The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth, and he that is wise will not abhor them.
- Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus 38:4-5
It doesnt take much more than a date on the calendar to turn our thoughts toward Sir William Gilberts flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la. But add a spate of warm, sunny days, after what seems like a year of gray skies and saturated earth, and hardly a soul can resist to urge to till a little homeland soil - at least until the dogwood and azalea blossoms fall off, or the plants that looked so healthy in the shop die along with the enthusiasm to revive them.
This year I could skip the garden shop routine altogether. I dont know where Id put any more plants anyway, what with my bumper crop of hardy perennials already up and blooming.
Here it is only the beginning of April and I have delicate white blossoms rising from stray clumps of winter rye that wandered over from my neighbors yard, a carpet of tiny blue somethings on inch-high stems, and dozens of stately yellow and puffy-white flowers sprouting from the varying stages of my dandelion crop.
Add the green leaves surrounding the flowers, and bunches more with no flowers at all, and you can see why I could almost do without grass this year, too, now that my weeds are doing so well.
Though I admit to a few murderous thoughts about my weed crop in the past, thankfully I consulted the folks at The Old Farmers Almanac before I bought a case of Round-Up. I shudder to think I might have destroyed a gold mine of medicinal aids that will keep away more doctors than a daily diet of apple sauce.
For example, did you know you can reduce the pain of arthritis by drinking a concoction made from the root of a burdock plant?
Of course, if you accidentally bump into a burdock bush, those thorny, little brown balls will scratch the skin off your legs. Then again, all you have to do is apply tincture of horseradish to the sores, say the medical staff at OFA.
But my biggest surprise is reserved for the handy dandelion. You wont believe what that plant - I can no longer bare to call it a weed - is waiting to do for the human race. Consider these possibilities:
Tender, young dandelion leaves, whether cooked or served raw, are not only as nourishing as spinach, but they are guaranteed to de-toxify the liver, kidneys, blood and tissues af-ter a winter of heavy, fatty foods. According to John Gerards 1597 book on remedies, when eaten raw, dandelion greens stop the bellie and help the dysenterie, and dandelion juice prevents bladder infections and cures the ague (malaria-like fevers).
Native Americans chewed dandelion stems like gum, and believed if you boiled the flowers until the water turned yellow, cooled it overnight, and then drank a bit every morning for a month, you would cure heart trouble. They used the same mixture to treat hypochondria, presumably for those who only thought they had heart trouble.
Miscellany: Use the milky juice from the stems to cure warts; soak the leaves in rubbing alcohol for an extra-soothing body rub; deep-fry the flowers for a delicious snack; or roast the roots - four hours at 150 degrees - and add a spoonful to your coffee as you would chicory.
Finally, for the hearty or so-inclined, a recipe from medieval times for dent-de-lioun wine: two quarts of dandelion petals picked early in the morning, four quarts of water, two oranges and two lemons cut into small pieces, a cake of yeast, and three pounds of sugar. Boil the petals and water 20 minutes, pour over fruit, cool to lukewarm, add yeast and let stand for 48 hours. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth and add sugar to the juice. Store in a jug with a loose lid for six weeks. Strain and store in a tight container for six months before drinking.
Unfortunately, this recipe comes too late for your Masters party, unless you are thinking of toasting the winners in 2004.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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