Backyard Survival Herbs: Dandelion for Health and Pleasure
The nemesis of the “perfect” lawn and the pleasure of little children – the Dandelion is a plant is known to everyone. But do you know of the AMAZING value Dandelion has as a food source and herb for curbing a host of maladies? Let’s take a look…
What? Those Pesky Dandelions are Good for Something!?
What mother hasn’t had a bouquet of these bright sunny flowers brought to them by chubby little hands? And which of us hasn’t made a wish or told the time or number of future offspring by blowing on the fluff of seeds each flower becomes?
Dandelions seem to be hardy and prolific in virtually any growing condition. Sure would be great if they were good for something, don’t you think? Well, they ARE!
A Little Background to Get Us Started
Taraxacum officinale is the official name for this plant, which means ‘disorder remedy’. We’re going to explore this angle of this scorned plant as we go. Its common name, ‘dandelion’, likely came from the French phrase, Dent de lion, or lion’s tooth. There is uncertainty as to whether it refers to the shape of the flower petals or to the toothed leaves. Way less romantic is the other French term for dandelion, pissenlit, or “piss in bed”, referring to this herb’s characteristics as a diuretic. Dandelion is actually an ideal diuretic with its high levels of potassium. There are over 200 variations within the dandelion family, so not all dandelions look exactly the same. They reproduce asexually, exclusively through their seeds, so that parent plants are in essence, cloned. Interesting, eh?
While many would like for the dandelion to have a shorter lifespan, one good side of its perpetual recurrence is that it is a continual supply of pollen and nectar for the honeybees. While other flowers phase out, the hardy dandelion staunchly remains and keeps up its supply of sweet nectar inside the flower, which enables the bees to keep flourishing and producing honey. As a lover of honey, I appreciate this!
An Incredible Edible!
As an edible, the plant is most pleasing to the palate in the spring before too much sunlight or drought has had a chance to mature the bitters in the plant. Some people’s opinion is that even when at its sweetest, it is still bitter. I like to say it’s “zippy”. Keep this in mind: any bitter (safe) green is great for aiding digestion. If you have any troubles in that area, you might want to regularly include some bitter greens in your salads. I always live by Ben Franklin’s maxim:: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don’t wait til you’re sick to use it! Prevention is wisdom.
The young, toothed leaves are a delightful addition to a spring mix of greens. (Another tip I recently learned to reduce bitterness is to cover the plant/s you wish to consume from sunlight and let them pale before picking. Not sure I like that idea because then you’re losing out on the green value.) If you boil older leaves and change the water at least once, you can lessen the bitterness to use them as a nutritious cooked green. Also, the early frosts of fall are supposed to cause some sweetness to return to otherwise bitter more mature leaves.
Nutrient Value of Dandelion Greens
Nutrients to be found in dandelion greens, which are 85% water are (per 100 mg of greens): 14,000IU Vit A, .19mg thiamine, .26mg riboflavin, 35mg ascorbic acid, 198mg calcium, 76mg sodium and 397mg potassium. (So 2 ounces of dandelion/day gives you all the RDA of vitamin A and half the RDA of Vitamin C!) Another source tells me they also contain iron and vitamin D. Yet another source says the plant contains boron and silicon in addition to calcium which are all bone-building nutrients. Just this collection helps explain its long history as a tonic! Dandelion greens were the go-to spring tonic of ages past to clean the liver, kidneys, blood and body tissues after winters of heavily fatted foods.
The Stalks, Edible But…
The stalks of the dandelion are not too great for eating as they contain a milky, bitter latex which has been used to kill warts! Yum! I did recently see a cute photo of a young girl drinking a summer drink using a dandelion stalk as a straw, while having another dandelion to decorate the drink. Looked fun!
What? You Can Eat the Flowers Too?
