Coshocton River Walk, Part 1: Dandelions and Diabetes
*Disclaimer: don’t eat dandelions to cure your diabetes. This is just a blog. I am not a doctor. You are not a lab rat. And we are certainly not crazy hippie/sters. 😉
Wait. Are we…?
One thing I’ve learned from the occasionally self-obsessing ruminations on The Heritage Trail in Madison and responses from wonderful readers afterward, is that I’m never alone when I walk, even when I’m walking alone.
I carry everyone with me: the dead, the living, family, friends…pretty much anyone I’ve ever met. It’s like a reunion, block party, mosh pit and Burning Man (er, um, so I’m told) all in one. The only things missing are an acid trip and naked people, and some days…
Yeah, it’s a lively and entertaining life inside my head sometimes, but it can also get a little noisy. I’m grateful for the times, like this river walk, when I can manage to stay in the moment, pay attention to what’s around me and filter in thoughts I want, instead of the usual gangbang of AC*DC-style ADHD occurring up there.
Coshocton is doing nature right, so far as I can tell: plenty of biking and hiking trails, a beautiful lake park and leaving enough of the natural wild, beautiful landscape to its own life cycles. I love nature wild. There is enough packaged, boxed and cultivated greenery that it’s a relief when places are left as they’re meant to be.
Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty of packaged, boxed and cultivated flowers, plants and landscape at home, and I need the zen of both, because sometimes my brain just needs to see something clearly ordered and clipped, that I can control, and other times I need someone or something else, to do the ordering for me.
This was one of those times. I was having a quiet time away from the party in my head and just enjoying the ending summer flowers I was passing along the way as the autumn blossoms were taking over. I passed a utility pole with an AEP tag that had me wondering what Kurt was doing at the moment, the way I did when I passed the smoke stacks on The Heritage Trail.
But below the pole were dandelions. They are one of my favorite summer flowers that linger into autumn. You can argue that they’re a “weed” all you want, but that’s just semantics. The primary definition of a “weed” is “a plant not valued for use or beauty…”
Is a dandelion a “weed?”
The word “weed” always makes me think of a book I read, A Weed by Any Other Name, by Dr. Nancy Gift. It’s a great read, and in it she defends, among other lawn ornaments, dandelions. Although I already had my own affinity for dandelions before reading the book, it removed any possibility of my ever owning a yard without them.
So about that “weed” or “not weed” challenge. First, give me the artistic palette of a yard dotted with yellow dandelions and white clover any day over a sterile green carpet. I like to imagine taking off my glasses and viewing it like a Monet painting: no clearly defined edges; only softened blurs of yellow, white and green. So, for me, half the definition is out because I do see beauty in that happy yellow color dotting mowed yards, fields and sidewalk cracks.
Dandelions are also one of my favorite “weeds” because I still want to play “Momma had a baby and the head popped off” while simultaneously thumb-flicking the top from it to see how far it might fling. This was a game played with friends, a contest to see who had the most distance in thumb-flicking dandelions. Though whomever made up with the chant to go with the game must have had some serious issues. That game preceded my generation, so as much as we want to complain about the sick and twisted youth of today, um, “Momma had a baby and the head popped off!” really, old timers… really?
That had to be brought over from Europe. With children’s songs about the plague and other dark humor abundant, it wouldn’t surprise me if this were related to some horrific leprosy outbreak or a scintillating story of beheading. Anyone know, for sure? All I know is that there’s actually a Facebook page dedicated to all us weirdos who grew up playing the dandelion flicking game.
Unlike when I was younger, I pick up the dandelion heads now, shake them off and eat them. Then I eat the stems. I’ve eaten roots before, but I don’t generally dig up the roots as I’m having a morning walk.
Part two of the “weed” challenge has to do with use. They’ve long been believed to have health benefits, even though it’s only been in recent years that the remedies provided by nature are once again gaining credibility. This is because the flippy, dippy hippies are finally understanding that dandelions and many natural remedies are not healthy just because you “say so” or because so many generations of wives’ tales have used it to treat x, y and z.
