Lion's teeth

There are herbs that will never get their fifteen minutes of fame. They are here around us, common as muck, invisible because you see them every day.
Consider the dandelion. If it had been brought here by some Victorian plant-hunter from darkest Peru or the Himalayas, you’d treasure it, rather than trying to exterminate it in your garden. Lion’s tooth, we call it, from the brave bright flowers springing up right now. Have a closer look at the next one you see. They are exquisite, with their neat rosettes of serrated leaves, and later with those marvellous clocks that never get the time right.
We used to treasure them, both for food and for medicine. The Elizabethans welcomed them in the kitchen garden, forcing the leaves under flowerpots for welcome salad greens in the early spring. In France they still do this, and the modern French name, ‘pissenlit’, is a clue to one of their uses. The leaves are one of our most powerful herbal diuretics, and they are rich in potassium so there’s no danger of hypokalaemia. But herbalists use the roots much more often, because their sturdy bitterness is a wonderful ‘food’ for the liver, helping to cleanse and restore it after illness and heavy medication, or simply to support it in dealing with what life has to throw at us. Dried and roasted, they make a good coffee substitute too. And the flowers make wonderful wine.

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