Month: April 2014

Is The Healthiest Part Of Dandelion Its Flower?

dandelionflowerwildfoodismDandelion is one of those plants whose presence is unavoidable.  Native to Europe and Asia, it is now well established throughout the temperate regions of the world, and can be found growing in lawns, fields, parks, parking lots, and along sidewalks.  While some individuals consider dandelion of no greater dignity than that of a “weed,” all parts of the plant are edible and highly nutritious (that’s right, free food right in your own backyard).

The leaves and roots are great raw or cooked, and bitterness can be mitigated through proper harvesting and processing techniques.  Yet what receives somewhat less attention, other than when discussing wine, is the most conspicuous part of the plant – the flower.

I enjoy dandelion flowers not just because they taste good, but additionally because they contain nutritional benefits in levels that oftentimes exceed those found in the roots and leaves.

Let’s take a look at some of these benefits (1).

Dandelion flowers have higher levels of polyphenols
Polyphenols are compounds synthesized by plants (as well as by animals) that play important biological roles in the life cycles of these organisms.  Whenever we consume foods rich in polyphenols, such as dandelion, we receive benefits that may aid in the prevention of degenerative diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The aerial parts of dandelion, especially the flowers, contain approximately 115 times the polyphenol content than that found in the roots (9.9 ± 0.28 g polyphenols per 100 g dandelion flower extract vs. 0.086 ± 0.003 g polyphenols per 100 g dandelion root extract).

Dandelion flowers have greater antioxidant properties
Oxidation is a natural process in the human body that, if left unchecked, can result in conditions such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease (just to name a few).  Antioxidants combat the process of oxidation, and can be produced internally as well as provided externally through the consumption of antioxidant-rich foods.

One highly reactive molecule involved in oxidation is the hydroxyl radical, which causes damage to DNA, membrane lipids, and tissues within the body.  Compared to the roots, stems, and leaves of dandelion, an ethyl acetate and water extract of dandelion flowers have been shown to provide the most efficient inhibition of the hydroxyl radical, followed by an aqueous extract of the stems.  The inhibition may be caused by the higher number of polyphenols found within the flowers, including the caffeic and chlorogenic acids, and the flavones luteolin and luteolin 7-O-glucoside.

Dandelion flowers are anti-inflammatory
Research has shown that dandelion flowers mitigate inflammation in rats who experience carrageenan-induced paw edema.  A methanolic extract of the flower provides the most significant inhibition (95%), compared to the leaves (69%) and roots (51%).

Dandelion flowers may owe their anti-inflammatory effects to their polyphenols, in particular luteolin and luteolin 7-O-glucoside.  Research suggests that these compounds may downregulate both inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) – two enzymes involved in the inflammation process.

Dandelion flowers may act as chemopreventive agents
Angiogenesis is the process whereby new blood vessels are formed from the preexisting vascular system.  While this is a normal part of the wound healing process, angiogenesis is also involved in tumor progression from the benign to malignant state.

Ethanolic extracts of dandelion flowers and leaves have been shown to possess anti-angiogenic activity, and this may result from the actions of flavonoid compounds such as luteolin.  This suggests that the aerial components of dandelion may play an important complementary role in cancer treatment and prevention.

Dandelion flowers undoubtedly possess many more healing properties that await the discovery of future research.  What we know at this point is that these reproductive structures are rich in polyphenols, they possess great antioxidant potential, they’re anti-inflammatory, and they may play a role in chemoprevention.

And while the title of this article may be a bit bold (I mean, how do you really define the term “healthiest?”), the reality is that the entire organism – Taraxacum officinale – is highly nutritious and medicinal.  In addition to the benefits previously stated, research has suggested that dandelion possesses hepatoprotective, choleretic, and diuretic properties, and that the plant is a superior source of several vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber compared to other commonly eaten salad greens.

Which makes me wonder:  Why isn’t dandelion recommended as the green of choice by nutrition experts, especially when it is so nutrient dense and readily available?

Thanks for reading, and as always … happy foraging!


