Helpful Herbs: Dandelion
As anyone with a front yard knows, Dandelions are not hard to grow. Thriving in many conditions and popping back up when you try to get rid of them, Dandelions are incredibly healthy and a herb it is easier to work with than against. While the modern image of a perfectly groomed lawn includes none of these bright yellow flowers, for many they are a highly nutritious crop and their blossoms every year signal the real beginning of Spring.
Dandelions are a perennial plant and they will grow wild, but if you wish to cultivate a bed of them you can plant seeds in early Spring , in rows about 8 inches apart. They will flower after 85 to 95 days, easily self pollinate, tolerate almost all soil conditions and survive shade, sun, and hot and cold temperatures.
The yellow blossoms can start appearing as early as April in Northern climates, and will continue to flower throughout the summer until frost. While the flowers might be the most recognizable aspect of this so-called weed, Dandelions are particularly helpful herbs because every part of the plant is useful. The blossoms, the leaves, and the roots are all edible and have healing qualities.
To harvest Dandelion blossoms and leaves, pluck them early in the season when they are most tender. The more sunlight the leaves have been exposed to, the more bitter they will taste. Leaves are picked at their base and can be hung or laid out in a dark, dry spot to dry, or used fresh. Dandelion blossoms do not dry easily (they tend to go to seed) but can be clipped at the base of each flower and consumed when fresh.
You can also dig up the Dandelion root. Roots are harvested in the fall, when their flavor is sweetest, and can be hung to dry or eaten fresh. If you’re harvesting Dandelion root, you can leave a small section which will grow into a new plant, or collect the entire tuber.
It is easy to turn a collection of Dandelion blossoms into a sweet, rich wine by fermenting them, but Dandelion flowers are useful for many more recipes. Recipes for Dandelions include fritters with fresh flowers, a flower syrup, jellies, and even a caffeine-free coffee. The leaves can be steamed for a vegetable side or cooked with pasta or pizza. Leaves can also be mixed into a healthy smoothie or ground up for a refreshing pesto, among many other uses.
Dandelion roots are often used medicinally, but they can be part of many culinary recipes as well. You can chop them up and cook them like carrots or brew a tea or coffee with them. Think of Dandelion roots as similar to carrots or parsnips, and the leaves very much like lettuce or kale, and you can incorporate them in many recipes where you’d otherwise use those plants.
In addition to their abundance, the reason to use Dandelions in all these delicious ways is because of their great medicinal properties. Full of antioxidants, Dandelion plants are great for your immune system. They can help your kidney and liver function, and reduce high blood pressure. Research has shown that Dandelions help to combat cancer, stopping the disease from spreading. Because they are rich in calcium, they can promote bone health and regular consumption will also stimulate the body's production of insulin. Dandelion sap is also used to treat skin diseases including rashes and eczema.
Dandelions have been growing wild for at least 30 million years, and they have been part of our cooking and healing traditions for much of recorded history. They are part of traditional cuisine in countries as diverse as Slovenia, China, Greece, and Korea. The name “Dandelion” is taken from the French for “lion’s tooth”, after the serrated edges of the leaves. Used by Greeks, Romans, and the Ancient Egyptians, Dandelions were native to Eurasia and brought to America on the Mayflower as a medicinal plant.
Packed with vitamins, Dandelions were once a cure for scurvy and many other common ailments such as toothaches, sores, and depression. In the Middle Ages Dandelions were said to increase a magician’s psychic powers, and the plant was consumed as a coffee through the 18th and 19th Centuries. Over a thousand years ago in Ancient China, Dandelions were already being hailed as a possible remedy for cancers.
Dandelions are good for goslings, too!
The true value of Dandelions is often overlooked today. This powerhouse plant has a longer flowering season than almost any other herb, and during the 1800s people would remove grass from their lawns to make more room for what we now consider to be a “weed". These days, it is sprayed and pulled to make way for more green grass, with little regard for its vast properties in the kitchen and for healing.
A plant that once could save someone from starvation is no longer valued, but that does little to stop this tough weed that will spring up between cracks in sidewalks and come back year after year. Ironically, they are also good for your lawn, as their roots help to aerate the soil and fertilize grasses. Also surprisingly, Dandelion products in the grocery store are highly expensive, despite this herbs proficiency.
Symbolic of survival, Dandelion’s Greek name is Taraxacon, for “disorder” and “remedy”. This cure-all herb can brighten a meal or help with a cold, and it is probably the easiest plant you’ll ever grow or forage.