Fall is the time to start harvesting roots. Just like we will soon be digging our sweet potatoes out of the ground, it is also time to harvest the medicinal roots. As plants go dormant for the year, they store nutrients in their roots, making medicinal roots more potent in the fall. As far as the medicinal constituents are concerned, roots are often more potent than leaves, but depending on the plant, roots can have some different medicinal uses than the leaves. Dandelion is an example of this that is likely growing in your own yard. Many people use the leaves and roots interchangeably, but there are qualities that are unique to both forms.
Dandelion has earned a reputation for being a liver and gall bladder supporting herb. The leaves increase the production of bile by the liver. The roots help to move the bile out of the gall bladder, and then along with the bile, toxins that can be eliminated from the body through the feces. Therefore, the use of the roots and leaves together is important for the best liver benefits. Because it supports the liver, dandelion is traditionally used to help high cholesterol, abnormal blood sugar, menstrual and skin disorders, especially when there is a history of toxic exposures or sluggish liver.
Dandelion leaves have a much stronger diuretic action than the roots. Because of dandelion leaves’ diuretic action, they are used for conditions like edema, rheumatic complaints, and sometimes high blood pressure. Because the leaves are high in potassium, they replace any potassium that might be lost with increased urine flow. They also contain many other trace minerals and can be used as a food or tea by people who need to boost their mineral intake.
Dandelion also helps support digestion. The increased production and movement of bile can help improve digestion of fats. In the fall, the roots are high in inulin, a preferred food of the beneficial bacterial in the gut. Dandelion leaves also have a bitter taste, which can stimulate the digestive process. Thus, dandelion is also used for headaches associated with disordered digestion. The leaves are the most bitter in the spring, but I personally prefer to eat them straight out of my yard in the wintertime when they often stand out bright green even if most of the rest of the yard has faded.