used as hormone regulators due to two balancing elements called taraxerol and taraxasterol. They’ve also been found to help regulate blood pressure.
Additional nutrients found include; extremely high vitamins C and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium and iron. Also, potassium and manganese. Not to mention folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper. Dandelion greens truly are a super potent source of nutrition and a Greek superfood!
So while many tend to view dandelions as a notorious weed, keeping the above in mind may cause you to want to pick and cook it, rather than spray it. Maybe even pull over and pull it. And if that is what happens, enjoy the recipe below!
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” -Hippocrates
- 2 bunches of dandelion greens bought from grocery store or comparable amount picked from nature.
- Enough water to completely immerse dandelions in.
- Salt (to taste)
- High quality olive oil (to taste)
In a large pot bring water to a boil. While waiting for water to boil, chop and clean dandelion greens. Clean thoroughly and add to pot of boiling water.
Bring water back up to a rolling boil and cook for about 8 minutes. Try to not overcook as some of the above nutrients may be lost due to overcooking. While many prefer the greens to become wilted for easier eating, it’s preferable to chop greens to desired mouth size pieces prior to cooking, and wilt minimally.
Drizzle with olive oil, lemon and salt to taste and enjoy!
(1) Prescription for Nutritional Healing 5th Phyllis A. Balch, CNC
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More from Roula Marinos Papamihail:
She trained at Functional Diagnostic Nutrition, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. and holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology from the University of Indianapolis. She’s also the proud mom of 4 little boys. Roula is currently accepting new clients in her office, at home, over the phone, or via Skype. Visit her website at www.myhealthysoma.com.