And as hippie-dippy as I am (and I’m probably only about two to three dips modern hippie myself) I don’t believe in running around plucking a bouquet of wildflowers and sitting down to dinner. Whad’ya think, I wanna get milk sickness or something?
I think hippies need to put their money where their mouth is if they want to convince modern consumers that natural benefits are better than pharmaceutical cocktails. Um, okay, so this applies maybe not to the genuine hippies out there, but to the hipsters who tout “new-age” alternative holistic everything, who are making a decent living but not contributing money to fund genuine studies on natural remedies, and instead running around mixing up their own crazy cocktails of roots, bark and nematodes (hyperbole folks, er, sort of) that occasionally land them in the hospital, give natural remedies a bad name and set back genuine attempts to legitimize natural remedies and risk black-marketing some really healthful mushrooms (no, not that kind of mushroom. Sheesh, where is your mind?.)
Of course, the flip side of this is why not LET everyone use any herbal supplements, natural remedies and holistic applications they want to, but agree to have all usage documented, so that whilst enjoying the benefits of such wonderful tinctures (and I do enjoy me a good tincture, like tea tree oil for toe fungus 😉 ) they can also be providing credibility and human testing for so many alternative therapies. Win=Win, right? Right?!?
What? Oh, right…dandelions.
As it turns out, at least a few scientists are actually studying the health benefits of dandelions. One such study is the impact on diabetes, Using dandelion water extract (DWE), scientists studied lipid metabolism in rats given diabetes. (Focus. Stop thinking about rats being injected with disease for testing. I know. I know. I keep thinking about Ratatouille too. But we have to stop it. Stop. Quit being “Disneyfied” as my brother would say. Focus. Smell my dandelions. Get back in the game called Dandelions and Diabetes.)
So, in the study using dandelion water extract, the findings were that “A DWE supplement can improve the lipid metabolism and is beneficial in preventing diabetic complications from lipid peroxidation and free radicals in diabetic rats.”
I think that’s pretty interesting, and I’m sure the fine folks selling Dandelion Water Extract do, too. You can buy this “miracle drug” for a mere $30-100 per kilogram.
Um, what? You know, I do understand that certain properties of items are best utilized through cooking, steaming, or otherwise extracting the “good stuff” but am I the only one who thinks nature might possibly have devised things to go together in a more complementary manner? That maybe the healthiest way to obtain benefits from dandelions are to eat them—roots, stems and flowers—together? Granted, that’s definitely not as marketable as touting the properties of one part of the plant and putting it into a little pill.
And, to be fair, not all plants or parts of plants are safe to eat all the time. Pokeweed, for example, has some right tasty shoots in the springtime, but is highly poisonous if eaten as a mature plant, or if its berries are eaten. I passed some pokeweed after my dandelion snack on the walk and was very glad some poor sucker found that out the bad way, because darn those little berries look appealing. And I think that was very nice of nature to make something just for the birds…and then we can eat the birds.
But back to dandelions.
If you read natural and holistic websites, there are other health benefits of dandelions, like liver cleansing, diuretics, appetite control, etc. LiveStrong is a pretty decent site, but the best way to really inform yourself, if you can make yourself get used to the technical jargon, is to read peer-reviewed scientific articles, and take everything, everything with a grain of salt, always asking who paid for the study or what’s being sold as a result of the findings. (Hmmm, conspiracy theorize much?)
For me, I do lead with my “gut” but I combine it with a little more research than just believing a holistic website that doesn’t quote peer-reviewed sources. And really watch for those holistic sites that are just quoting other holistic sites. Darn hippies!
Thank God I’m not a real hippie. Okay, well this post has been long enough. I gotta go. I really need a good liver cleanse, and I’m running out of summer dandelions faster than I can play “Momma had a baby and the head popped off” 100 more times.
Hmmm. Maybe my abilities to keep that party in my head quiet and stay in a moment are not as good as I thought. Better keep practicing.