Dandelions are among nature’s healthy gifts

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Photo by Kayla McGraw
Photo by Kayla McGraw

Who said all weeds were bad?

Health professionals who specialize in natural medicines say dandelions and other common plant life sprouting around Alaska are packed with health benefits and healing properties.

“Dandelion leaf is something I use. It is a good diuretic. The root is real good for the liver,” Dr. Torrey Smith, naturopathic doctor at Avante Medical Center, said.

Smith, who also teaches a UAA course about alternative medicines, divulged other local fruits and herbs that he uses with his patients.

He said dried raspberry leaves are an astringent herb used to tonify tissues in the uterus during the third trimester of pregnancy, as well as other internal organs. He uses bilberry, a tart blueberry with anti-diabetic properties, which is also good for the eyes and circulation problems.

“We work with the body’s ability to heal, rather than taking over it. We emphasize on diagnosis,” Smith said about naturopathic treatment.

Smith likened the concept to a pebble creating many ripples when cast into a clear pond. People are often too busy treating each “ripple” with various medications, rather than finding out the single thing that created it in the first place.

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Herbs and plants are used to treat specific ailments.

There are countless herbs and plants and several uses. Some knowledge can be picked up from books, some from the people of the land.

Gilbert “Buz” Daney, manager of the Southcentral Foundation Traditional Healing Clinic, provided a traditional, indigenous aspect on plant life in Alaska.

“We understand traditional healing goes back 10,000 years plus so we’ve come from that perspective. A lot of science has been applied to pure survival for such a long time so the experts are the people,” Daney said.

Daney, who also teaches UAA Human Services courses, said that there is a healing garden at the clinic where “custom owners” or patients, can learn about the plants that their ancestors have used. He did clarify that the clinic does not prescribe the plants to custom owners.

The healing garden reflects a statement of the clinic: All herbs, plants and weeds in Alaska serve a purpose.

Among the blue bells, plump berries and devil’s club stands the bright fireweed, a weed as common as dandelions in Alaska.

“The dwarf fireweed is an edible and is a medicine. There are uses for the blossoms just as they are for tea and jams. The leaves are used for salad,” Daney said.

The garden, which has mostly indigenous plants, includes wormwood sage known as “stink weed.” Daney said it is used externally for mosquito bites, eczema and wounds. It can also be used internally as a tonic.

“We share respect with nature. As you go out and gather, you’re not going out with a lawn mower. We just take what we need,” Daney said. “We really talk and sing to the plants. We communicate and ask permission. We start with a prayer, and then we reciprocate.”

Dr. Ted Mala, Southcentral Foundation Traditional Healing Clinic director, said many UAA students come to the clinic to learn. These include graduate and first year medical students.

Daney said the clinic enjoys collaboration with the Alaska Botanical Garden, a great local resource.

Julianne McGuinness, Alaska Botanical Garden executive director, said they offer a variety of learning opportunities to the public to better understand the world of plants and herbs.

The garden contains over 1,100 varieties of annual and perennial plants known to grow in southcentral Alaska.

For health professionals like Smith Daney and Mala, connecting with the goodness of plants is about living the fullest potential of life.

Smith said people are often too bogged down with their busy lives to get in touch with their bodies and what nature has to offer. It’s a reminder that perhaps people should stop and smell the roses — or in some cases, the dandelions.