3 Herb Mamas

WEDNESDAY’S WEEDS: DANDELION

on April 30, 2014

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Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Yes, it was inevitable that I would include this most maligned of all common wild plants. I find myself in a very small minority of admirers when I dare to voice my appreciation for this food, medicine, soil fertility enhancer, friend to bees and other pollinators, and “doctor plant” especially for ailing shallow-rooted plants. I actually had to restrain myself from making it the first entry in my Wednesday’s Weeds posts. There is so much to love about this plant and so little reason to dislike it that I can only marvel over its ubiquitous image on the labels of practically every weed-killer and herbicide that lines the big box lawn and garden centers. If you are a Dandelion hater then probably nothing included in this blog post will change your mind…but I can still hope. 😀 If you are already a Dandelion lover I hope you will find some new facts, recipes and uses for an old friend. If you’re sitting on the fence, come on down and enjoy a stroll among the sunny blossoms and give it a try. When I do weed walks I always ask how many recognize this plant. Almost without exception, every hand shoots up. But when I follow it up by asking how many use the plant, the opposite occurs. Almost no one raises their hand. Familiarity breeds contempt perhaps? Yet there are so many ways and reasons to appreciate it.

Dandelion is irrepressible, the Polly-Anna of the wild plant world as it interfaces with humans. All summer they will be popping up in lawns, fields, and meadows. Many a  lawn-scaping weekend warrior is suiting up now for another season of battle. Guido Mase in THE WILD MEDICINE SOLUTION: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter & Tonic Plants sums up the situation humorously as he describes his attempt to keep his vegetable and medicinal plant garden pristine from interlopers like Dandelion: “I had to acknowledge that the entire situation was now out of my control. That’s a good thing to do sometimes.” [My emphasis added.] He goes on to add, “Mow them down and they simply flower closer to the ground. Pave them over and they will find and expand any cracks. Poison them and, in the end, you only succeed in poisoning your own children, for the dandelions only adapt, resist, and continue to spread. But just as you can’t keep a good rebel in chains, you can’t keep a good idea down either. They are like that thought that nags at the back of your conscience, the one you keep dismissing because it is too challenging, too risky, too ugly to entertain. It keeps waving its little flag for a reason: it is the best medicine for you right now. And so I feel it is with the dandelion: the weed we love to hate is perhaps the best catalyst to deliver us from the bondage of perpetual, hypnotic, addictive sweetness.”

Fresh DandelionWhole Dandelion bouquet harvest ready for tincturing this spring.

DANDELION NUTRITIONALLY & CULINARY 

All parts of the Dandelion plant are edible and nutritious and, if handled properly, delicious. The leaves and roots are rich in vitamins A, B, C, and E as well as the minerals iron, phosphorous, potassium and calcium. The bitter components in Dandelion are a digestive stimulant. Europe has a long history of using digestive bitters for health but sadly that was a tradition that has not been carried to America on a large scale. Adding chopped leaves to other mild and sweet salad greens dramatically improves the nutritional value, especially if you are in the habit of using basically nutrient-free iceberg lettuce. No need to replace all other greens with 100% Dandelion greens; just add a little each day and you will get the boost they provide.

Wild Salad

Wild Salad heavy on the Dandelion greens. If you are not accustomed to the bitter bite of Dandelion you should start slowly with just a few chopped leaves added to your other greens. I have a taste for bitter (think extra dark chocolate and espresso) so I rather enjoy them but you can derive the benefits just as easily by going light or using other preparations.

Hortopita

Our family’s take on the traditional Greek Hortopita. These delicious, flaky “weed pies” are filled with wild greens, including Dandelion, rice, fresh herbs, cheeses, and onions.

Dandelion Jelly

Dandelion Jelly…a.k.a. home canned sunshine!

If it is impossible for you to eat fresh Dandelion greens try making a tincture of the whole plant in early spring to derive the benefits.

Tincturing Dandelion

Fresh, whole Dandelion, washed and chopped is now ready for tincturing. I often use pure grain alcohol for tincture making and follow the ratios of water to alcohol in Richo Cech’s MAKING PLANT MEDICINE, but simply using 100 proof vodka to cover your fresh or dried plant material works fine. 

Dandelion Tincture

Dandelion Tincture: fresh whole plant, cleaned and chapped, placed in a clean jar and covered completely with alcohol, labeled and dated. Add patience as it sits and steeps for 4-6 weeks (shaking daily optional) and it’s really that simple. 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. in a little water or straight up before meals for an excellent liver and digestive tonic. 

Flowers can be added to salads as well. Remove the bitter calyx and the yellow flowers (The entire cluster we often refer to as a flower is actually a composite grouping of many, many individual flowers often mistakenly referred to as petals.) are sweet, tasty and add a bright touch of color.

Dandelion flowers

Dandelions free of the green bitter calyx.

Dandelion calyx and flower

To remove the flowers from the calyx twist one to the left while twisting the other to the right. They usually pop right apart.

Dandelion Flower Plucker's Fingers

Dandelion Flower Plucker’s Fingers…the jelly is worth it. 

