A dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a hardy perennial wildflower that commonly grows across temperate regions in the Americas, Asia, and Europe. The dandelion is naturalized to North America. Most sources suggest dandelion was brought here by European settlers, like many other beneficial plants found abundantly scattered in lawns across the United States. These settlers found dandelions to be so useful that they carried the seeds with them on ships to the Americas and planted dandelions wherever they went. These settlers’ legacy lives on today, through the beautiful yellow flowers who bring back the springtime sun. It has only been in the last 50 or so years that dandelions went from being a treasured plant ally, worthy of carefully bringing across continents, to an enemy of many who don’t like to see them in their lawns. But this short article will show you why our ancestors spent so much time cultivating dandelions and saving their seeds! We’ll briefly explore dandelion’s medicinal and edible qualities and I’ll share two recipes that will be delightful to try this spring.Spring tonic: Folk medicine in many parts of the world suggests that dandelion is a great “spring tonic” and “blood purifier.” Most of the time, these old sources are referring to what we now know as “alterative” action, that is, the dandelion supports the liver, digestive system, and metabolism. Citing several other herbalists, Matthew Wood, in his Earthwise Herbal, suggests that this is because of dandelion’s high nutritional content, its work on the digestive system, and because of its benefits to the kidneys and liver it is a primer spring tonic plant. The practice of ingesting dandelion greens as a spring cleanser when they first pop up was widespread throughout Europe. It is still done in parts of Europe and the Americas to this day. I, too, brew up a big pot of dandelion root tea and drink it for about a week straight in the early spring!
Addressing stagnant states: Another powerful way that dandelion can be used as a medicine is to address stagnation in many forms—stagnation of the mind (lethargy, dullness, listlessness) as well as stagnation in the liver, kidney, or gallbladder functions. Dandelion gets things moving again, and it is taken internally for this purpose as a tea, food, or tincture. I recently made a dandelion leaf tea for the purpose of clearing mental congestion—I dried the dandelion leaves and brewed them up daily as a tea. Dried leaves generally make a better tea than fresh leaves because the drying process breaks down the cell walls of the plant. When you add hot water, the water has an easier time penetrating the cell walls and extracting the nutrients and medicine from the plant (freezing the leaves does the same thing—again, the cell walls are burst by the freezing effect).
To clean the roots, what I have found works best is to fill up a bucket with water and soak the roots for 30 minutes in it. Dump the water outside (or the dirt will clog your drain), and then spray the roots off with a hose. If there is still a lot of dirt left, give the roots another soaking and then spray them again. At this stage, I bring them into the house and put them in my food processor, chopping them up to the desired size. Then I give them a final wash before using them for whatever purpose I have (drying, roasting, tincturing, making dye). This approach to washing the roots works to get the dirt out with minimal work!
The dandelion greens (that is, their new, lighter green leaves) are best harvested in the spring as the plants are shooting up their new growth. You can also harvest new greens anytime a new dandelion plant is coming up—the younger leaves are more tender and tasty. In harvesting greens, the rule of thumb is that the younger the greens, the less bitter they are. You want some of the bitter nature of the plant (more on that in Chapter 5) but too much bitterness may not be so palatable. Again, you can
harvest from any safe place and then wash them lightly before using in whatever way you like.
Roasted Dandelion Root Coffee
The dried and roasted roots make a wonderful coffee substitute (and coffee, like dandelion, is a bitter drink promoting digestion and the healthful regulating of bowel movements). Here’s the process for making your own dandelion root coffee:
1. After digging, cleaning, and finely chopping your roots, lay them out on a baking sheet.
2. Set your oven to 250 degrees and place the roots inside. Over the next two hours, check on them fairly often, stirring them to ensure an even roast. Your house will be filled with the wonderful aroma of roasted dandelions!
3. When they have the desired roasted quality, you can pull them out of the oven and let them cool.
4. Store the grounds in an airtight container (like a mason jar). I don’t grind them up to just before I brew the coffee.
5. Before serving, give your roots a final grind in a coffee grinder or food processor to get a nice consistency. You can use 1 tablespoon (level) for 1 cup of coffee. You'll want to boil it for 10 to 15 minutes (don’t just brew it like regular coffee). Add cream and honey! Delicious!
Spring Sautéed Dandelion Greens
Pick the dandelion greens early in the season for this delightful treat. The younger they are, the more tender and flavorful (and less bitter) they are. The oil, heat, and pepper compliment the dandelions’ bitterness.
· 2 cups dandelion greens (washed and chopped, with center stems removed if stems are thick)
· 1 clove garlic
· hot pepper flakes or cayenne pepper powder to taste
· 1 tbsp olive oil
· ½ teaspoon lemon juice
· Salt and pepper to taste
· Two slices of bacon (optional)
Boil the dandelion greens in a pot of water for 8 to 10 minutes or until the stems are soft. In the meantime, heat up an iron skillet with the olive oil (or bacon grease) and sauté the garlic until crispy. Drain the greens and add to the garlic and oil; add other seasonings to taste. Sautee 3 to 4 minutes, then serve.