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Adam Haritan

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5 Unique Health Benefits Of Morel Mushrooms

morelFor mushroom hunters in the temperate regions of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, nothing signifies the beginning of spring more than the first appearance of morel mushrooms (Morchella spp.).  These organisms are arguably considered among the most prized edible fungi on the planet, and it’s not uncommon to see them fetching a price of a few hundred dollars per dried pound in the market.

While morels are some of the easiest mushrooms to identify, a few look-alikes exist… some of them benign, some a bit toxic.  For detailed information on finding and identifying morel mushrooms, check out another article from this blog:  How To Find And Identify Morel Mushrooms.

While most morel enthusiasts cherish this particular mushroom for its exceptional taste and culinary applicability, less attention is given to its physiological effects on the body.  This is unfortunate, because, like many members of the fungal kingdom, morel mushrooms possess important nutritional and medicinal properties that can play key roles in optimizing the health of those who consume them.

Let’s take a look at some of these unique characteristics, focusing on one species of yellow morel mushroom, Morchella esculenta.

Update: Good news!  I just put most of this information into a short video.  If you’re the kind of person who would rather watch a video than read an article, enjoy!

If you’re not, carry on…

Vitamin D

Mushrooms exposed to sunlight or UV radiation are great sources of dietary vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol).  While most vitamin D supplements contain D3 (cholecalciferol), dietary D2 from mushrooms has been shown to be as effective as vitamin D2 and D3 supplements in raising and maintaining 25(OH)D levels (1).

Morel mushrooms contain approximately 206 IUs of vitamin D2 per 100 grams of fresh material (2).

Protection against drug side effects

Pharmaceutical drugs are commonly known to create side effects, and cisplatin (a chemotherapy drug) and gentamicin (an antibiotic) are no exceptions.  When given to mice, these drugs can deplete the internal antioxidant defense system and induce kidney failure.

Research shows, however, that an aqueous-ethanol (water and alcohol) extract from cultivated morel mycelium has the remarkable ability to enhance the internal antioxidant defense system, thereby protecting against toxicity caused by the chemotherapy and antibiotic drugs (3).

Antioxidants

Oxidative stress is associated with numerous conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes types 1 and 2.  Consuming antioxidant-rich food, therefore, is an important strategy to protect against this internal damage.

Studies have shown that extracts from morel mycelium are effective in combating oxidation.  This is primarily accomplished through the scavenging of damaging molecules known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), including the superoxide, hydroxyl, and nitric oxide radicals (4).

Antioxidants from morel mushrooms have also been shown to inhibit lipid peroxidation – a process involving tissue damage which, if left unchecked, can lead to inflammation and cancer (5).

Liver protection

Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) is an inorganic compound which has been linked to disorders of the central nervous system and kidneys.  Research on animals has shown that administration of CCl4 with ethanol damages the liver by, among other things, depleting internal antioxidant stores.  When supplied with an extract of morel mycelium, however, protection is provided against liver damage, and antioxidant reserves can be restored.

This suggests that morel mushroom mycelium may provide therapeutic use as a liver-protecting agent (6).

Immune system activity

A 2002 study analyzed the immuno-stimulatory property of a unique polysaccharide isolated from the morel mushroom.  Known as galactomannan, this compound comprises 2.0% of the dry fungal material, and may work on both innate immunity and adaptive immunity by enhancing macrophage activity (7).

Conclusion

In summary, morel mushrooms are excellent wild foods to add to your diet.  While they can be rather expensive at the supermarket, foraging provides a better option (in my opinion), though caution must be taken so as not to confuse this mushroom with the toxic false morel (genus Gyromitra).  The biggest difference is that morels are hollow when cut in half lengthwise, while Gyromitras, which are typically a shade of reddish brown, are stuffed or chambered.  Check out How To Find And Identify Morel Mushrooms to learn more.

Of course, just knowing this information is no substitute for attending a mushroom walk or foray and having a trusted identifier discern for you the edible from the toxic.

Happy morel hunting!


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Adam Haritan

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