Roots can be dug, scrubbed, chopped, dried, roasted, ground, and brewed like coffee. Roasting the roots sweetens them by breaking the inulin polysaccharides down into fructose. You can further sweeten your freshly brewed beverage by adding local honey or maple syrup. Add some raw cacao or cocoa powder for  delicious natural mocha. These a fabulous with cream served hot or chilled. Here is a photo essay of one of my favorite specialty drinks:

Cleaned whole Dandelion

Cleaned whole Dandelion destined for tincturing but the roots are what I would chop and use for “coffee”.

Roasting Dandelion roots

Chopped Dandelion roots can be dried and stored for roasting later or dried and roasted to use right away. Although it can be done in an oven, I prefer to roast roots in a dry cast iron skillet, while stirring. They can be roasted as light or dark as you prefer. 

Dried Dandelion roots: un-roasted on the left and roasted on the right. 

Ground roasted Dandeion

Freshly ground roasted Dandelion root. It can certainly be roasted even darker to suit tastes.

Dandelion and Cacao nibs

Roasted Dandelion roots with Raw Cacao nibs in a French press ready for brewing. 

Dandelion Mochas brewing

Dandelion Mochas brewing.

Dandelion Mocha

Delicious Dandelion Mocha. Yumm!

Is this quicker, easier and cheaper than picking up a tub of coffee at the grocery store? Definitely not. Or possibly so if you factor in the time involved in earning the money to buy the coffee, the time and fuel spent driving to and from the store, and so on. Is it healthier for you, your family, and the planet? Decidedly, yes. I enjoy dark roast coffee as well as Dandelion, and they even make a delicious combination that boosts your liver’s health. It need not be an either/ or proposition.

DANDELION MEDICINALLY

Dandelion is a powerhouse for our health. Although I honestly could never pick just one plant, when I am asked (as I often am!) what herb or plant is my favorite, I often say, “Dandelion!” There are a variety of reasons but one of the main ones is because it answers to so many needs and is widely available almost everywhere on the planet. Unless you find yourself on the Arctic tundra you can probably find some. It is food but it is also potent, effective medicine. Below are just a smattering of the findings from scientific studies on Dandelion. These are taken from Timothy Lee Scott’s excellent INVASIVE PLANT MEDICINE: The Ecological Benefits & Healing Abilities of Invasives. (Highly recommended for those interested in such things!)

*Dandelion has shown antimicrobial effects in vitro against Staphylococcus aureaus, B-hemolytic streptococcus, Diplococcus pneumoniae, Diplococcus meningeitides, Corynebacterium diptheriae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Bacillus dysenteriae, and Salmonella typhi.

*Water extract of Dandelion leaf decreased the growth of breast cancer cells and blocked the invasion of prostate cancer cells in vitro. Extracts of Dandelion flowers and root appeared to have no effect on the growth of either cell line, yet the root blocked the invasion of breast cancer cells.

*120-180 grams of Dandelion herb in decoction was given to 88 patients suffering with acute tonsillitis in a Chinese study. 82 of the 88 experienced relief.

*Dandelion was found to have an inhibitory effect on pancreatic lipase in vitro (literally “in glass” or in lab tests) and in vivo (in living organisms) and was determined to be of use as a natural weight loss agent.

Dandelion’s actions are antibacterial, antiviral, antiparasitic, immune enhancing, hepato-protective (liver protective), diuretic, and cholagogic (promotes bile production). It is an excellent kidney tonic that acts as a diuretic but, unlike pharmaceutical ones, it is rich in minerals rather than depleting them, especially potassium. Because it blooms so early and late in the year when most other flowers have either not begun or have ceased to bloom, Dandelion is extremely important to bees and the honey industry.

Dandelion’s long taproot enriches and enhances the soil fertility by bringing minerals like potassium, phosphorus, calcium, copper and iron from deep in the subsurface up to a level that more shallow rooted fruits and vegetables can benefit from. I often leave some Dandelion around my Blueberry plants for this reason. Dandelion has been successfully used in phyto-remediation programs to remove heavy metals such as lead from contaminated industrial areas. (For this reason I would take care to be sure that the land where you gather Dandelion…or any other plant you plan to use as food or medicine…has not been sprayed with toxic chemicals, dumped on, or otherwise polluted.)

Dandelion Latex

Most parts of the Dandelion will exude a white sap, or latex, when cut. This has traditionally been applied daily to treat warts and we have found it to be effective for this use.

This brief blog post is just the tip of the iceberg of all there is to learn about Dandelion. I hope it is enough to whet your appetite and sharpen your curiosity to learn more. From fritters to wine, there are gathering baskets more to explore.  ~Leenie

Dandy


One response to “WEDNESDAY’S WEEDS: DANDELION

  1. […] Wednesday’s Weeds: Dandelion – This post in 3 Herb Mamas could be called “Everything Dandelion.”  It covers all the bases you’ve seen covered before, then starts really going into it, and makes it clear that dandelions are our friends.  The author begins by saying, “I find myself in a very small minority of admirers when I dare to voice my appreciation for this food, medicine, soil fertility enhancer, friend to bees and other pollinators, and ‘doctor plant’ especially for ailing shallow-rooted plants. … There is so much to love about this plant and so little reason to dislike it that I can only marvel over its ubiquitous image on the labels of practically every weed-killer and herbicide that lines the big box lawn and garden centers.”  Amen!  … Oh, so you’re tired of hearing again and again about dandelions?  How about Wednesday’s Weeds: Motherwort.  Whether or not you want to try to use plants as taught here, it’s a great read with splendid pictures. […]

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