The flowers are able to be eaten but be sure to clean them well of tiny flies that might be enjoying the nectar deep inside the flower! You’ll want to keep them on the stems in water until you’re ready to eat them so they’re good and fresh. Separate the yellow petals from from the bitter green bracts by crumbling them between your fingers. (Or just snip them off.) Spreading the separated petals throughout a salad is a nice way to use them. You can garnish sandwiches with them and even make a “soup” by boiling the petals a couple minutes in water and seasoning.
Medicinal Qualities of the Flowers
The flowers are an excellent source of lecithin, which is good for cleansing the liver – and dandelion has long been used as a help in curing jaundice and other hepatic complaints. Lecithin may also play a role in curbing Alzheimer’s disease.
Edible Right Down to the Roots…
And finally, the roots are the part with the least edible appeal, but the way to ingest these is to clean the root, dry it and grind it for adding to hot water for a coffee-like drink. They are best collected in the later when they are at their bitterest (most infused with healing properties).
Dandelion roots can go very, very deep! Dig them up and scrub them clean. Split lengthwise even more than once to enable them to grind more easily once dried. Roast at a low temperature (150) or dehydrate until dark and dry. Then grind in a food processor or blender.
Store in an airtight jar. I actually used some ground dandelion root in a mocha cake recipe, having run out of instant coffee for the filling….it worked great!
For tinctures, decoctions, salves and poultices, dry the entire plant and store in jars for use all year round. Put some dandelion parts in some grain alcohol or vodka to pull out the healing properties for a tincture.
Healing Properties of Dandelions
A summary of the healing actions of the dandelion plant are: diuretic, cholagogue, anti-rheumatic, laxative, tonic, anti-bilious and hepatic through the constituents of glycosides, triterpenoids, choline and potassium. It is an interesting mix because anti-bilious herbs help the body remove excess bile, while cholagogues stimulate the release and secretion of bile from the gall-bladder, (which causes a laxative effect since bile is our body’s own laxative) and finally it is a hepatic, meaning its use tones and strengthens the liver and increases the flow of bile. I found all these angles interesting.
For fun, here are some folk remedies I came across and want to try:
- Take up the roots, clean them and bruise in a mortar. Strain the juice and put on a plate in a warm room to render it thick and solid. Take a small portion 3 times a day for a spring tonic.
- Use a tincture or decoction of the roots for gout, eczema and acne.
- Drink an infusion of the greens and flowers as a calming tea.
- Take decocted dandelion roots as a gentle laxative.
- For swelling and sores, make a poultice of dandelions.
- To remove warts, pick dandelions 3 times a day and rub the milky juice from the stem on the warts.
- For a relaxing body rub, soak equal parts finely chopped dandelions, burdock roots and aerial parts, yellow dock and lobelia in 1 quart rubbing alcohol for at least 2 weeks.
2 quarts dandelion flower petals
4 quarts water
2 oranges, cut into small pieces
2 lemons, cut into small pieces
1 cake yeast
31/2 pounds sugar
Pick dandelions early in the morning, gathering plenty enough for 2 quarts of petals only. Rinse in water and then separate the petals from the green parts. Place petals in a large non-reactive pot and cover with the water. Boil 20 minutes. Turn off heat. Add citrus pieces and allow mixture to cool to lukewarm. Add the yeast and let stand for 48 hours. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth, squeezing to remove all the juice. Add sugar to the juice and stir well to dissolve.
Pour this mixture into a glass jug and cover, but not tightly. (Or close with a water seal: use a cork with a tube inserted into for a stopper and put the other end of the tube into a glass of water.) Let wine stand for about 6 weeks or until still. Strain and bottle. Keep for at least 6 months before drinking as the wine improves with age. Makes about 5 four-fifths wine bottles.
Disclaimer: Of course we claim no responsibility for your experience with these herbs. Everything we share is for information purposes only and is not to be taken as professional or medical advice. Do your own research! Always consult a professional. Be wise. Consider always the chance of an allergic reaction. We are all unique in body chemistry. We are NOT a medical professionals by any means, however we have saved our family a boatload of annoyance and money by being resourceful and using what is right at our feet – literally. See full disclaimer here.