A New Beginning.
We live our lives around the solstice, be it the longest day or the shortest day. The recent Christmas celebrations marked not only the Incarnation but also the relief that the long hours of darkness had passed, and we could look forward to increasing daylight. Our planet’s path around the sun marks the changes between light and dark, warm and cold. It is a very important path not only influencing farming but also our health.
Exposure to natural light, particularly sunlight, plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm. The solar year influences our sleep-wake cycle, hormonal balance, and overall well-being.
During the longer days of spring and summer, increased exposure to sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D in our bodies. This essential vitamin is crucial for bone health, immune function, and mood regulation. The light half of the solar year becomes a natural source of vitality and resilience for individuals.
Conversely, as the solar year transitions into autumn and winter, the reduction in daylight can impact mental health. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a recognized condition characterized by feelings of depression and lethargy that typically occur during the darker months. Harnessing the solar year's influence, individuals can incorporate strategies such as light therapy and outdoor activities to mitigate the effects of reduced sunlight exposure during the darker months.
The transitional seasons of spring and autumn are times when our bodies have to adapt to the increasing light or the increasing darkness. Because of this we are more prone to illness during these seasons and community awareness of this gives rise to expressions such as “change not a clout, ‘til May is out”.
The days gradually get brighter during January and this year we can look forward to celebrating the feast of Brigid, ‘The Mother of the Gael’. One custom associated with Brigid is the ‘brat Bríd, which is a piece of cloth left on a bush or windowsill overnight on the eve of Imbolg so that Brigid, on her journey through the land can bless it. This cloth carries Brigid’s healing power and was used for relieving headaches by wrapping it around the head and was also given to women to ensure a successful birth and had sufficient milk to feed her new-born. This need to have sufficient milk for the young is also evident in the dandelion being called Brigid’s flower. The common dandelion starts appearing in grazing pastures by the end of January. It is a galactagogue. This means it increases milk yields and sheep love it, hence improving their ability to nourish their offspring.
Humans also benefit from dandelion as an entry in Medical News Today1 informs us that,
- Dandelions provide antioxidants. Antioxidants serve to counteract the negative effects of free radicals. Free radicals are naturally produced by the human body but can inflict harm by hastening ageing or the advancement of certain diseases. Dandelions contain beta-carotene, an antioxidant that aids in cell protection. Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, have been shown to play an important role in decreasing cell damage. Dandelion flowers are also high in flavonoids and polyphenols, both of which are antioxidants.
- Dandelions help in reducing cholesterol. Dandelions contain bioactive chemicals that may aid in cholesterol reduction. In vivo and in vitro studies have revealed that dandelion may help lower blood lipids including cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Dandelions help to regulate blood sugar. Some research has shown promise in this area but there is a lot more to be done. Initial research attributes the anti-diabetic effect to bioactive chemical components; these include chicoric acid, taraxasterol (TS), chlorogenic acid, and sesquiterpene lactones2.
- Dandelions reduce inflammation. Lab based research has shown that chemicals found in dandelion help reduce inflammation.
- Dandelions lower blood pressure. Dandelion contains potassium which helps in reducing blood pressure.
- Dandelions are nutritious. Dandelions are incredibly nutritious plants that are high in vitamins, minerals, and fibre from root to blossom. Dandelion greens can be consumed cooked or raw and are high in vitamins A, C, and K. They are also high in vitamin E, folate, and other B vitamins. Iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium are all found in dandelion greens. Dandelion root is high in inulin, a carbohydrate found in plants that promotes the formation and maintenance of healthy gut bacteria in the digestive tract. Dandelion root is commonly dried and used to make tea, but it can also be eaten whole like other root vegetables.
2Wirngo FE, Lambert MN, Jeppesen PB. The Physiological Effects of Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) in Type 2 Diabetes. Rev Diabet Stud. 2016 Summer-Fall;13(2-3):113-131. doi: 10.1900/RDS.2016.13.113. Epub 2016 Aug 10. PMID: 28012278; PMCID: PMC5553762.